Prospective Mets partner wants cable stake

NEW YORK Fri Feb 11, 2011 4:52pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Mike Repole built his fortune on healthy food products and would like to satisfy his boyhood cravings by buying a healthy piece of the New York Mets, including their lucrative cable sports network SNY.

Repole stepped to the plate after Mets owners, including chairman Fred Wilpon, said they might sell a minority stake as the trustee recovering money for victims of the Bernard Madoff fraud sued them to recover as much as $1 billion.

The native New Yorker told Reuters that spending hundreds of millions for a 25 percent share in the team needed to include a stake in SNY, which Wilpon had said would not be included in a fundraising deal.

"This is a team I rooted for my whole life," Repole said in a telephone interview Friday. "I just think it's going to be very difficult to find a minority partner the way the deal is being structured."

Wilpon and Mets partner and brother-in-law Saul Katz were accused of taking "fictitious profits" through their accounts with Madoff, who bilked billions of dollars from others with his Ponzi scheme.

Fans worry that a financially strapped Mets ownership might limit the team's potential on the field. Repole, 42, would love to fill the breach but has reservations.

"It's a lot of money to put up to have no real control," he said. "It would be cheaper to get four front row season tickets than 25 percent with not much say.

"It's a hard deal to sell to anybody when it's just the ballclub and not the network."

Repole, who as a St. Johns University sports management major dreamed of one day becoming general manager of his beloved Mets -- recently valued at nearly $900 million by Forbes -- said the businesses were obviously intertwined.

"You want to put the best product on the field that will increase ratings and your advertising fees on SNY," he said. "That can be very expensive and the SNY piece can be very profitable.

"Being a business entrepreneur, it would be very difficult to just have the team for sale and not a piece of the network," added Repole, co-founder of Vitaminwater and chairman of snack food Pirates Booty and healthy fast-food chain Energy Kitchen.

Repole said his representatives had contacted the law firm representing the Mets and that he expected the process to take time since the financial picture was evolving.

"With the financial situation for the Wilpons and the (Madoff) case, I think a lot is going to play out over the next three months to a year," he said. "I want to be patiently aggressive."

DREAM JOB

While expressing respect for the Wilpons, Repole allowed himself to dream even bigger about some day running the Mets.

"It's probably a dream scenario," he conceded. "The whole team is not for sale right now. The Wilpons have made it very clear that they're looking for a 25 percent partner.

"If the Wilpons said the entire team is for sale, I think I would be interested in being a managing partner and taking in a bunch of the biggest Mets fans in New York City.

"There's a lot of money in New York City and a lot of Mets fans in New York. (I could) put together a team behind me of some of the super successful people that have one huge common interest with me and that's a love for the New York Mets."

Repole traced his own history with the Mets to trips to Shea Stadium as a youngster growing up in Queens.

"I remember my aunts, uncles, parents taking me to Mets games to watch not the best team in the world -- the Doug Flynns, Joel Youngbloods, Steve Hendersons, Craig Swans and Pat Zachrys and watching them win maybe 60 games a year as a kid," he said.

He also tasted success with the emergence of Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and the 1986 Mets who won the World Series.

"I was 17 years old and a senior in high school," he said. "I was at Game 7 of the World Series, probably to this day the biggest sports moment and biggest sports thrill I ever had."

Repole might savor more hands-on thrills with the Mets, and in the meantime may achieve another sports dream. His horse, Uncle Mo, is an early favorite for this year's Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs.

"The Kentucky Derby, that could compete," he said with a laugh before adding: "My racing silks are blue and orange (Mets colors) for a reason."

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)

(larry.fine@thomsonreuters.com; +1 646-729-6291. Reuters Messaging: larry.fine.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net; For the new sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport/))

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