Brian Cattell
Brian Cattell

It’s three and a half years since Steve Cohen strolled into Citi Field and captured Mets fans’ imagination with a simple message: “I will make you winners.”

The carefully choreographed communications of the hedge fund titan’s early days of sports ownership were indeed impressive.

Glowing media reports reflected Cohen’s clear pitch to the franchise’s long-suffering fans. He would leverage his wealth as the richest owner in MLB to conduct a turnaround operation that would put the Mets among the game’s title-winning elite. What’s more, the entire enterprise would be an exercise of civic duty on Cohen’s part.

In many ways, the scrappy Mets, far more lovable than their crosstown rivals the Yankees, should have been the perfect vehicle for Cohen. Fast forward to June 2024, however, and it’s an understatement to say that things haven’t quite worked out as planned.

The Mets faced the National League East leading Phillies in London this weekend with Cohen’s team languishing second from the bottom of the division, more than 17 games behind their opponents.

Even worse than the stats, however, is the way the Mets have imploded this season.

In yet another heartbreaking loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks in early June, the Mets achieved a new record. But not one Cohen would have ever coveted. They became the first team to lose six games since May 1 in which they had led in the eighth inning.

Add to that the litany of injury woes and shocking breaches in discipline such as pitcher Jorge Lopez angrily growing his glove into the crowd, and the Mets right now are a chaotic embarrassment.

That must be tough to take for an owner who has such a record of achievement in his other endeavors, whether that be in the world of investment, fine art or philanthropy.

Certainly, the media has given Cohen both barrels.

“This mess is entirely Steve Cohen’s,” screamed one headline in the New York Daily News. Not to be outdone, the New York Post chimed in with a piece titled: “Steve Cohen failing in his vow to end Mets ridiculousness.”

With hindsight, as slick as the billionaire’s PR was in those early days of baseball ownership, he has been forced to learn the hard way one of the fundamentals of sports communications: expectations management.

To his credit, Cohen isn’t giving up on his Mets dream. And, as bad as things have gotten, he is not hiding either.

He continues to react regularly to the team’s ups and far more frequent downs through sometimes exasperated social media posts, and through an open dialogue with the media.

Just this past week for instance he made a show out of working from his investment firm Point 72’s London office before giving a news conference ahead of Sunday’s final game.

Cohen continued to urge Mets fans to keep the faith and also voiced support for his beleaguered front office and rookie manager Carlos Mendoza. He said he still believes the Mets can turn things around.

However, communicating as much he is right now means little PR slips do happen: in the same press conference, when talking about the trade deadline, Cohen raised a few eyebrows when he claimed Mets fans “have been through worse.”

There is therefore a PR case for Cohen to become a little less reactive to the day-to-day emotional rollercoaster that the team is inflicting on the fans. But he has established himself as a vocal owner and a steward of the team who cares deeply about the fans, about the city and his responsibilities.

He should therefore continue to communicate that passion, professionalism and those civic values at appropriate junctures. But he should now let young Mets president David Stearns and manager Mendoza take a bigger share of the limelight.

Finally, it’s an old adage in sports that money cannot buy success. As Cohen becomes the latest rich man to experience that, he should give himself and the fans more time to achieve their shared dream. His investment may well bring pennants and even a World Series one day. Just not yet.

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Brian Cattell is a senior partner at communications consulting firm CLP Strategies