Bummer in the Citi: What's Next for the Mets and Citicorp?
These days the Mets ownership are probably feeling a lot like P. Diddy felt on his 1997 track "Victory" where, after losing his friend B.I.G., he memorably shouts: "What am I supposed to do now, huh? It's all (expletive deleted) now!" What seemed like a simple business deal has turned into a soap opera with Mets ownership, fans, Citicorp, and the U.S. government all involved.
Logic would dictate that if there was ever a sports franchise that would end up getting Congress involved in their business affairs, it would be the Amazin's. The seemingly snake-bitten Mets franchise has suffered through one PR disaster after another in their recent history and now have seen their jewel of a ballpark become the subject of national debate.
I'm sure Fred Wilpon had hoped Citi Field would be making headlines throughout 2009, but I doubt even in his worst nightmares he ever envisioned this.
So what's all the fuss about?
Others have gone into much greater detail on the scenario, so I will summarize briefly. It really is your everyday story of:
Boy Meets Girl.
Boy Sells Naming Rights to Girl.
Girl Files for Billions in Gov't Funds.
Boy Wishes He Never Met Girl.
Somewhere in there you may want to add that the "Girl" brings unnecessary negative media attention on themselves by buying an airplane AFTER THEY TOOK GOV'T MONEY! Surely you can't be serious? But sadly, I am serious...and don't call me Shirley.
To recap the whole sad story a little more professionally, the Mets sold the naming rights to their stadium for the next 20 years to Citicorp for $400 million. All was fine and dandy until the bottom fell out of the economy and Citicorp filed for the ironically named T.A.R.P. (Troubled Asset Relief Program), in which Citicorp has taken in something like $45 billion in federal dollars. Now the poor Mets are left with a T.A.R.P. situation of their own, as in Taxpayer Assisted Relocation Project.
In reality, the situation probably would have flown quietly under the radar except that a week ago Citicorp decided, "Hey, why don't we pick up that Jumbo Jet we've had our eyes on for so long!" Once this got out, the blood was in the water and the political sharks began to circle, and a congressional movement started by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and Ted Poe asked new Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to intervene and dissolve the partnership. Only in Flushing!
Who Gets Hurt?
One way or another, everyone (around the Mets that is) gets affected by this. It seems to me that in the politicians' quest for perceived justice a lot of people would take a hit. Merchandise is already printed. A hideous arm patch has been unveiled. Giant signage is up all over the park. I've got to imagine someone takes a financial hit if this stuff has to come down to make way for eBay Field, CareerBuilder Stadium, or whatever other hilarious moniker we would end up with.
Aside from monetary concerns, the Mets have already lost. A mere two months away from seeing its first game, the stadium has become part of a national scandal and the butt of everyone's jokes. At a time when we should have been talking about nicer luxury boxes, better concessions, and wider urinals, we are instead talking about gov't bailouts and public relations headaches.
Much like their ball club of late, the Mets have seen their stadium situation come crashing down at the last possible moment.
Believe it or not, the fans actually suffer the least. Outside of having yet another thing for Yankees fans to hold over you, there will still be baseball played in that stadium this year. The Mets will still exist, and you will still be able to enjoy your $9 and boo Luis Castillo. The only uncertainty that remains is what the name of the building you will be booing Castillo in will be called. I can live with that.
Personally though, I take a $30 hit on that special edition Citi Field New Era cap I purchased last month, but I guess it's my own fault for being such a slave to trends. At least I've always got eBay to fall back on. Maybe I can sell it to a Citicorp exec to wear on his jumbo jet?
So what would you do, Mr. Smart Guy?
Since you asked, this is what I would do. First, let me preface this by saying I am not a financial whiz, nor am I close enough to the situation to fully understand, so please take this with several grains of salt.
First you have to deal with the naming rights. Now, in my opinion it is far too late in the process for anything to be done about this season. So for that reason I would leave that Citi Field logo right where it is. I know the Astros did a last minute change on Enron Field, but that was a special case, and Citicorp hasn't hit that level of evil...yet.
If the Mets buy back the rights now they are left with two months to negotiate a new deal with a new company, and that just isn't a lot of time. Unfortunately for them they have to spend '09 with this cloud hanging over them, but at least there is a chance you may not see it through the "choke" cloud that is already hanging over them.
Now I am sure you romantics out there would love to see Shea II, Bob Murphy Field, Jackie Robinson Stadium, or, my personal favorite, The Sisk Dome, but let's be realistic. This is a business, and the Mets can and will get top dollar for those naming rights.
So what I would do is revoke the following 19 years on the deal, which would leave Citicorp on the hook for only $20 million while giving the Mets the ability to shop the naming rights all year and would give them an entire offseason to change the signage if need be come 2010. Hopefully they would then sell them to Chase and we would get "Chase Stadium." (Say it quickly out loud and you'll see what I'm getting at.)
That's just my opinion; I am sure there are plenty of you who feel differently. However you feel about it, we're in for a bumpy ride over the next two months. Perhaps the late great Bob Murphy said it best: "Fasten your seat belts."
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