By now I’m guessing you’ve heard the news: the Cubs and the city of Chicago have
a deal come to a tentative agreement on a plan to renovate Wrigley Field (here’s a brief rundown). That agreement now must make its circuitous way through the various city councils, boards, and approval committees before it’s officially a done deal, but it’s still a major and long-awaited step in the right direction.
Of course, the whole thing could still fall apart. Tom Tunney–Alderman of the 44th Ward of Chicago and longtime attack dog of the rooftop owners–is said to be on board with the plan in principle, but don’t be surprised if he and his litigious constituents continue to throw speed bumps in the way of the renovation. In fact, count on them to get downright medieval on the Ricketts family when the Cubs owners finally announce where exactly they intend to put their proposed 6,000 square foot video board. At over three times the size of the manually-operated center field scoreboard, the proposed video screen promises to take up a substantial portion of the outfield skyline. And while the Cubs have said the placement of the video board won’t interfere with the view of any of the rooftops they have a contractual relationship with (which I assume means it’s going directly in front of the building that used to be home to the big red Budweiser sign), that likely won’t stop the rooftop owners from complaining.
What else could go wrong? A lot, I would think. Maybe Joe Ricketts, the partiarch of the Ricketts family and founder of TD Ameritrade, will again consider criticizing President Obama, sending Chicago mayor Rahm Emmanuel into fits of rage as he angrily ignores the Ricketts siblings’ phone calls for another eight-to-ten months. Maybe the corrupt-to-it’s-core political machine of Chicago will need more wheel-greasing than the Ricketts’ can afford. Maybe a five-year renovation plan is horribly naive, and Wrigley turns into baseball’s most beloved money pit (estimates are that it already costs the Ricketts at least $15M per year in repairs alone, so perhaps this isn’t so unlikely).
Of course money probably won’t be the Ricketts concern for long, if it is now at all. The new video board alone ought to draw at least $20M annually in advertising fees. The Cubs will also expand from thirty to forty night games in the coming years, and extend their beer sales by at least half an inning. And in a few short years, the Cubs will be ready to renegotiate their TV deal, with a new contract netting them somewhere in the multiple billions of dollars–or perhaps exponentially more if they create their own network (my guess is that’s their long-term plan).
So don’t feel bad for Tom Ricketts, even if he has to pay off or completely buy out a few of the most troublesome rooftop owners along the way (very likely). In fact, I say we should be proud of him. His willingness to pony up the funds for this project–a reported $500M (although I think it’s really closer to $300M, with the other $200M for the hotel project coming from a private LLC Ricketts heads up)–is admirable, especially considering how fleecing the taxpayers has become the preferred means of ballpark renovation/construction in recent years.
Think back a few years to when the Tribune Co. announced they were selling the Cubs. A lot of fans hoped Mark Cuban would receive serious consideration. I was among them, not because I like Cuban, but because I’ve appreciated his approach to owning the Dallas Mavericks. Cuban doesn’t need to make money off the Mavs–they’re a luxury to him, one that feeds his competitive nature. Rather than sapping the organization for every dime he can get out of it, he consistently reinvests in his team whenever and wherever possible. I remember hoping that the new Cubs owners–whoever they were–would follow the same kind of pattern and not see the team as just a cash cow, the way the Tribune Co. had for so long.
Ricketts doesn’t have the flamboyant flair or the outspoken abrasiveness of Cuban, but he’s also not trying to run the team on the cheap. By not relying on public money, he should bee able to streamline the renovation project without cutting corners. That is, at least as long as the rest of Chicago stays out of his way.
Like most Cubs fans, I love Wrigley Field. All things considered, it’s probably my favorite place in the world. And there is at least part of me that doesn’t want to see it drastically changed. But if it does need to be updated and renovated–and believe me, it does–I’m pleased to have the project in the hands of another Cubs fan. Someone who understands what’s so special about the place, and why it’s worth preserving for the next generation of Cubs fans. Let’s hope Tom Ricketts knows what he’s doing, and has the means to get it done. For all our sakes.
So put yourself in Ricketts’ shoes for a moment. What do you want to see done to Wrigley? If it’s your millions paying for the project, what are your priorities?