Forget the threat. The Chicago Cubs are not going to abandon Wrigley Field on the cusp of the ballpark’s 100th anniversary. Owner Tom Ricketts’ comment that if he didn’t get his way he might yank the team out of Wrigley is just him showing irritation about everyone and his cousin wanting to weigh in on his building renovation plans.
Now Wrigley Field is a civic treasure and everyone in Chicago feels as if he owns a piece of it, but the reality is that every Chicagoan does not technically own a piece of the rock. However, the city council, city planners, and anyone that owns an apartment building across the street that has been selling views of Wrigley Field to the public for decades feels as if they have a right determine what is done to the park.
The Cubs are owned by the Ricketts family, and Tom Ricketts is the chairman. He is the front man to the community and the Cubs have announced they are going to pour $500 million into renovating, preserving and updating Wrigley Field, which opened in 1914, and is the second oldest park in the majors to Fenway Park in Boston.
For those who did not follow the years-long soap opera concerning the future of Fenway, let’s just say that a deal was cut to build a new ballpark and for the Red Sox to play elsewhere, but new ownership put the kibosh on that and kept Fenway alive in the 2000s. To do so the leadership pumped in millions of bucks to modernize the grand old dame.
If Fenway could do it, Wrigley can do it. Spending $500 million on an old park would be considered lunacy in some cities and there are National Football League cities that have ditched plans for renovation to probe the idea of a news stadium–one that might not cost $500 mil.
Bet Ricketts could find a friendly location in the Chicago suburbs and build a new park for that amount of money and the parking access would be about 10,000 times improved. Wrigley has like no parking. Crazy people who don’t want to ride the El actually pay $40 to park near Wrigley and then they can’t even get out after the game.
We live in an an age where baseball teams must have payrolls in the $100 million range to have a chance to compete for a World Series crown. When you are based in an old ballpark and can’t expand the seating capacity you have to find creative ways to raise revenue,.
One way that teams have modernized stadiums–and this has been especially true of college football programs, is installing massive video boards. Not only have they proven popular for instant replay, but they open a new revenue stream.
Ricketts wants to erect a 6,000-square-foot video screen in left field. On the surface that sounds humongous, but there are many sports arenas with larger ones. The rooftop owners are complaining that the video board will block views from across the street.
The rooftop owners used to have the sweetest deal in the business world. They sold tickets for fans to access their buildings so they could watch Cubs games from afar. (Think of the last row of seats in the stadium and multiply it.) Some years ago the grumbling rooftop owners broke down and negotiated a deal with the Cubs to pay the team 17 percent of revenue they obtained from leeching off the product.
That’s pretty generous on the part of the team because the rooftop owners don’t have guaranteed rights to sell tickets to games.
During the course of this latest brouhaha, Rickets made a most telling point. He said, “All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum.”
The entire battle is portrayed as the little guys on the rooftops versus the zillionaire owner of the team. But the fact is, it’s tough to argue with Ricketts’ logic. He and his family are the ones that own the team.
That said, current tug of war aside, it’s doubtful that the Ricketts want to go down in history as the Cubs owners that moved the team out of Wrigley, then sold the property to be knocked down and converted into townhouses.