It is never a good look to be surly and grumbling when your team of choice is in contention, but Mets fans always tend to see darkness even in the glare of a pennant race. The Mets' farm system—and supreme galactic being Bartolo Colon—has given the team one of the best rotations in the majors. A weakened Nationals team sits just ahead of them in the standings. This should have been the time for fans to dream of leaving years of LOLMets-y non-contention behind, and to escape owner Fred Wilpon's totally awesome decision to invest gobs of money in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. The Mets should be spending as needed to get over the top.
This has not been that time. And so Mets fans have watched their team win more often than not despite a historically bad offense, they have winced through report after report that no teams—or anyone else—believe GM Sandy Alderson's claims that he can add payroll, and they've readied themselves for the likelihood of another year in which the team can't afford to compete. Even the recent acquisitions of Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson have only served to improve the team's bench from "circus fire tragedy" to merely competent. In the meantime, the Toronto Blue Jays made a stunning trade for Troy Tulowitzki, and it looks less likely that the Mets can afford to take on a big salary like Justin Upton or Jay Bruce.
These are desperate times. So allow me then, to suggest a desperate measure: the Mets should be the first team to crowdfund their payroll.
Before you dismiss this as a desperate man's ridiculous idea, which it is, hear me out. The most funded Kickstarter campaign of all time is this, a smartwatch that isn't an Apple Watch, which managed to raise $20,338,986 from 78,471 backers. I believe that even a team as toxic as the Mets could raise around $20 million with relative ease; even 2003's nightmare squad, on which Steve Trachsel was the team's leader in WAR, drew around two million fans. While some of this attendance was no doubt due to New York-area day camps buying tickets in bulk and fans of other teams seeking a semi-private place to watch their guys play, that still leaves a huge pool of confirmed masochists and potential supporters—100,000 potential backers, give or take.
Crowdfunding could not, and anyway should not, be used to help the Mets take on a contract as large as Troy Tulowitzki's; asking for nine figures in crowdfunding is absurd, and also at the risk of belaboring this it is the owner's job to have enough money to pay players. On the other hand, $20 million would be more than enough to cover what remains of Justin Upton's $14.5 million salary—hell, put the rest towards a possible extension when the year is up—or the rest of Jay Bruce's $12 million for this season and his $12.5 million salary next year.
But would it work? Alex Daly runs the Kickstarter consulting firm Vann Alexandra, and admitted to not knowing a ton about baseball or being intimately familiar with the Wilpon's unique brand of ownership neglect. Still, she had advice for the Mets if they were to undertake a Kickstarter.
Daly was quick to mention that an angry backlash from fans wasn't an inevitability should the team set up a Help Us Acquire A Competent Corner Outfielder crowdfunding gambit. "If a campaign is executed correctly with well-crafted, transparent messaging, it has the potential to succeed," she told me over email. "Successful campaigns really come from having creators be honest. If creators reveal their intentions upfront; explain in detail how they plan to use the funds; and show how they plan to follow-through during the fulfillment process, backers are generally satisfied."
This sounds easy enough, but the Mets have had some trouble in the "transparency and honesty" divisions, whether it's a matter of their vaunted payroll flexibility or how injured their players really are. This could be a chance for the team to establish a new relationship with fans, one built more on mutual trust than antagonism. Or as much trust and friendship as can exist in a market where Vinny from Seagate will always be upset enough to call in to Boomer and Carton to complain.
What kind of Kickstarter incentives could the Mets offer to get fans to pay their money down? I was thinking they could offer along the lines of field level ticket packages and season ticket deals, autographed swag from the few current players the fans can stand and the beloved former Mets that the team hasn't completely alienated. Vann mostly concurred. "Limited edition swag and in-person experiences is what diehard fans really love," she said. "The thing with exclusivity is that if it's contained in a short period of time—say, a 30 day campaign—then people tend to want the product even more."
