Could the Mets’ Madoff woes torpedo Citi Field bonds?

I haven’t had much to say here about the New York Mets owners’ Bernie Madoff-related financial woes, but there is one potential way they could have a major impact on stadium issues: In the unlikely (but not that unlikely) case that the Mets owners declare bankruptcy, the payments on Citi Field stadium bonds would be thrown into disarray.

As I just wrote this morning for the Village Voice website:

To get people to nonetheless buy these bonds backed by nothing more than the promise of the Wilpons, the Mets took out bond insurance with a company called Ambac Assurance Corporation, which pledged to pay out if the Mets defaulted. Which would have worked great, except that Ambac — like so many of the financial insurers caught up in the economic meltdown — filed for Chapter 11 in November, and doesn’t actually have $500 million to pay out to anybody. And after Ambac, there’s nobody: Anyone who bought Mets stadium bonds thinking that their money was safe with the nation’s third most valuable baseball team would be left holding worthless paper.

At that point, the [city Industrial Development Agency] would be faced with a choice: Tap the city treasury to make good on the bonds, or risk future bond buyers growing wary of city-related bond offerings. Disclaimers about “faith and credit” be damned, it’d be a tough call for an agency already facing one high-profile stadium-related default.

Do I really expect this to happen? Probably not. But nobody expected the Texas Rangers to end up in bankruptcy court either. It’s a situation that bears watching, let’s just say that.

Times blames Mets’ ticket sales on road losses

Not to keep picking on the New York Times’ Ken Belson, but it’s just so easy, especially when he writes stuff like this:

Every time the Mets compile an impressive homestand, they undo the good feeling with an atrocious road trip. And because many fans consider the team’s most recent performance when deciding whether to attend a home game, the Mets’ buzz-killing road losses (including the game-winning grand slam that sunk the Mets on Wednesday in San Diego) have taken their toll. … It seems the team’s contrasting home and road records are making it harder for fans to justify running out to Citi Field.

The notion that fans are staying away from Mets games, not because the team was terrible last year or ticket prices are too high or the stadium honeymoon has worn off, but because they win too many games at home might seem too plainly demented to debunk … but I’ve done so anyway for the Village Voice. The short version: All teams coming off of lousy years draw lousy, and the Mets’ attendance was artificially inflated last year already with curiosity-seekers looking to check out their new digs. But why settle for facts when you can instead choose the contrarian wisdom that Mets fans are being driven away by the bad taste of giving up 18 runs in a road game that ended at 1:20 am local time?

Internets Celebrities debut “Stadium Status”

The fine folks at Internets Celebrities have released their latest video, titled “Stadium Status,” and I can say without hesitation that it’s the finest (and funniest) web video ever made on the subject of stadium scams.

Featured are myself (in the role of talking-head stadium expert) and Killian Jordan (as the angry Bronx resident), plus IC hosts Rafi Kam and Dallas Penn providing an 18-minute tour of the machinations behind the new Yankees and Mets stadiums and Nets arena. Find out why the the New York Times called them a cross between Michael Moore and Dave Chappelle! (Not that Moore has been funny in years. Or Chappelle, for that matter. Hey, wait, was the Times actually dissing them?)

Seriously, it’s a great video, and you couldn’t ask for a better primer on the ill effects of new stadiums on both our cities and sports fandom. At least, not until I finally get permission to upload video of the Shoddy Puppet Company’s shadow puppet play based on Field of Schemes. It’s hard to beat shadow puppets.

Mets’ league-leading attendance drop: Sign bloom is off stadium rose?

The New York Mets have seen the largest drop in attendance from last year of any MLB team, and somebody thinks they’ve spotted a trend:

“The problem is last year the tickets were really expensive and the team stunk and that can really stick with fans for a while,” said Jon Greenberg, the executive editor of Team Marketing Report, an industry publication.

In the mid-1990s, Greenberg said, teams could count on new stadiums to help them boost ticket sales for several years, but that trend has ended.

“Stadium fatigue sets in much faster than it did before,” Greenberg said, noting that new stadiums built in Baltimore and Cleveland in the early 1990s led to long periods of increased attendance for both franchises. “When Camden Yards and Jacobs Field were built, they were a big deal and were a complete change. The novelty has worn off.”

That last note about stadium fatigue isn’t entirely untrue, but it’s also worth noting that the Orioles and Indians both got really good on the field around the same time they opened their new stadiums, which is the main reason their attendance honeymoons were so long. Cellar-dwelling teams have not been so lucky: The Pittsburgh Pirates jumped 41% in attendance the year they opened PNC Park, then fell 28% the next year after losing 100 games in 2001; the Cincinnati Reds had a similar but less-dramatic drop two years later.

Some of this is no doubt stadium fatigue &mdash Camden Yards could have drawn fans in the early ’90s even if the Orioles had been playing like, well, the Orioles — but mostly it’s just an expression of the same principle at work as always: If your team is winning, you can stretch a honeymoon out for a few years; if not, it’ll likely fizzle in two to three. Every stadium draws curiosity-seekers its first season, and every stadium is pretty much back to baseline attendance levels ten years down the road. Florida Marlins, you have been warned.

