Pitch Black? Mets' SNY Network Might Be Victim Of Madoff Settlement

The New York Mets, who had been involved with the infamous Ponzi scheme of Bernie Madoff, reached a settlement with a Madoff trustee, preventing the case from going to trial. The Mets own 65% in the regional cable network SNY, and failure to reap enough funds for the Madoff settlement could lead to big changes at the network. Pictured, ironically, is how SNY broke the news of the settlement on their air.

On Monday, a trustee, representing hundreds of victims of Ponzi scheme artist, Bernard Madoff, was set to go to trial, in which he would seek upwards of $300 million from the New York Mets, a trial which would no doubt serve as a disconcerting sideshow to a 2012 season that many sports prognosticators project will be a futile one well before the first pitch of the regular season is even thrown.

Just before jury selection was set to begin for the trial, Mets chairman/CEO Fred Wilpon and team president Saul Katz have reached a settlement with the trustee, Irving Picard, for $162 million, or just over half of Picard’s original asking price.

Still saddled by the franchise’s involvement with Madoff, the Mets will likely find it difficult to invest in talent, and could be confined to the basement of the National League East division – if not the league itself – possibly until their current player that bears the highest price tag, injury-plagued pitcher Johan Santana, turns 40.

Which makes you wonder about SportsNet New York, or SNY. A network which the Mets own roughly two-thirds of (and in return, SNY owns 16% of the Mets). A network that itself may have been financed by Madoff: Katz tried passing off a $54 million payment in 2004 from Madoff’s wife, Ruth, as an investment toward the initial capital of SNY, which went on the air exactly six years ago on Friday, March 16; though last year, a general counsel for the Mets said that payment was deemed unnecessary and returned within 24 hours.

One part of the settlement agreement is that the Mets aren’t obligated to make any payments until 2015. Which should give them a good deal of time to raise some of the assets. But with a team projected to be a cellar dweller long into the next President term, their ability to do so will be limited. Earlier this year, it was reported that revenues at the Mets’ ballpark, CitiField, had dropped significantly since the stadium opened its doors three years ago, with sales for premium seats cut literally in half, from $99.3 million in 2009 to $50.6 million last year.

It’s bad enough thinking about how many empty seats, premium or otherwise, there will be at CitiField in the years ahead. Imagine how many eyeballs will be chomping at the bit to rush to SNY to watch the team.

At the midseason point last year, the regional cable network’s average ratings suffered a 29% decrease from that same point in 2010, with their market share among the worst in Major League Baseball.

Buoyed by its existence in the largest market, the Mets’ average of 175,000 homes placed that number in the top 5 in terms of home viewership. But that can only take you so far. It’s possible that with the underperforming play that everybody expects, this team can fall out of this category’s upper echelon.

This would be a convenient time to remind you that the Mets’ current radio home, sports radio pioneer WFAN, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this summer, is set to start what is speculated to be the final year of a thirty-year relationship with the team,┬ádating back to WFAN’s predecessor, country station WHN. As the New York Daily News’ Bob Raissman accurately predicted in February 2011, WFAN sister station WCBS-AM, the current radio home of the New York Yankees, re-upped with the Pinstripes for only one year, which would coincide with the expiration of the current WFAN/Mets deal. All signs point to WFAN obtaining Yankees radio rights in 2013, and kicking the Mets to the curb.

In fact, the future of the Mets is so dire, their longtime Albany affiliate dropped them in favor of the Red Sox. (In fairness, they recently added a new affiliate in the area last week.)

Even though a settlement means the Mets are absolved the responsibility of $141 million (perhaps more) to Madoff’s victims, it’s clear that the foreseeable fortunes of this franchise are bleak. Which is why, if ticket sales and television ratings fall even further, the Mets may have no choice but to gut SNY.

Just as the Mets are hard-pressed to hold onto popular players due to their financial predicament, SNY’s talent roster may also be forced to part ways with the network, as well. Everyone from the famed Mets field reported Kevin Burkhardt to studio host Adam Schein (also heard on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio) might be affected. (By the way, how’s that deal with Tiki Barber working for them?)

It may very well be in the realm of possibility that SNY could air more infomercials than the ones currently running in the late-night and mid-morning hours. Hard to fathom, given the fare currently offered by the network.

But if you’re a cash-strapped team that needs to come up with mime figures, to make an omelet, you have to break a few eggs – or, in the Mets’ case, breaking loose with notable talent.

Indefatigueable New York Times columnist Richard Sandomir, who has been on this Mets/Madoff saga like white on rice (he was at the courthouse and immediately tweeted that there would be a settlement no sooner than it was announced) respectfully disagreed with my view. “I don’t see any effect,” he told me via Twitter. “It operates separately from the Mets, with healthy subscriber fees that pay the freight.” (Remember that the Mets owns 65% of SNY.)

That’s another thing to keep in mind: Cable subscribers, like you and me, end up footing the bill for many networks, such as ESPN. These are based on agreements between the networks and the respective cable systems. So ratings may not have much of an impact. But it should be interesting to see what happens when Cablevision’s current carriage deal with SNY expires – keep in mind that about a quarter of the network is owned by rival Time Warner Cable… and we all remember how both sides were at an impasse for close to two months on Time Warner coming to terms on a new carriage agreement with MSG Network, owned by Cablevision. In fact, SNY’s first week on the air was denied to Cablevision subscribers, as a result of a carriage tiff. If the Mets perform poorly for the duration of SNY’s current Cablevision contract, I don’t think even Jeremy Lin would be able to save the day in the SNY/Cablevision squabble that is bound to take place.

Bottom line: Mets baseball over the next several years may not be television worth watching on SNY.