Now, in-person experiences could be a little tricky, but the team could be creative with it. Obviously Fred Wilpon and Jeff Wilpon would want to avoid a meet-and-greet—it would get violent, and you wouldn't want to spend too much time with Mets fans, either—but how many fans would pay $100 for the chance to send one of them into a dunk tank? Pay $200 and you can let your pet loose in the clubhouse and tell people your animal was the rally whatever that saved the season! A mere $300 will get you a Mike Piazza rainbow flag, signed by Belle and Sebastian.
And then there are the whales. Who'd pay $1,000 for the chance to take batting practice against Jacob deGrom or Matt Harvey? Probably not you, but people would. Drop $10,000 and you get a chance to pitch Sandy Alderson the outlandish Danny-Muno-and-Rafael-Montero-for-Kris-Bryant trades you'd usually have to run by Mike Francesa, except Alderson isn't allowed to roll his eyes or physically strike you.
It sounds perfect, but there is still the fact that, as Vann put it, "$20 million does seem like a terrifying number to raise in 30 days."
You do not have to be a Kickstarter expert to notice this. I know a decent number of Mets fans—I promise I am not bragging, here—and not a single one would consider pledging any money in the Mets' theoretical pursuit of offense. Responses ranged from "Oh hell no!" to "I love the Mets, I don't 'fan bailout' love the Mets. I wouldn't trust them with my money" to "How can a baseball team that's trying to build a mall on its parking lot be broke?" to "I'm not convinced fans should be kicking in for that. I'm a lifelong Mets fan, but I don't think a crowdfunded bat or shortstop is gonna make the difference." One friend told me she'd be willing to pony up for a better medical staff for the team, so at least there's that. A non-sports person to whom I posed the question called the idea "shameful, when so many people actually need the help," which is true but also reflects the perspective of someone who had not watched John Mayberry Jr. play even once.
More to the point, would this be legal? I contacted Major League Baseball multiple times trying to find out if there were any rules related to crowdfunding payroll, but after being transferred around in a circle by one baffled secretary after another, I'm no closer an answer. My gut says that there's what might be called the Air Bud Exemption here—it's not against the rules, because who would think to do this? When I reached out to Kickstarter to see how they would feel about the first professional sports payroll crowdfunding idea, they were oddly muted about it, emailing me the following comment:
"We'd politely decline to comment. I'd just point out that Kickstarter couldn't be used for that kind of fundraise per our rules—it's gotta be a creative project: Film, Music, Technology, Games, Food, Journalism, etc."
Of course, if it really came down to brass tacks, the Mets could probably argue that hitting a baseball is a "creative act," since no two swings are exactly alike and Ted Williams' swing was described as "a work of art" by hundreds of weepy Bostonians. And if that didn't work, there's always Indiegogo or GoFundMe; if they can be used to blast funds at homophobic pizzerias, surely they could help the Mets with Will Venable.
But would the Mets do it? Repeated requests for comment were turned down, although someone in the media relations department audibly laughed when I asked if the team would consider crowdfunding their payroll. What's the harm in trying though? Would Commissioner Rob Manfred try to take the team away? It's not like him or predecessor Bud Selig ever seemed concerned about a team in a huge media market having a lower payroll than the (fucking) Twins in the past. Would the shame of asking for the money and not getting it, or being known as "that team that did a Kickstarter" really be any worse than the shame of missing the playoffs by a couple of games and wasting a season of deGrom/Harvey/Syndergaard/Matz because they couldn't afford an upgrade on Ruben Tejada?
Yes, it would be uncomfortable to see a big league team passing around a cup like your friend's shitty bar band. But also the defining experience of being a Mets fan is shrugging off one indignity after the other, from the inaugural 40-win season to trading Nolan Ryan for Jim Fregosi to the entire M. Donald Grant Experience to Vince Coleman's adventures in pyrotechnics and Bobby Bonilla offering to show Bob Klapisch the Bronx, which was a euphemism for "I will fight you." There is more, but you already know it. All of it sucks.
But none of it, except for this, was really a thing the fans could control. In the grand scheme of Mets history, a "Kickstarter for Jay Bruce" might even be an improvement of sorts. Change is never easy. Think of Jeff Wilpon and the dunk tank, fans. Then think of October, and dig deep.