[For those unfamiliar with Obsessive Watches at Bleacher Nation, they are pretty much exactly what they sound like. When a topic reaches such a frequency of rumor mongering that we can’t help but seek out every little bit of info – think Brian Roberts, managerial searches, and Jorge Soler, for example – it becomes an Obsessive Watch. Like you, I can’t help myself.]
Funding plans for a renovation of Wrigley Field continue to be discussed both within the Chicago Cubs’ organization and in the Mayor’s Office. At last check, Mayor Rahm Emanuel was on board with a plan that would net some of the funding from public dollars, and some from the Ricketts Family (though Illinois Governor Pat Quinn isn’t happy about it), but any public-funding plan in today’s political and economic climate is going to be met with heavy scrutiny and almost immediate skepticism.
So, if direct public dollars aren’t going to be the easiest way to get a funding deal done, what about a public way for the Cubs to generate some of the money on their own? Say, for example, by relaxing the limitations imposed by Wrigley Field’s landmark status? From the Sun-Times:
Determined to renovate 98-year-old Wrigley without overburdening taxpayers, sources said Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing a plan to relax the ballpark’s landmark status and allow the Cubs to wring as much as $150 million in advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium and surrounding streets.
The mayor privately calls it his “Fenway” plan — and why not? Century-old Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, remains the model of how to turn an iconic old ballpark landlocked by a city neighborhood into a festive money-maker.
Now that Emanuel is Chicago’s mayor and former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein is president of baseball operations for the Cubs, City Hall believes it’s time to replicate the Fenway model at Wrigley.
Advertising in and around Wrigley Field has always been a touchy subject for the same reason that so many things are touchy subjects when you attach them to Wrigley Field: tradition. Very few people like advertising, but, as the proprietor of a business that could not survive without it, I can tell you that advertising is a necessary evil. And it’s a necessarily evil that the Cubs have been doing largely without for a long, long time (once again, placing them at a relative competitive disadvantage with respect to their peer organizations/markets). Would I be happy to see Wrigley done up like a Las Vegas showgirl? No. But do I want the Cubs to be able to renovate Wrigley Field and start spending like the large market team they are? Very much yes.
The Sun-Times report indicates that sources say increased ad revenue would not be the only source of funding for a Wrigley Field renovation, with substantial money still coming from the Ricketts Family, and another chunk coming from the long-discussed amusement tax growth plan (in short: the Cubs would get some of the money collected by the city and county on the sale of Cubs tickets). A combination deal like that seems like the most politically-digestible plan, and also seems like the most realistic path to securing the kind of dollars necessary to meaningfully renovate Wrigley Field.
The plan might also be the most attractive to the Cubs. After the renovation is paid for, the Cubs will suddenly find themselves with vast new revenue streams that weren’t previously possible thanks to Wrigley’s landmark status.