Saturday, October 23, 2010

Options for Wrigley.

Frank brought up a very good point in the comments about my last post...if what I suspect is true, what can the Ricketts family actually do with the ballpark if their finances won't allow them to renovate it?

This is a question that a number of other teams have had to deal with. Often times, it results in a team holding a city (or state) hostage in order for them to get a new stadium. The White Sox did it. The people of Wisconsin got dupped by Bud Selig into doing it.

The truth is, very few teams, outside of the Yankees and Red Sox, are able to finance entire stadium projects themselves. So I see two things that could be done. First sell the ballpark to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. Second, sell the naming rights to the ballpark.

So first, selling the ballpark.

Very few teams actually have full control over their ballpark.

Now it is easy for me to say sell the ballpark to the state as I sit here in Southern Wisconsin paying for Miller Park. Currently the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority owns Comiskey and helped in financing the renovation (or flying saucerfication) of Soldier Field. As many of us know, Sam Zell tried to do this while in the process of destroying Tribune Co. For Zell to do this would have been a disaster for the new owners as they wouldn't have received much of the financial benefits of selling the team and having little control over the renovation as it probably would have begun before the team was sold.

The selling of the park could fetch (in my completely 'pull-out-of-my-ass' estimation) around $100 million. With about $250 million needed for the renovation (an estimate many people have tossed out there), the Illinois people would be on the hook for $350 million. I'd guess this would be raised with the selling of bonds and some sort of luxury tax.

The other option...selling the naming rights.

Selling the naming rights allows the Cubs to maintain control of the ballpark while getting a yearly payment for sacrificing the name "Wrigley" which, in the end, is free advertising for the chewing gum company anyway.

Most people expect that the Cubs would leave "Wrigley" in the name. I say screw that. Go all the way on it. Name the place "Boeing Stadium" or "Sears Field" or "Portillo Hot Dogs Park".

Other teams that have done this have received some very nice compensation sacrificing the name of their ballpark to some corporation. On average, naming rights fetch about $2.6 million a year. The Reds receive $2.5 million for Great American Ballpark. The Pirates get $2 million. The White Sox receive $3.4 million. The Cubs likely would fetch at least the $3.4 million that the Sox get, but I would guess that they would get more like $5 million. For a 25 deal, the Cubs could, in the end fetch $125 million, which would be half the amount for a major renovation. If lucky, the Cubs could approach the $20 million a season that the Mets are getting for the name "Citi" on their stadium. That Mets deal, which goes for 20 years, will fetch them $400 million, or half the price of their new stadium.

The result doing either (or both) of these things could be a huge benefit. The sale of the stadium, while not fetching a significant amount of money, would give the Ricketts family a little flexibility to either increase payroll or to payoff part of the debt. Second, it removes the responsibility of upkeep of an aging ballpark allowing them to focus on more important operations of the team. That money could also be used for something a little more radical...purchasing establishments around the ballpark...more specifically, the rooftops. The purpose of this would not be to shut them down, but, rather, to turn them into the up-to-date luxury suites that the Cubs are seriously lacking inside the ballpark.

Look, there have been some pretty grand ideas out there as far as expanding the "Cubs" brand including things like a Cubs network. Unfortunately, everything we've seen so far since the team was sold indicates that the Cubs don't have the ability to spend any money right now beyond what they have (as a reduction in payroll for next season demonstrates). If the Cubs want to become the revenue powerhouse that they think they are, they'll need to make some sacrifices in the short term. Either sacrifice the park or the name...but they need to do something so this ballpark can be the world class facility that the Ricketts family claims they want it to be.

Now I'm off to enjoy my first weekend off of work in 6 weeks...oh, crap, it's raining out!