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Fans buying the Mets? Could be the scam of the day [UPDATED]

February 16, 2011 | 10:52 am

The local baseball team is in financial trouble. The owner's proclamation that he will not sell the team is met with skepticism. The suggestion inevitably is made: Let the fans own the team, just as fans own the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers.

Dodgers fans have been through this drill, in the wake of the McCourt divorce proceedings. Now Mets fans get their turn, with the aftermath of the Bernie Madoff scandal threatening the viability of the Wilpon family's ownership of the team.

In an interview with The Times last year, Commissioner Bud Selig dismissed the idea of a community-owned team in Major League Baseball.

"I don't think it works," Selig said. (Why not? This post explains.)

Nonetheless, the New York Post reported Wednesday that three Wall Street executives have launched a website. The site is clear about the goal: "Buying the New York Mets so that they can be owned by the people who care the most: the fans!"

James Preissler, chairman of the venture, told the Post: "Looking at the Packers and what they have done in the past, I think there's no reason why the fans of the Mets can't accomplish something similar."

Selig and the owners never would approve such an ownership group. They never would have to, anyway. For a New York team, there would be no shortage of qualified buyers. But that's not the point of this post.

This is: While the website is offering fans the chance to buy a share of the Mets for $999, the New York Post story says the site also will charge "credit-card processing and other fees, which Preissler says will range from $40 to $100 per transaction."

If the venture is not successful in buying the Mets, the $999 per share would be refunded, but the processing and fees would not.

Let's say 10,000 fans buy into this concept, and let's say the average fee is $70 per transaction. That's $700,000 in non-refundable fees for Preissler and his associates. Or say 100,000 fans buy in, providing Preissler and Co. with $7 million in fees.

At this time, the website is not asking fans for money, just to sign up for more information. Let's hope the proprietors do the right thing here. If the venture is not successful -- and the commissioner of baseball all but says it won't be -- give fans all  their money back.

[UPDATED 5:24 p.m.: Preissler said neither he nor his associates would keep the money from fees, which he said via e-mail would be "processing fees (from) the likes of MasterCard, PayPal, etc. Not a penny is going to us with regard to these fees."

That is welcome news. But, assuming the venture is not successful, the fans still would not recoup all the money they paid for something they did not get.]

-- Bill Shaikin