The Ricketts Family’s party line on funding the renovation of Wrigley Field fundamentally changed this weekend. Previously, the focus of funding discussions has been two-pronged: (1) the city takes a healthy 12% amusement tax on Cubs tickets, and should use some of those proceeds to help renovate the very stadium that generates that tax revenue; and (2) the city should relax restrictions on how the Cubs may monetize the Wrigley Field property and surrounding vicinity in exchange for helping the Cubs contribute more to the renovation.
The former prong has fallen off the fork. Though Tom Ricketts would not state that it is irrevocably off the table this weekend, as the Cubs unveiled their plans for the renovation, public funding is not currently in the Cubs’ discussions with the city. Instead, only the latter prong remains. The Ricketts’ position is simple: take the handcuffs off, and we’ll pay for the renovation ourselves.
Unsurprisingly, this new stance has been met with almost universal approval, thanks in large part to its rhetorical appeal in the current political climate. The government doesn’t want to be involved in helping fund the renovation? Fine. Then the government shouldn’t be involved in restricting the ways the Cubs can generate the money necessary for those renovations. It’s not quite the way I would argue this issue (I’ve made my position clear many times, and the way I framed prongs 1 and 2, above, should probably tell you everything you need to know about my feelings), but I’ll concede the attraction.
According to a new report from Greg Hinz at Crain’s, that approval is also coming from City Hall. Hinz reports that, after extensive negotiations with the city, the Cubs developed this new funding position, and it has been met with preliminary approval by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
This should be unsurprising to you, because, as I’ve emphasized, there is simply no way the Cubs would have gone to the trouble (and risk) of showing the full Wrigley renovation plans at the organization’s annual fan convention if it wasn’t going to happen. Although nothing has been finalized, I’m sure the Cubs already knew the city was pretty much on board with their new direction on the funding question.
So, what exactly are we talking about, in terms of funding? Well, a variety of changes/additions could be on the table.
First, and most obviously, is increased advertising. There’s a delicate balance, here, given the special and historic character of Wrigley Field. But let’s be real: there are a whole lot of eyeballs to which advertisers would love to be able to cater at every Cubs’ game. Right now, there’s almost no advertising at Wrigley Field, even after modest additions in the last few years. The Cubs, I can’t imagine, would go nuts on signage. You’d probably see a few more ads in the outfield, and around the grandstand. The Cubs have said they would like to add a second LED board in left field, matching the one currently in right field (which integrated seamlessly). And, then there’s the big one: the JumboTron, which the Cubs have said they are considering. If the logistics could be worked out – preserving The Old Scoreboard is the big one – a JumboTron could not only add $10s of millions in added annual revenue, but it could also serve those fans interested in more in-game visuals (replays, statistics, etc.). The Cubs have repeatedly promised they won’t be doing ridiculous things like the “kiss cam.” In theory, even the JumboTron would be a tasteful, respectful addition to Wrigley Field.
Second, the Cubs would like to be able to add more night games. Currently restricted by an agreement with the neighborhood, the Cubs can only have a handful of night games per year, and then can’t have them on the weekends. For as much as folks love day baseball, night games simply generate more revenue.
Third, the Cubs would like to be able to utilize Sheffield Avenue for street festivals, family activities, and other revenue-generating-what-have-you. As Tom Ricketts put it, “[Sheffield] is already closed [on game days]. We just want to actually do something with it.” I don’t yet have a great sense on what kind of revenue this could generate, but I do have a sense that, done well, “something” on Sheffield could be a lot better than literal nothing.
Fourth, the Cubs would like to be able to have additional events at Wrigley Field without having to seek special approval each time they wish to do so. In recent years, Wrigley Field has been host to concerts and other sporting events. They generate a huge amount of added revenue, and – when done right – make for a cool, unique experience.
A bonus on these changes from the Cubs’ perspective? The increased revenue, after/in addition to be used to fund the Wrigley renovation, adds more dollars to the bucket from which the Cubs are able to spend on the organization.
Not everyone is on board with the Cubs’ new funding plan, however, according to Hinz. Understandably, the rooftop owners who could be affected by restricted views into the ballpark are concerned that the Cubs could start generating new signage revenue at the rooftop owners’ expense. While the Cubs are, and should be, primarily concerned with their own interests, sensitivity to the rooftop partners (with whom the Cubs do have a revenue-sharing agreement) remains relatively important. The rooftops have become a part of the Wrigley experience, and I would assume the Cubs will first exhaust collaborative routes with the rooftops before flat-out shutting one of them down with a huge sign in their patrons’ faces. (Obligatory disclosure: some Cubs rooftop partners are advertisers on this site. Non-obligatory disclosure: I’ve always thought the rooftops were cool.)
In the end, support from the Mayor’s Office is probably considerably more important than support from the rooftop owners and their alderman, Tom Tunney. But I assume discussions are being had by all parties, and the goal will be to work out a solution that works for everyone.
The seemingly hardest part, though – getting Emanuel on board – appears to be on the right path.