Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts makes a lot of stops for speaking engagements, both in the business and baseball communities. It’s possible he talks about Wrigley Field and the need for renovations frequently, and it gets reported only occasionally.
It’s also possible that he hasn’t spoken at length about it recently, and that’s why when he did it this week, it got noticed. I mentioned a while ago in the Bullets that Ricketts would be speaking at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce and, when he did, he spoke at length about both the need for renovations at Wrigley Field, and the fairness of the project being at least partially publicly funded.
“We need to improve it,” Ricketts said of the Cubs’ home, according to the Daily Herald. “When everyone is in their chairs, they’re pretty happy. When they have to get up to get in line for the washroom or food, then some of the shortcomings step up and you can kind of see them. So it’s definitely our goal to preserve the park for the next generation of fans, as well as improve the amenities for the people who come today.”
When it comes to addressing those shortcomings and improving amenities (which amenities presumably include modern, competitive facilities for Cubs players), Ricketts isn’t ready to give up on finding some public financial support for necessary improvements at Wrigley Field.
“We definitely have a lot of dialogue with a lot of elected officials, and I think it’s all moving in the right direction,” Ricketts said, adding that he thinks “people are starting to get” Wrigley Field’s unique funding needs. “When we’re able to come up with something that works for everyone, it will be out there, and I hope everyone will be supportive at that point.”
Ricketts was pointed when discussing why he believes public funding for a Wrigley renovation project is both necessary and fair.
“There’s 30 teams in baseball, and there’s really two ways that you finance your stadium,” Ricketts said. “One model, which about 25 teams use, is that you have a public agency build and provide you a stadium and you pay rent and expenses and some sort of amusement tax. The five other teams use a different model where they cover all of their expenses, but they don’t pay any taxes. Believe it or not, Chicago has a hybrid model where you cover all of your own expenses, remain totally private and pay the second-highest taxes in the league.”
While I do think there’s a bit of play there (I doubt that the five teams who cover their own expenses don’t pay *any* taxes – they probably just don’t pay any direct taxes on tickets), Ricketts’ point strikes me as a good one. It seems pretty unfair to expect the Cubs to simultaneously bear a disproportionately high tax burden while not receiving a disproportionately high value from the city and state who benefit from those taxes (and, frankly, benefit from the Cubs’ mere presence).
Unfortunately, arguments about “fairness” – when you’re talking about a family that bought a team for $850 million – tend to fall on deaf ears.
It’s possible that this is the start of a stumping process for Ricketts, as he tries to drum up support from all corners for a renewed public funding plan (getting the business community on your side can’t hurt when that business community helps buoy the politicians who control the purse). It’s a fascinating situation that will probably play out over a long period of time.
As a Cubs fan, though, I just hope Wrigley gets the massive facelift it needs. And soon.
(Also, it’s important to note: the at-issue amusement tax is technically paid by we ticket-buyers, but, because that inflates the price for Cubs tickets, it actually functions as a tax on the Cubs because it reduces the revenue the team could be bringing in.)