Mets “talking” with Islanders, MLS about Queens move

More rumors of rumors, but: New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon tells Newsday (via its new sister publication Gothamist, since Newsday has hidden all its articles behind a $5/week paywall) that he’s “had conversations with Islanders owner Charles [Wang] and we’ve talked about Queens,” and that he’s also talked to MLS commissioner Don Garber about a soccer stadium, though “we probably can’t do both.”

Any hockey or soccer venue would presumably be built in the Citi Field parking lot, though Willets Point is always a possibility as well if New York City follows through with its redevelopment plans. The bigger question — who would pay for it — Wilpon and Newsday left undiscussed.

If nothing else, anyway, this gives Wang some added leverage on his move threats to kick Nassau County into approving his plans there. And who knows, maybe Wilpon is just doing his fellow owner a favor by tossing out some red meat to the tabloids — though right now it’s not like his team doesn’t have its own ways to get itself into the paper.

More dubious firms got Citi Field contracts

Because everyone is emailing me about it: The New York Post ran an “exclusive” report yesterday that the Mets used contractors with suspected mob ties in the construction of Citi Field:

The Mets shelled out $51.6 million in taxpayer money to contractors shunned by the city for their ties to the Mafia, labor corruption or bribery, The Post has learned.

At least seven contractors the city avoids were hired by the team to build Citi Field between 2006 and 2009, according to government records.

The tainted companies were paid from a $91 million pot the city Economic Development Corp. gave to the Mets.

This is big news — or at least, it was back in April, when the New York Times first reported it. The Post did uncover some additional names of questionable companies that worked on Citi Field, though these were because of bribery allegations and other unethical practices, not specifically mob ties. But then, the Post has a notoriously hazy notion of what constitutes an “exclusive.”

Mets add Mets content to Citi Field

The New York Mets sent out a press release over the weekend announcing that they’re naming Citi Field’s VIP entrances after former Mets greats, renaming the stadium’s outfield footbridge “Shea Bridge,” and otherwise adding more Mets-specific stuff (orange-and-blue flowers in planters!). This should please Mets fans who’d griped that the new stadium seemed to have more homages to the Brooklyn Dodgers than to the pre-2009 Mets, though as the blog Loge 13 wonders: “This is all great news but it is stunning that everyone else but the Mets realized this was a good idea long before Citi Field ever got built.” One possibility: Mets execs may not have wanted to rename entrances for the likes of Casey Stengel and Gil Hodges before they’d seen if they could sell off naming rights to corporate sponsors first.

Citi Field springs a leak

With the New York Mets‘ season long since having passed the laughingstock stage, the media have turned their sights on their new stadium: Yesterday’s New York Post reported that the new $830 million stadium “has been plagued by water damage to several luxury suites — including Jerry Seinfeld’s — as well as mold, falling signs and concrete, flooding in outfield seats, faulty electrical wiring and shoddy tile work, sources said.” One “insider” (hey, remember when newspapers weren’t going to rely on anonymous sources anymore?) told the Post: “Shitty Field — that’s what we call it.” Get in line, pal.

To be fair, this is the sort of thing a lot of new buildings go through when they first open, and all the problems seem fixable. Still, after taxpayers devoted more than $600 million to building the place, water dripping on Jerry Seinfeld’s head must seem like adding insult to injury and injury and injury…

Yankee Stadium slam book, mid-season edition

Just in time for the pennant race, we have yet another review of the new New York Yankees and Mets stadiums, courtesy of Metropolis magazine’s Mark Lamster, who’d previously critiqued New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ourossouff’s review of the new places as being too focused on abstract aesthetics and not enough on actual ballpark experience. Lamster’s principal conclusion this time around: New Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are mostly about making money, and aren’t shy about it.

When I first started attending games on my own, some 20 years ago, a ticket to the Yankee bleachers cost $1.50, pocket change even for a kid on a tight allowance. That same ticket now costs $14: not an unreasonable sum, but more than a movie and enough to keep a student on a limited budget from making it too much of a habit. The new stadium, for that matter, doesn’t beg that kind of relationship. It’s a special-occasion place, somewhere to visit a couple of times a season. Why empty your wallet for an entertainment event that might not be entertaining? (Even the best teams lose roughly 40 percent of their games.) When you’re stuck in the nosebleed seats, and a beer, a dog, and a bag of peanuts cost upward of 20 bucks, thoughts of exploitation inevitably percolate through the mind. It is in those moments that the fan-team compact seems hopelessly broken, and one begins to wonder about the difference between being a fan and being a chump. Sometimes it seems like there’s no difference at all.

I’m pretty sure Yankees bleachers prices went up to $3 in 1986, but otherwise, hard to argue with that — and yes, I’d be saying that even if Lamster didn’t quote me in his piece.

Sports bubble watch: Mets ticket discounts

The New York Mets, who’ve so far managed to duck the criticism the Yankees have got despite their own sky-high ticket prices and empty seats behind home plate, sent out an email yesterday offering field-level tickets to their upcoming homestand for as much as 33% off. (Which still isn’t as good as StubHub, especially given all the Ticketmaster fees the team tacks on, but it’s closer.) Meal deals, here we come.