Monday, November 15, 2010

Tom Ricketts has no plan B...but I do

The debate over the Wrigley Field renovation legislation has been rather fierce since it was announced last week. Personally, I’m ok with this, but I live in Wisconsin and am somewhat shielded from the disaster that is the Illinois state budget. In theory, the Illinois tax payer shouldn’t be affected by the Cubs plan, but it is Illinois and God knows what sort of corrupt mismanagement of this program will come about. I’ve said before that a person like me would probably pay more for this than the average Illinoisan.

But image is everything and in a time when people are out of work and the state has the credit rating worse than Germany after World War 1, trying to push a plan like this is like selling sand on a beach…it ain’t going to fly with the citizens of Illinois.

One thing that Cubs fans do need to realize is that if this team is going to be a consistent competitor in the future, Wrigley Field is going to need to be renovated.

Now, before I go any further, I think we need to be careful about what we are talking about with the stadium renovations here.

Fans need to look at the renovation in two ways.

First, the fan experience...Ricketts has continued to say that the Cubs need to improve the fan experience. I don't exactly agree with that, though I find watching games at Wrigley considerably uncomfortable compared to just about every other ballpark. Outside of some potential revenue gains from better concessions, exclusive clubs and such, there isn't much gain to the team in general. Fans seem to enjoy the experience already.

The second way to look at this renovation is to improve the facilities for the player...expanding office space, clubhouse and workout space...etc. I truly believe that Wrigley has become a competitive disadvantage for the Cubs. I used to not think this way, but when you see the amenities available for every other team, the Cubs have fallen horribly behind. Others might disagree...but I really do believe this now.

The Cubs need to do something in regards to item #2. It's as simple as that. I'd prefer them to take a wrecking ball to Wrigley and start over. That just isn't going to happen.

Tom Ricketts has stated on two different occasions now that there is no plan B if the legislature doesn’t pass the bill or if the governor vetoes it.

Tom better start getting plan B ready, because, like it or not, he’s probably going to have to use it.

I have a Plan B and here it is in three simple parts.

Part one: Minimal Personal Seat Licenses

A minimal PSL will generate immediate capital for the Cubs to start renovations at the stadium. Other teams throughout sports have used this. I personally would be affected by this, but a minimal seat license is something that I might be able to afford as a one-time charge. How much? Well, I think the plan would vary on the section, but among the 25,000 seats (estimate) in that are set aside for season tickets, an average license fee of $2,000 a seat would generate $50 million dollars. In reality, that amount might be slightly more considering they could put a license fee substantially higher for the luxury boxes and the number of seats used for season tickets is probably closer to 27,000 to 28,000.

Part two: Video Board

A video board can generate upwards of $10 to $15 million a year in revenue for a team. If we average that to $12.5 million, let’s say the video board is installed before 2012, between then and the end of the 2020 season, in 9 years, the Cubs would generate $112.5 million. It is likely that these would also be conservative estimates. Also, we need to keep in mind that the revenue generated from the video board would continue to be accumulated after the 2020 season.

Part three: Naming rights

While in reality the name of the ballpark is commemorating William Wrigley Jr., it is really nothing more than free advertising for the Wrigley Chewing Gum company and as such, if Wrigley wants the name to stay on the ballpark, they should pay the Cubs between $5 and $10 million a year for the honor…or else find someone else to pay that amount. The Mets are getting $20 million a year for Citi Field. The White Sox are getting $3 million. The Astros get $6 million. The Mets are quite an extreme case, but there is no doubt in my mind that if the Ricketts family really pushed it, they could get $8 to $10 million for Wrigley. At $8 million, in 10 years, the Cubs would have (if you can’t do the math) $80 million. Naming rights can happen quickly too. It could get done before the 2011 season.

The Cubs should have no attachment to that name. Forget tradition…tradition has gotten us jack squat.

This three pronged plan would generated, by 2020, $242.5 million, in my estimation, which is in the ballpark that the Cubs are looking for as far as revenue to renovate the ballpark. They will have to take out a bit of a loan to do it all by 2016, but if they play their cards right, they should be able to pay it off only 4 or 5 years after the renovation is complete.


I really do feel that going to the state was necessary for the Ricketts family. They had to. The Sox got money and the Bears got money…so the Cubs should at least attempt to get money too. I understand the general feeling that the people in this state are lining up rapidly against this legislation. It seems a bit unfair to the Cubs who have done more than anyone else to help pay for Comiskey Park and Soldier Field…but these are trying times and the reality of the situation is that this is a public relations nightmare. One other thing people have to remember here that, assuming everything is done on the up and up, if the Cubs don’t get this proposal passed, it’s not like the money will magically be used to reduce the state debt by $200 million.

With that aside, it is what is it, and the Ricketts family should be setting up a plan B. My plan I think will work well in moving the Cubs toward being able to afford a substantial renovation of the stadium. Even if only one or two parts of that plan are used, the money generated should at least be enough to make the renovations necessary for the players’ needs….and that should be the most important thing for us as Cubs fans.