Posted February 6, 2020, by Bryan Zarpentine
If you heard a collective groan emanating from the northeast part of the country Thursday afternoon, it was New York Mets fans letting out some of their frustration. On Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed reports from earlier this week that the proposed agreement for hedge fund manager Steven Cohen to take over controlling interest of the Mets over the next five years had fallen apart. The Mets said two months ago that a deal was in the works, but that is no longer the case with the deal all but dead, according to Manfred, who bluntly said: “There is not going to be a transaction.”
“My soothsaying is not great. I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Manfred said Thursday at the MLB Owners Meetings. “As of right now, it’s my belief that that transaction is not going forward.”
Cohen currently owns 8% of the Mets, buying a stake in 2012. Under the proposed sale, he would have paid $2.6 billion to take over 80% of the team, giving him controlling interest of the club in five years team. During those five years, father and son Fred and Jeff Wilpon would retain day-to-day control of the club before turning it over to Cohen.
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The proposed sale excited the Mets fan base, believing that Cohen would be more willing to spend money to improve the team than the Wilpons. The Wilpon family and its companies were burdened financially by the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. Those financial losses are believed to be one reason why the Mets haven’t always had a payroll comparable to other major-market clubs. It’s also a reason why they were willing to take on minority owners like Cohen in the first place.
According to reports, the Wilpons changed their stance on team control late in the negotiating stage. In addition to Jeff Wilpon retaining his role as the chief operating officer of the club for the next five years, he wanted to remain a senior official in the organization with input on decisions even after Cohen took over in five years. With both sides unable to see eye-to-eye on this issue, the deal is off. However, Manfred had a different take on the sale being called off.
“Exactly what happened with respect to the transaction” Manfred explained, “I can tell you, and it’s based on conversations with the buyer and the seller on an ongoing basis, the assertion that the transaction fell apart because of something that the Wilpons did is completely and utterly unfair.”
Manfred didn’t overtly deny that Jeff Wilpon’s future role once Cohen took over controlling interest of the Mets was the reason why talks broke off. At the same time, someone familiar with the situation that Jeff Wilpon is not willing to sell the team unless he can retain some high-level role. However, other sources claimed that Cohen attempted to change the financial terms of the sale, which would back up what Manfred said. Both sides have signed a non-disclosure regarding the negotiations, preventing Cohen or anyone from the Mets from making any official comment.
In any event, the Mets are not going to be sold, at least not right now and not to Cohen. To add insult to injury, the apparent break up between Cohen and the Wilpons has played out publicly. In a way, this is in line with the kind of embarrassing events that have plagued the Mets for many years. For now, the Wilpons own the Mets, a fact that continues to agitate and frustrate a fanbase that’s hungry for a championship and eager for a change of ownership so that day-to-day operations can be taken out of the hands of the Wilpons.