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Wilpons’ insistence on staying after selling team jeopardizing Mets deal: sources

Fred Wilpon, right, majority owner of the New York Mets, and Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, left, watch the team warm up before a baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Friday, June 28, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Further details are beginning to emerge from amNewYork Metro’s Tuesday report that Steve Cohen’s acquisition of the New York Mets is on the verge of collapse. 

A source with direct knowledge of the situation told amNY Metro that the abandonment of negotiations stemmed from governance issues — mainly team majority owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon’s unwillingness to relinquish their standing as the main decision-makers once the deal is signed.

The Mets remain quiet on the situation, stressing that both parties are “subject to confidentiality obligations, including a mutual non-disclosure agreement.”

Request for comment from Cohen or his representation at Point72 Asset Management was not returned as of yet.

Cohen had agreed to purchase an 80% stake of the Mets from the Wilpon family, which was first reported in early December. 

Trouble arrived when the Wilpons sought to transition out of the franchise over five years, the source said. They would have used Cohen’s money to continue building the team in their vision until Cohen took over a majority stake in the team in that fifth year.

While it’s been speculated in recent days that the Wilpon-owned television station, SNY — which broadcasts live Mets games — was a major factor in Cohen’s acquisition teetering on the brink, the source told amNewYork Metro that it is not a sticking point. The plan was to purchase the team before buying all or part of the network, which is also owned by Charter Communications and NBC Sports Group.

Cohen — a 63-year-old hedge fund manager, art collector, and philanthropist who grew up a Mets fan on Long Island — would be the richest owner in Major League Baseball if the sale is finalized. If the deal fails, the sources said, Cohen would likely to remain as a minority owner with a stake believed to be between 13% and 18%.

This isn’t the first time the Wilpon family has thrown a wrench into potential ownership changes. 

In 2011, they were unable to agree on a deal with another hedge fund manager, David Einhorn, who was poised to by a $200 million non-controlling stake in the team. However, it was reported at the time that he would have been given the option to boost his stake in the club to over 50% in three to five years. 

An inability to strike a deal with Cohen will only drive the price of the franchise down, the source said, as future potential buyers may be wary of working with the Wilpons. 

Forbes currently has the Mets valued as Major League Baseball’s sixth-most-expensive franchise at $4.3 billion. 

Joe Pantorno