But if the Mets are not successful in raising enough funds to put toward the Madoff settlement, the situation behind the scenes at SNY will be.

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Tiki Barber Follows Failed NFL Comeback With Failed Television Comeback

Desperate and destitute, Tiki Barber will be making a television comeback this weekend, after his former team, the New York Giants, play in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers. But it appears that fate has had the last laugh on Tiki Barber.

What a tumultuous last year it’s been for Tiki Barber.

Or five.

You may recall when the second-round draft-picked running back, who spent his entire football career with the New York Giants, decided to pull a Jim Brown and embark on an exciting new career in television at the conclusion of the 2006 NFL season.

Quite frankly, Tiki fell flat as a media figure. He had actually started dabbling with a television career, auditioning on Fox News Channel during his final season with the Giants. Hard to believe, as many as four networks actually competed for the free-agent TV talent’s services, with NBC becoming the eventual winner – or shall I say, eventual loser. What started as a giant (no pun intended) role on “The Today Show” effectively turned into a demotion as a studio-host-cum-roving-early-game-correspondent on “Football Night In America.” Apparently, NBC had seen enough when they unceremoniously dumped him in the summer of 2010. You know, kinda like how Tiki unceremoniously dumped his eight-months-pregnant-with-twins wife for an NBC intern just months earlier.

Around that time, the former grid great who made O.J. Simpson look like a ladies’ man admitted he was financially unable to pay his divorce settlement with his newly-estranged ex-wife.

He was flat broke – just like his flat television career.

WWTD: What would Tiki do?

Four years removed from the game of football, and probably putting on a hell of a lot more than the ten pounds the traditional camera puts on, Tiki Barber decided to unretire.

Teams such as the Steelers, the Dolphins, and even the Buccaneers – who have been signing the paychecks of his twin brother Ronde for the last fifteen years (and probably has had a brighter media career than Tiki, at this point) – gave him a look.

But there would be no takers.

Which meant no new revenue stream.

Which meant no money to put toward his former wife.

Or the wedding with his future wife.

To say Tiki Barber is at a point of desperation is an understatement. Even Shelley Long has no sympathy for Tiki Barber.

How desperate is Tiki Barber, you may ask? Well, he just signed on to be a talking head for SNY, the regional sports network which is mostly owned by the New York Mets – the baseball franchise involved in Bernie Madoff’s infamous Ponzi scheme.

When you have to resort to a Madoff victim for extra cash, clearly, you have hit rock bottom.

Anyway, Barber’s television comeback will start with the Giants/49ers postgame program on SNY, which begins after the final snap in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday night.

Said Barber of the hire: “I am looking forward to providing my insights.” Translation: “I am looking forward to providing a spectacular honeymoon suite for Traci Lynn Johnson.”

“Hopefully it will be after a Giants win.” Translation 1: “… because the more appearances I make on television, the more opportunities there are for a Giant pay day!” Translation 2: “Hopefully, the Giants will lose because I can’t wait to rip them again.”

You may recall back in the summer of 2007, back when Tiki Barber’s floundering TV career was in its fledgling stage, when during the halftime show of a “Sunday Night Football” preseason game between the Giants and Baltimore Ravens, one of the first games Big Blue played since his departure, he questioned quarterback Eli Manning’s leadership, calling it “comical.”

And all Manning did was lead the Tiki-free Giants to a Super Bowl victory.

Salt, meet wound.

It’s hard to tell if Barber is more bitter than desperate. The Giants had made the playoffs for half of the ten seasons Barber suited up with them, and four of those five playoff appearances were one-and-dones; Barber’s personal postseason record is 2-5, with the two lone wins coming in the Super Bowl also-ran 2000-01 postseason. Since Tiki took his ball and went home, the Giants’ postseason record is 6-1, and with a victory in San Francisco on Sunday, they’ll be sniffing another Lombardi trophy.

Again: salt, meet wound.

At the cusp of a scurried, post-lockout 2011 preseason, when all 32 teams finalized their rosters, Barber’s agent, Mark Lepselter, said he was “flabbergasted that Tiki has not had an opportunity with any team.”

I’m flabbergasted that Mark Lepselter wasn’t very flabbergasted by his client’s Anne Frank comparison, enough that Lepselter still represents him.

And now, a network in which the Mets have a 65% ownership in has rewarded the fallen football star, who had experienced an even greater fall than Humpty Dumpty on television, with a stint on their NFC Championship game postgame show.

Could you imagine if David Einhorn had successfully became a minority owner of the Mets? That idea probably would have been sacked in a second.

Perhaps it’s poetic justice, with Tiki Barber abandoning his wife of eleven years while she was carrying two twin daughters in the latter half of their third trimester, that he now has to resort to odd jobs in television in the wake of a TV career that has collapsed worse than that playoff game in San Francisco.

Submitted for your approval: His appearances on the revival of the PBS series, “The Electric Company.” I’m sure if he were alive, even George Carlin (the raunchy comedian who doubled as “Mr. Conductor” on “Shining Time Station”) would think that’s a questionable move.

Now, he’s making his second go-round on non-public television with the conclusion of the NFC Championship Game featuring his former team. Sounds like an installment of “Prankster Planet,” if you ask me.

By the way, just to give you an idea of just how bad things have gotten for Tiki Barber: Earlier this month, while at a New York City courthouse for a divorce proceeding conference, he was reportedly “rushed by a dozen court staffers in the waiting area.” And according to a court source, Tiki was reprotedly “loving it.”

Tiki will be lucky if he gets as much attention this Sunday night on SNY.

Tiki Barber’s fall from grace has been, to say the least, just flabbergasting.

WWTD(F$): What would Tiki do (for money)?