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I know that there are a great many Jon Lester-related things to discuss this evening, and I will get to them shortly. If you’ll forgive my absence, I was just at the Cubs’ first blogger forum, which afforded a group of alternative media folks like myself the opportunity to meet with Chicago Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney for a while this afternoon. The Cubs are trying to facilitate a stronger communications relationship with the alt media community, and this was something of a “pilot project” step in that process.

For that reason, and because Kenney discussed some very salient things, I wanted to get this to you right away.

Our group met with Kenney at the Cubs’ offices, just north of Wrigley Field, in the conference room where they present the (impressive) Wrigley Field renovation/development model to prospective business partners. In case you missed some of the shots of that model:

I’ll have quite a few more soon.

As we sat around that model – the thing takes up an entire conference table – Kenney, together with VP of Communications and Community Affairs Julian Green and Communications Manager Kevin Saghy, addressed us briefly about the blogger forum concept that they’re working on, and also on some obvious renovation/media rights topics. From there, it was a Q&A with Kenney, who was candid.

Among the things Kenney shared:

  • On the TV deal deal, Kenney reiterated that a short-term deal is coming soon, likely by the end of the year. He was very clear, however, that the Cubs are approaching things in the following way: there will be a short-term deal for the expiring WGN games (about 70 total) that will be carried on an over-the-air station (in theory, I would add, it could still be WGN-9). That deal could last as long as five years, before the full slate – whatever new short-term deal they sign, together with the current CSN deal – becomes available after 2019. In 2020, the Cubs will start their own network. In doing so, they will partner either with a distributor (Comcast, for example), a network (Fox, for example), or a third party, like a private equity firm. The Cubs will be working on getting that new network deal in place well in advance of 2020. Kenney stressed that the Cubs are the last major market team to go through this process in the new wave of big-money deals, and they expect that partners will be very eager for that reason. The Cubs are using the same advisors that helped the Dodgers with their mega-deal with Time Warner.
  • The Cubs are very excited about the new radio deal with CBS – Kenney emphasized the CBS aspect, rather than the WBBM aspect, although that is where games will be carried – in large part because it will allow the team to be marketed across a huge family of radio stations that cuts across demographics. Further, they’ll be partnering with CBS on concerts in the to-be-built plaza, west of the ballpark, which will generate additional revenues.
  • The total projected cost for the entire Wrigley Field renovation and development project is now up to $600 million.
  • Speaking of the renovation, there have been some delays in the bleachers, which could mean those bleachers are not fully open for the very start of the season. That is not the expectation, but Kenney said there are contingency plans in place to accommodate season ticket holders within the rest of the stadium if they cannot sit in the bleachers by Opening Day. Kenney suggested that, if that happens, they will not sell single-game tickets in the bleachers for Opening Day (or however long they need to complete work). The delays have been caused by a combination of factors, including weather (which they did plan for), plan changes (which we saw playing out over the course of the year with the outfield signage issues), and a water pipe system that was much more antiquated than expected when they got into the ground. That issue was supposed to be remedied by the city by October 6, and it still is not complete. Kenney made sure to emphasize, though, that the water pipe issue was not the only cause of delay (in other words: he’s not blaming the city for delays).
  • Talks with the rooftops are ongoing, and it remains possible that the Ricketts Family could purchase some of them in the future. They have always been open to a reasonable price, and the two sides’ impression of what constitutes a “reasonable price” seems to be getting closer together.
  • The bullpens will not be relocated for next season. Assuming everything goes to plan, they cannot be moved under the bleachers until the batting cage currently there is moved back under the grandstand. That is not supposed to happen until next offseason, so the earliest you’d see the bullpens relocated is the 2016 season.
  • The Cubs are still expecting all seven outfield signs to be in place for next season, though it sounds like they’re still working through the process of finalizing partners.
  • Kenney said that, internally, the organization is viewing 2014 is the turning point in so many ways, from the facilities in Mesa to the Wrigley Field renovation to the team, itself. The message Kenney wanted to get out about the team? Essentially it was: We want to win the division next year. It’s time to win. It’s time to look at everything a little differently. The Cubs, I gather, are very comfortable with getting word out that they are expecting 2015 to be different from the recent past. “It’s time to win.” I liked that.

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