Late last year, we learned that the Chicago Cubs planned to partner with Arizona State University on the Cubs’ new Spring Training facility in Mesa, Arizona. In short, the Sun Devils would use the park when the Cubs weren’t, and the University would pay the Cubs some money for the use. It was a feel-good, money-saving story, and a particularly nice bookend to the long process of securing funding for the new facility.
We haven’t heard a whole lot about the partnership over the past few months, even as the grounds for the new ballpark and training facilities started to be clear (the official groundbreaking is in July). Maybe we weren’t hearing much because the partnership’s formation isn’t going so smoothly?
According to emails obtained by Arizona Central, the President of ASU, Dr. Michael Crow, has grown dissatisfied with what he perceives to be intransigence and dishonesty on the part of the Cubs, and has solicited the help of Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, who helped put the financial deal together that kept the Cubs in Mesa for Spring Training.
“We accelerated our plans [to redevelop our existing baseball facility for other purposes, and] announced our intention to be part of the new ballpark,” Crow said of the planned partnership with the Cubs. “Since that time we have found ourselves dealing with a highly erratic Cubs organization and as of today we have been all but told that they want us out of the deal.”
“When you and I talked about this,” Crow continued in an email to Smith, “you indicated that we might need to invest a bit more to make all the numbers work. We agreed to do that and went back to our board for their approval of our leasing terms and the new capital improvements necessary for the project to fit into the city’s budget …. We were still operating under the notion that your partner operated in good faith …. The Cubs are not people of their word.”
That’s pretty harsh.
The Arizona Central article includes only a small, almost boilerplate response from Cubs VP of Communications and Community Affairs Julian Green: “We hope Arizona State will be part of the new spring training facility,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said. “However, our first priority is building a world-class facility for use by the Cubs year-round. This is what the voters of Mesa approved.”
The article goes on to include some political mitigation from Smith, who indicates that the Crow email probably came during a mere “rough spot” in the negotiations.
All in all, it sounds pretty bad, and makes the Cubs sound like an obstinate bully, one that lies and cheats to get what it wants.
Knowing that there are always two sides to a story, though, I reached out to the Cubs for additional comment. You know me – I hate to editorialize based only on one side’s view of an issue (and this one is a pretty limited view, at that).
Cubs’ PR and Marketing Specialist Kevin Saghy indicated that the Cubs and ASU continue to have discussions about what ASU expects in terms of usage of the facility, and if those expectations align with what the Cubs’ needs are for the facility year-round. Recall, the Cubs’ Mesa facility has always been not only their Spring Training site, but also a general training facility, a rehab facility, and a minor league training facility. In other words, the Cubs’ needs for the facility have always been intended to extend beyond Spring Training.
Saghy also offered Green’s full statement on behalf of the Cubs, which suggests that the Cubs aren’t particularly interested in bending to ASU’s needs:
The Cubs very much hope ASU will be part of the new Spring Training Facility. Our first priority, however, is building a world class facility for use by the Cubs year-round. This is what Mesa voters approved by referendum and what is at the core of our Spring Training development. We were able to reach an agreement with the Mesa, which benefits the Cubs and Mesa and we hope an agreement can be reached with ASU.
Beyond that, Saghy couldn’t comment any further at this time.
So, what’s the story here? I’m not sure there’s much more to it than a simple dispute about how much Arizona State can use the facilities, how much they should have to pay for that use, and how the two sides’ relationship is going to be governed going forward. With all due to respect to ASU, the partnership was never intended to be an equal share – it was more of a situation where the Cubs were allowing ASU to take advantage of a state of the art facility when the Cubs weren’t using it. Given that setup, I can’t really blame the Cubs for being reluctant to serve ASU’s needs before serving their own.
At the end, you have a local media outlet reporting a local story about a local university having trouble with a big out-of-towner. When I read stories like that, I try to make sure to keep my grains of salt handy.
But that said, you never really know what goes on behind closed doors. Maybe the Cubs are being unfair. Maybe ASU is being unreasonable. We’ll see how it plays out, but I would imagine all sides still want to get a deal done that helps everybody.