Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Battle for New York

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Battle for New York

Article excerpt

Who really owns New York - the Yankees or the Mets? Easy question, at least at first glance. The Bombers draw more fans, have better TV ratings, and spend twice as much on their payroll. It's no contest in terms of revenue, which means the argument can end right here.

But that's not why we raised the issue, not after an off-season in which the Yankees failed to significantly improve their roster. The Mets won't look much different - except for Matt Harvey, which is why their trend line looks healthier than the Bombers.

Put it this way: Most major league executives don't see the Yankees as anything more than an 84-win team this year. The Mets project in the same neighborhood - say 82 to 83 wins - but that's a significant step forward for a franchise steeped in a six-year losing streak.

Harvey doesn't just make the Mets better on the field, he makes them more exciting to watch, more compelling to write about. He's a latter-day Joe Namath - full of swagger and ego, in love with the spotlight and the perfect medicine for Mets fans who hate ownership. Harvey can make them forget how broke the Wilpons are.

But is he enough to change the balance of power in this baseball market? Yes and no. Harvey is New York's best pitcher, but the Yankees are still a monolith in every sense of the word: They led the American League in attendance in 2014, drawing 3.4 million fans, up slightly from 2013. And the YES Network was the most-watched regional sports network for the 11th time in 12 years. The Yankees enjoyed a 15 percent increase in ratings from the year before.

But hold on: Aren't those numbers, impressive as they are, at least partly tied to Derek Jeter's farewell? That's one of the key determinants of the Yankees' success with ticket-buyers in 2015, whether this team - without any Core Four farewell tours - will be able to generate serious buzz.

Obviously, it's too early to tell; ticket sales have only begun, and most of the issues that hang over the roster won't be resolved until late spring training. But there's no doubt the Yankees have settled on a smaller footprint within the industry. It's crazy to say that, considering their payroll is over $200 million, twice that of the Mets. And one Yankee official wasn't wrong when he said, "Hal [Steinbrenner] is spending plenty on us."

But it's also true Steinbrenner emphatically shut down any pursuit of Max Scherzer, despite the rotation's obvious need for an ace. And reports that the Bombers were hovering around James Shields at the 11th hour were only partly true - ownership said no again.

According to a major league official, the dialogue between Shields and the Yankees was initiated by agent Page Odle, at Shields' urging. He called the Bombers to say the right-hander was interested in pitching in the Bronx. …

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