I really didn’t think it would be possible for the calls to leave Wrigley Field to return after the Cubs spent a year getting the political approvals necessary to implement the renovation – and, importantly, surrounding development – of Wrigley. The Cubs are going to spend the 2014 season celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, for crying out loud.
… but we are. With the current Cubs/rooftops impasse blocking the renovation, and one lawsuit already filed, folks are once again raising the question: why not just move? The loudest voice among that group, at least raising the question, is Dave Kaplan, who yesterday wrote about the problems the Cubs face on the business side. From the sound of a couple of his comments on Twitter preceding the article, it seems like Kaplan got a look at the rooftop contract, determined it to be solidly in favor of the rooftops, and grew concerned about the viability of getting the renovation done the way the Cubs want it.* Couched in a piece about the various financial headwinds facing the Cubs (and not other major market teams), Kaplan concludes by rattling the “move” saber. At least start talking to the suburbs or the Mayor about an alternative Chicago location, Kaplan implies.
*(I don’t even want to think about what Kaplan lays out in his final paragraph: imagine that, a year from now, things stand exactly where they stand today. If that sounds crazy, remember that the renovation – after years of failed attempts at public financing – was announced over a year ago at the Convention in 2013. I shudder.)
The problem with the threat to move, of course, is unless the Cubs are actually going to consider moving, there is no threat. The stakeholders the Ricketts would be trying to sway (the rooftops, the neighborhood, the City) know how unlikely a move is, and may be more willing to risk that 0.01% chance that the Cubs would move (and the stakeholders lose catastrophically) than risk giving up leverage in the current talks.
The Ricketts Family has invested heavily – both figuratively and literally – in staying at Wrigley Field, and the Cubs have been working on corporate sponsors for the post-renovated Wrigley for a long time now.
Consider further that a renovated Wrigley Field costs $300 million for, what, a then-worth $800 million to $1 billion asset? The Ricketts are going to leave Wrigley – rendering it virtually worthless, save for the land upon which it sits (to use it for anything else going forward, there would still have to be significant investment) – and then spend $700 million to $1 billion building a new ballpark out in the suburbs or somewhere else in Chicago? Do you see the extreme financial disconnect there? The value of the latter park, on an annual basis, would have to substantially outstrip the value of Wrigley, as it sits now, for that to make any sense. For everyone who screams “but I’d totally go to the ballpark elsewhere!” there are 10 casual “fans” and corporate groups who would not.
At the Convention, Tom Ricketts said the Cubs never seriously considered playing games away from Wrigley to speed up the renovation because (paraphrase) it didn’t feel right to play Cubs games not at Wrigley. Does that sound like a permanent move is ever really going to be considered?
It isn’t, and it probably shouldn’t.
I’ve said before and I’ll say again: a huge, huge chunk of the Cubs’ gate receipts come from casual/party fans and corporate groups. Swinging up to a game from downtown (after work, for example, or while playing afternoon hooky) is easy, and the Cubs’ ticket market is centralized. Move the Cubs to the suburbs? Sure, it becomes very convenient for the smaller percentage of folks who live out that particular way (whichever way it is), but for the folks who live in the City, or, God forbid, the suburban or exurban areas on the other side of the City from the new location? That’s a serious freaking trek, bottlenecking constantly. The hardcore fans would come. They always will. But there are far more casual fans than you might think, and they will not come (unless the Cubs are very, very good … which … that’d be the chicken/egg problem of revenues and winning).
The Cubs need steady gate revenues now more than ever, especially if the mega TV deal can’t be locked in until after 2019. Actually moving, to me, presents as much or more risk of financial disruption than staying and fighting the good fight for the renovation. Make no mistake: I’m as frustrated as anyone that the renovation isn’t already long underway, and I think all sides involved deserve a hearty dose of blame (some more than others) for what amounts to crapping on Cubs fans for the past year-plus. And I’d love nothing more than if the Cubs could credibly threaten to move, get what they need, and then get started renovating Wrigley. I simply don’t think that’s realistic, and I think actually moving would be cutting off the Cubs’ nose to spite their face.