You’ve been waiting for it, whether you wanted it or not. It comes up in every stadium financing, refinancing, or renovation story throughout the history of time.
It’s the threat to move.
For a variety of issues unique to the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, we haven’t seen it yet with respect to the proposed renovation of Wrigley, and the Cubs’ methods for financing those renovations. Indeed, we haven’t seen the threat even as the Cubs struggle to find reasonable support from the Mayor’s Office, the City of Chicago, the Alderman of their neighborhood, and their neighbors, themselves.
Dave Kaplan today reports – an exclusive – that Mayor Brad Stephens of Rosemont, a suburb northwest of the City (by O’Hare International Airport), has offered 25 acres of land to the Ricketts Family to build a new ballpark for the Chicago Cubs.
“The Chicago Cubs are being held hostage by the neighborhood as they look to run their business,” Stephens told Kaplan in a piece that is well worth reading. “We are willing to offer them a tremendous opportunity if they are interested. Bring the bricks and the ivy and we can get a deal done.”
“Rosemont is very pro-development and we have a long history of experience dealing with big business,” Stephens added. “From my position, you have a wealthy family willing to pay all of the costs of a major renovation project, which will bring a tremendous number of jobs to the community. However, they are not getting cooperation from the neighborhood. Even if the Cubs get a deal done now what will happen when they need something else a year or two years down the road? This will not be the last time the community or the Alderman will be difficult to deal with. The Cubs will never have those kinds of problems if they move to Rosemont.”
It sounds to me like Stephens is a Cubs fan who just wants to see a deal done, but, hey, if you can get one of the preeminent sports franchises to drive economic activity to your doorstep, you take your shot. Good for him. If only Chicago felt the same way.
What’s today’s report really about? Maybe it’s just a matter of Kap getting a scoop (it happens with laudable regularity). But the timing of the story, the nature of the quotes, and the convenience that it affords the Cubs is too great a confluence to ignore. If Rosemont was really making a play for the Cubs, I’m not sure an interview with Dave Kaplan was going to be the way to launch a serious bid.
Tom Ricketts is a smart man. He’s known since day one that, when it comes to the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field is the golden goose. He’s also know that pulling out the old “threaten to move”? early in the process would never fly with the extremely, rabidly traditionalistic Cubs fan base.
But now that the City and the neighborhood have proved to be surprisingly intractable, wouldn’t it be convenient to be able to bust out the “threaten to move” card? Doing so yourself in a public statement would be transparent and probably useless – and might alienate a large portion of an already discontented fan base. Tom Ricketts knows this. But would the Cubs, through back-channels, work together with a member of the media and the mayor of a suburb to create the credible pretense of a move?
It certainly is convenient for the Cubs. They now get the “threaten to move” card out in the public sphere without having to anger anyone by actually making the threat. I’m not saying Kap is a mere pawn here (he’s reporting legitimate news) – or the Mayor of Rosemont for that matter. I’m simply saying that these conversations all happen among friends and acquaintances, and ideas are pitched. Guy A talks to Guy B, and an idea for a story with quotes from the Mayor starts to take shape. The Cubs provide some background information when requested, and it all evolves from there. Did the Cubs generate the story? No. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t, on some subterranean level, involved.
Do I think a move for the Cubs out of Wrigley Field is plausible or palatable? I really don’t. The cost savings associated with a move to the suburbs – even if that community foots the entire bill for the stadium (which they have not offered) – could easily be eaten up by the lost value in the old ballpark (Wrigley becomes largely worthless, instead of becoming a billion dollar asset), and reduced attendance. I’m not in a position to speak about the plausibility of regular attendance out in the ‘burbs, but it sure seems like it would take a hit.
Let’s face it: Wrigley Field is special. It’s valuable. It’s important. And a big part of the reason is because of the history and the location. I think the Ricketts Family knows and accepts this reality, even if it puts them in the unenviable position of negotiating without any leverage.
Maybe Kap’s report and Rosemont’s Mayor’s offer helps. I hope it does. But actually moving the Cubs? I don’t think that’s the route to be taken, because I’m not sure it actually helps the Cubs long-term.
I remain open to convincing, though, should this story prove to be more than a modestly clever, but hollow, “threat to move.”