Chicago Cubs Owner and Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke today with a group of nontraditional media folks – present company included – here in Arizona. The tone, as you might expect, was light-hearted and jovial, a far cry from where things probably stood in these kinds of state-of-the-state addresses five years ago. Such is life when the team just won a world championship (let alone the first for the team in 108 years).
Cubs VP of Communications and Community Affairs Julian Green also participated in our discussion.
Among the notable points from Ricketts and Green:
- The World Series trophy tour has kept the Cubs busy this offseason, but Ricketts always felt it was important to get the trophy out in front of as many fans as possible, not unlike the Stanley Cup tours that followed recent Blackhawks championship runs. The trophy will eventually make its way back to Wrigley Field for good, and the current plan is to have it on display at the plaza west of the ballpark this year.
- Speaking of the plaza, Green confirmed that the plaza will be good to go for Opening Day, together with the new western gate into the ballpark. The office building at the north of the plaza will also open up soon after Opening Day, and more retail operations will be announced for the location. Your big caveat for the plaza remains the frustrating one you already knew about: on game days, plaza usage will be limited to ticket holders only, which is not consistent with vision the organization and the Ricketts Family have for plaza, and presents a challenge. But, for now, that’s how the city has decided things, and Green said there are ongoing negotiations about these issues. Note that, in addition to non-ticketed fans not being able to utilize the plaza on game days (which sure seems like half of the fun of having a big, open-air space like that), limiting the area to ticketed fans presents a number of logistical problems, not the least of which is that it risks creating even more human and traffic congestion in the area as fans get bottlenecked at yet another ticket-checking station.
- As far as other Wrigley Field renovation bits go, everything is proceeding on schedule, despite another shortened offseason. The project becomes a little more expensive when the work schedule is shortened thanks to a deep postseason run, but that’s a tradeoff the Ricketts Family and the Cubs are all too happy to accept.
- With that deep postseason run that, this time, led to a World Series title, the Ricketts Family has arguably achieved its three stated goals at the outset of taking over the franchise: (1) be a good neighbor, (2) preserve and restore Wrigley Field, and (3) win a World Series. The goal now is to increasingly make the Cubs organization one of the best sports organizations in the world. Ricketts would like to see the Cubs’ logo come to mean something more than just one world championship.
- As far as what pressure there is heading into this season as opposed to last season, there was a different energy last year because everyone could see this was a good team heading into last season after the deep postseason run and the additions to the team in the offseason, and the Cubs immediately got off to a historic start. This year, by contrast, the Cubs have already done it, so the pressure is to maintain the focus to be right there again, even if there’s not that same “young, hungry team” narrative available.
- Ricketts said he couldn’t help but think, just a little bit there during Game Seven, about how long and tough the offseason would be if the Cubs came as close as they did, only to lose. He knows how much it took to get to that point – so much hard work from so many people, and also, frankly, a lot of good luck – that it would have been so painful not to close it out. I think all Cubs fans know exactly what he means.
- There’s nothing really new to report just yet on the TV deal, which Ricketts characterized as the next big business operations hurdle. As you know, the Cubs’ trio of deals runs through the 2019 season, and the process of securing the next deal (likely by way of creating an RSN) is ongoing, There’s not really a “next checkpoint” to which to point at this time. Having great ratings and a compelling product during this process can’t hurt, though.
- On the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Ricketts is primarily happy that it got done, and continued a long stretch of labor peace. In his view, the deal is fair and mostly status quo, which is a good thing because of how well things have been going for everyone involved. Moreover, he emphasized what terrible timing it would have been to have a work stoppage, given all the positivity coming off of the Cubs’ championship run.
- I asked about any concerns that the stiffening of the luxury tax limit would artificially restrict the percentage of league revenues going to the players, and thus cause problems when it was time to negotiate the next CBA, but Ricketts didn’t want to speculate on what might happen that far down the road. Fair enough, but the issue should remain on your radar in the coming years, particularly if spending next year around baseball looks like it did this offseason.
- As far as game-play-related CBA-type issues goes – aka, the pervasive pace of play question – Ricketts doesn’t think there’s any kind of crisis or anything in the game, but pace of play is worth keeping an eye on. For Ricketts, the issue is more about limiting dead time and increasing game action, and less about shortening the game. (That’s generally our position, too, for what it’s worth – though I tend to be of the view that shorter games overall are probably better long-term for the sport’s fan generation and retention efforts. I think better pace of play will organically shorten the length of the game anyway, so I tend to focus much less on game length then I do on game action.)