Sterling Partners released a statement saying that the Wilpons are in talks to sell the majority stake in the New York Mets to minority owner Steve Cohen, though the team’s management likely wouldn’t change for at least five years.
According to The New York Times, a deal is not imminent, and the Sterling Partners announcement noted that the Wilpons would not be immediately out of the team’s management even if such a sale did go through.
Wilpons Would Stay in Front Office for Five Years
Fred and Jeff Wilpon have long been in control of the Mets, as the Wilpon family has owned a stake in the team since 1980. The Wilpons have been the majority owners of the team since 2002, when they bought out Nelson Doubleday’s stake for $135 million.
“The Sterling Partners and Steve Cohen are negotiating an agreement in which Steve Cohen would increase his investment in the New York Mets,” the statement read. “As part of that agreement, Fred Wilpon will remain in the role of the Control Person and CEO for five years and Jeff Wilpon will remain in his role of Chief Operating Officer for the five-year period as well.”
According to Bloomberg, Cohen is negotiating a purchase that would see him own as much as 80 percent of the team. That stake would be valued at approximately $2.6 billion. Cohen currently owns a 4 percent share of the team, which he purchased for $20 million back in 2012.
As owners, the Wilpons have been criticized incessantly by Mets fans for their perceived cheapness. While the team isn’t near the bottom of the league in terms of payroll, it has also never spent money like the crosstown Yankees, and the Mets have only made the playoffs three times since the Wilpons became the majority owners: in 2006, 2015, and 2016, reaching the World Series in 2015.
Madoff Scheme Deepened Mets Financial Woes
Those problems – or at least the perception of them – have become even more severe since the Wilpons were caught up in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. While the Wilpon family appeared to have profited from the scheme overall, they “lost” hundreds of millions of dollars in gains that never existed, and were forced to pay out $162 million to settle a related lawsuit in 2012. The Madoff situation prompted the Wilpons to sell 12 minority shares of four percent each at $20 million a pop – including the one purchased by Cohen – in order to raise money.
The 63-year-old Cohen is the CEO of Point72 Asset Management. The hedge fund manager is said to be worth an estimated $13.6 billion, according to Forbes. The New York Post reported that Cohen is a huge baseball fan and a Mets fan in particular, with those close to him believing he would be happy to spend money to make the team a perennial contender.
Cohen’s past isn’t free of controversy, though. In 2013, his former firm, SAC Capital, pleaded guilty to charges of insider trading, and paid a record fine of $1.8 billion as a result. That could give some owners pause in approving Cohen’s purchase of the Mets, though the fact that Cohen controls vast financial resources and wasn’t personally fined in the case would still probably make him a suitable candidate in the eyes of league officials.