In the Wake of the News
10:25 PM CDT, May 19, 2012
Not every night will you see Gov. Pat Quinn shaking hands with players in the Cubs dugout or Sen. Dick Durbin mingling with team Chairman Tom Ricketts on the field.
Not every night at Clark and Addison will you find Sec. of State Hillary Clinton sitting in a private booth or war hero John R. Allen, Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, throwing out the first pitch. Not every night will a pre-game flyover shake the press box or a 98-year-old ballpark bounce with such vitality.
But this was no ordinary night at Wrigley Field.
This was the Cubs against the White Sox coinciding with the NATO summit in Chicago and, of course, this was Saturday night baseball and a local ordinance typically keeps the bleachers empty and the bars crowded. This was a Saturday night baseball game on the North Side that possessed a "Monday Night Football,'' feel — the way it should be every Saturday night in Wrigleyville when the Cubs are in town.
Alas, it isn't. Neighborhood restrictions prevent the Cubs from playing weekend nights unless national television dictates. Of 25 potential prime-time games this season, the Cubs will play during the day 23 times. Overall, Major League Baseball teams play an average of 54 night games at home. The Cubs are limited to 30. One TV network source estimated the difference could approach $5 million in lost revenue.
Now that Ricketts has handed the city leverage in ongoing Wrigley renovations with his family's clumsy political misstep this week, smaller concessions such as playing weekend night games and allowing more signage take on added relevance. Relaxing longtime neighborhood regulations that no other MLB teams deal with represents a possible compromise result of ongoing Wrigley financing negotiations — and perhaps all the Cubs can squeeze out of the city now.
Before a report Thursday linked billionaire Joe Ricketts, the family patriarch, to a super PAC connected to proposed attack ads of President Barack Obama, the Cubs and the city were close to a deal. Now, nobody involved with the Cubs privately dares to predict anything after Mayor Rahm Emanuel fumed. In the words of somebody familiar with negotiations, the Cubs "fumbled in the end zone.''
Both sides stand to benefit too much for a deal that could create as many as 2,100 jobs to fall apart because of the Ricketts family's naive failure to anticipate how something so inflammatory could complicate Cubs business.
Before Joe Ricketts ruined the momentum, Emanuel had floated a idea to lift landmark restrictions to allow signage and adjust amusement taxes to generate as much as $150 million in sponsorship and advertising revenue. The mayor called it the "Fenway Plan,'' after recent Red Sox renovations.
But officials opened Yawkey Way for outdoor festivals but the Cubs have been forbidden to open Sheffield Avenue on demand. Every year the Cubs budget around $15 million to pay a 12 percent amusement tax for tickets sold at Wrigley Field that the Red Sox don't face at Fenway Park.
The Red Sox also don't lose as much as $17 million annually in potential revenue, as the Cubs do, to rooftop owners. Thanks to a sweetheart agreement, they shared 17 percent of the $20 million in reported income last year, according to a source.
And what is in the way of the Cubs adding signage, including a Jumbotron in right field, that could create as much as $5 million annually? Landmark restrictions don't protect the bleachers as much as they protect the view from the rooftops.
Ricketts knew all these obstacles existed when his family bought the team but has done a lousy job of articulating why they give the Cubs an inherent disadvantage. Wrigley Field indeed is unique; no other ballpark in the league is a privately owned building subjected to taxes and restrictions like a public facility.
When the Cubs want to spend $300 million to renovate Wrigley, people like to say let Ricketts spend his own money. That's logical. Isn't it just as logical to let a private business grow without so much public — government — intervention?
If the Cubs tell the city they would pay for everything once free of regulations, Emanuel should call their bluff — and watch Wrigleyville flourish and Chicago benefit.
That's the message Ricketts should have stuck to instead of sounding defensive after a controversy his family created. That's the point Ricketts let get lost in all this political nonsense.
There was only one other point more obvious on a rare Saturday night at Wrigley: The Cubs need to do this more often.
Copyright © 2013 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC