Citi Field will remain the name of the New York Mets’ new ballpark following a government bailout the team believes will help the struggling bank survive its economic crisis.
Citigroup agreed in 2006 to pay the Mets $400 million over 20 years for naming rights to the stadium, scheduled to open next year. Two New York City councilmen said last week that the $800 million ballpark’s name should be changed to Citi/Taxpayer Field.
“The company is still an ongoing company and a vital company that is doing business around the globe,” Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon said Tuesday. “The taxpayers are backstopping what’s going on in the global economy. It’s not really Citi’s fault that they’re in this problem. There are a lot of other banks in the same situation — with naming-rights deals, also.”
After Citigroup’s shares lost 60 percent of their value within a week and dropped as low as $3.05, the government agreed last month to give the company a $20 billion cash injection — following an earlier $25 billion infusion. As part of the plan, the government agreed to assume possible losses on risky loans in exchange for $7 billion in preferred shares.
“We have a deal with Citi that is good for them, good for us. It’s good business for us to have the partnership and the relationship,” Wilpon said. “We think we can bring the right people to help them market their product so they can be a going concern, and that over time, the fans that we bring here will become Citi customers and that Citi will thrive and be able to pay the money back to the government.”
Signage for Citi already is visible at the ballpark, which is adjacent to Shea Stadium, and more is to come.
“It’s complete branding,” Mets executive vice president David Howard said. “Directional signing, menu boards, all those things, employee uniforms, parking-lot signage, they’re all going to be branded.”
Staten Island Republicans Vincent Ignizio and James Oddo said Nov. 25 that the ballpark’s name should be changed to Citi/Taxpayer Field.
“I understand where they’re coming from. I understand that there’s some upset-ness in the marketplace,” Wilpon said. “But we don’t agree with it.”
Some stadiums with corporate names have been changed. Enron Corp. agreed in 1999 to a $100 million, 30-year deal with the Houston Astros to name their ballpark Enron Field. The company filed for bankruptcy in December 2001, and the team agreed 2½ months later to buy back the name of the stadium, which became Minute Maid Park the following June.
Bank One Ballpark, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ stadium, was renamed Chase Field three years ago.
Howard said that if Citigroup is acquired by another company, the ballpark name could change.
“I think it would largely be their election,” he said, adding that the choice would “not entirely” be that of the company.
Wilpon didn’t think that would become an issue.
“If it was going to be acquired, it probably would have been acquired by now,” he said. “We really don’t get the feeling they’re going anywhere. And I think the government coming in to backstop them, to make sure that they’re going in the right direction, is a good thing.”
As for offseason moves, Wilpon said the marketplace was slow to develop. The Mets are seeking a closer to replace injured Billy Wagner, with Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Fuentes among the targets.
“Everybody is taking a little bit of a cautious approach,” Wilpon said.