Today, the Chicago Cubs celebrate the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field. The ballpark has changed very little since its opening, and for residents it remains a nostalgic landmark of Chicago. Passengers on the “L,” the city’s rapid transit system, can even catch a glimpse of the scoreboard as the train track arcs around Irving Park. For baseball purists, it’s the perfect stadium. However, the city, fans, local businesses and the team are divided over the future of Wrigley.
Rick Reilly wrote a scathing piece last year blaming the Cubs lack of success on Wrigley. While misguided to blame the Cubs woes on their ballpark, Reilly did raise valid points. Something does need to be done with the stadium. He estimated that the lack of modern investments and sponsorship opportunities in the ballpark cost the team $73 million a year.
Wrigley Field definitely has quirks that cost the team money. The Cubs are forbidden to put up signs because they would block the view of the rooftop seats on the surrounding buildings. These businesses sell tickets, with the team receiving only a small percentage. Lost revenues from these tickets cost the team almost $20 million a year. Wrigley also lacks a modern scoreboard –- which could account for as much as $150 million in advertising revenue –- as well as a contemporary clubhouse, training facilities and locker rooms.
The Cubs are only permitted to play 30 night games a year because residents complained that lights would turn a “quiet neighborhood into a drunken street party and front yards into restrooms.” The stadium’s status as a historic landmark was estimated to cost the team $30 million in 2011 alone. To top it off, the Cubs pay a 12 percent Amusement Tax on each ticket — the highest in baseball -– that saw a further $17 million diverted from the team.
Fans expected things were finally going to change when the Ricketts family bought the Cubs in 2009. At the beginning of the 2012-2013 season, rumors swirled that the Ricketts were going to invest $300 million into the ballpark. Things quickly soured when the family funded a $10 million racially tinged campaign against Barack Obama while seeking Chicago’s assistance for $150 million in bonds and use of $150 million from amusement taxes for renovations. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, friend of President Obama and former White House Chief of Staff, was furious. He refused to answer phone calls and would not negotiate financing with the team.
At the 2013 Cubs Convention, Crane Kenny, President of Business Operations, announced that $300 million in renovations were going to begin over the next five offseasons. The work includes a new clubhouse; batting tunnel; training facilities; press boxes; improved concession areas; new suites; a restored interior/exterior; and new LED scoreboards. The team surveyed 22,000 stakeholders and the conclusion was to make the necessary modernizations, while preserving the history of Wrigley. The Cubs official website has the conceptual renderings of the project.
During this past offseason, no work was accomplished at Wrigley. Rooftop owners stopped construction by threatening legal action. Tom Ricketts compared these owners to the “freeloading neighbor looking through your window watching your television.” Even Bruce Springsteen poked fun of their presence during one of his concerts.
Wrigley didn’t have the LED scoreboard up by opening day, but it does have new see-through advertising billboards. There are not any other set dates for restoration and construction. However, in an effort to raise funds to support the renovations, Cubs ownership is exploring the selling of minority shares to investors. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, they’ve hired Galatioto Sports Partners, the firm that helped the Ricketts family buy the team, to evaluate the opportunity.
This season, Cubs fans are hoping for at least 85 wins and for Javier Baez to win Rookie of the Year. They should really be hoping for an agreement between the rooftop owners and the Ricketts family in order to kick start this project.
Update: The Associated Press is reporting the Ricketts family is moving forward with construction plans with or without a settlement between the Cubs and the rooftop owners. There is a good chance construction plans could be tied up in the courts.