Thursday, September 18, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Bailout Field: How YOU pay for NY Mets to win in '09

Federal bailout aids the Mets

Bailout Field: How YOU pay for NY Mets to win in '09

Sad as it to contemplate on a bitter November night, there will come a sunny day seven or eight months from now when Johan Santana and his New York Mets are going to shut our world champion Philadelphia Phillies down cold. How could it not happen?...Santana, a baffling lefty with possibly the best change-up in baseball, is unhittable on his best days, which is why the Mets are paying him as astonishing $137.5 million over six years. While it's always frustrating when your team has to face an ace like Johan Santana, there's one thing about it that is absolutely infuriating about it out.

You are now paying to help make it happen.

OK, so it was one thing when they started using billions upon billions of our tax dollars to bail out brain-dead wheeler-dealer CEOs who bet compulsively and hugely unsuccessfully on acronyms that they don't understand any more than you or I do, or when some guy named Hank -- who none of his voted for -- decided that he was a king when it came to deciding how to dole out the federal jewels that you underwrote. These events of the Great Collapse of 2008 you could have almost lived with.

But now the federal government is basically bailing out the pennant chances of the much-hated -- especially round these parts -- New York Mets. That is unconscionable.

How could this be? You see, the Mets were already a pretty rich team thanks to all those cable TV eyeballs in greater NYC, but they needed even more dollars to be able to sign the Santanas and the Carlos Delgados ($52 million, four years) and Carlos Beltrans (seven years, $119 million) of the world. They needed to replace decrepit Shea Stadium with a spanking new ballpark that would offer all sorts of new revenue streams, especially luxury suites for all those Wall Street high rollers in New York. But New York City found itself low on cash after 9/11, and the Mets would have to raise most of the dough for a new Queens ballpark from elsewhere (although NY taxpayers have ended up paying more than they bargained for.)

That's when the Mets found they had a friend...in Citigroup. The nation's largest bank, a major consumer banking presence in the New York market, was so eager to place its name atop the Ebbetts Field lookalike stadium that is underwriting some 40 percent of the team's cost for building the ballpark, some $20 million a year over 20 years, or $400 million. The announcement of the ballpark and the prominent role for Citigroup coincided with the upsurge in Mets spending on premium baseball talent. Who knew that Citigroup -- under the rock-solid advice of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- planned to pay for this all with risky trades of now-worthless paper backed by an overblown housing bubble?

This weekend, Citigroup showed up in Washington, hat in hand, saying that its bank would collapse, and take the economy of the free world along with it, if the financial giant didn't get $300 billion in cash money and in guarantees... like, yesterday. The government, with no public debate, was more than willing to back this new scheme, but surely there were some preconditions, right? Surely, the $400 million vanity plate of placing your name across the top of a glitzy new stadium (which honors Jackie Robinson with a rotunda but features sky-high ticket prices so only inside traders can attend the games) would have to go. Right? Right?

Wrong. Welcome to Opening Day at Bailout Field.

AIG, Citibank and a number of other federally bailed-out financial institutions have no plans to cancel hundreds of millions of dollars in sports team sponsorships, even as they take billions in taxpayer support, ABC News has found.

In boom times, the sponsorships were seen as a way to advertise the firms' "brands" and appeal to potential customers.

Justin Rood's story for ABC News adds:

Citicorp is not reviewing its deal with the Mets, chief financial officer Gary Crittenden said in an interview Monday. Crittenden told CNBC the contract was "legal and binding" and "not an issue."

Last week, a bank spokesman defended the arrangement, saying that "there is absolutely no relationship between our sports marketing expenses, including Citi Field," and the government funds it had already received.

What about the 52,000 hard-working people that Citigroup is laying off -- more people that the new ballpark can accommodate? There's no relationship between that and doling out $20 million a year in sports welfare? As for marketing, I think most taxpayers are now aware of Citi without the ballpark. In fact, hearing "live from Citi Field" before every game will make people hate Citigroup even more.

Look, you can point to the irony here: That Citibank and the Mets are both big-time losers who choke in the clutch. This September, certainly, the Mets and Citibank's stock price were racing to see who could plummet faster. There's also a new irony in that many (but not all ) of the Wall Street Masters of the Universe who are supposed to buy all those luxury boxes in Bailout Field are now flat busted. Heh.

But those losses were in 2008 (and even more so the Mets' epic collapse in '07) -- the bottom line for '09 is that the Mets are going to make another pennant run at the Phillies, with big-bucks players funded by an overpriced stadium, which is funded by a failed and morally failing bank that is ultimately funded now...by you and me. Outrageous? You betcha.

But then, did you really need another reason to hate the Mets.

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Will Bunch
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