McGRATH: Money is only reason the Ricketts’ Rosemont flirtation makes sense
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media March 30, 2013 12:30AM
The Ricketts family knew Wrigley Field would need at least $250 million in renovations when it bought the Cubs in 2009. | Jonathan Daniel~Getty Images
Updated: May 30, 2013 5:27PM
Coaching Butler into the NCAA tournament, running the village of Rosemont, fending off UCLA rumors, gaining traction for the idea of stealing the Cubs … this Brad Stephens is one impressive multi-tasker. We should put him to work on the state’s pension crisis or ask him to fix Chicago Public Schools.
I know, the self-promoting would-be Cubs landlord and the self-effacing young Butler coach (who spells his name Stevens) are not the same guy. But which is more impressive: taking tiny Butler to back-to-back national championship games in 2010-11 or achieving even modest consideration for the once-unthinkable notion of the Cubs playing anywhere but Wrigley Field?
“You Can’t Miss it” is Rosemont’s official motto. “Where Anything Goes” might be more apt.
I can’t fathom the Rosemont Cubs any more than I could have imagined the Gary Bears back in Michael McCaskey’s heyday, but what do I know? I grew up with the Milwaukee Braves.
Rule No. 1 in sports is Follow the Money. And Rosemont could be an enticingly lucrative option to the Ricketts family if Alderman Tom Tunney and fellow city officials remain obstinate on the nature, extent and cost of ballpark renovations, along with other neighborhood issues such as a limited number of Cubs night games.
When the Cubs sale was completed in 2009, the story of Tom Ricketts meeting his wife in the Wrigley bleachers was advanced as an aw-gee example of the family’s deep and abiding commitment to the team. Ballpark restoration would be undertaken with tender loving care, so that future generations could experience the magic of Wrigley the way their grandparents had.
Now they’re talking Rosemont. Things sure change in three years.
Ricketts knew he was acquiring a fixer-upper; the “book” given prospective Cubs buyers put the cost of Wrigley renovations at $250 million minimum. When Sam Zell refused to deduct a portion of that cost from his asking price, all the other bidders walked away. The Ricketts group was the last one standing.
They got what they paid for.
Public money for the necessary repairs was a non-starter in the current economic climate. Now Ricketts seems willing to foot the bill himself, in exchange for advertising, scheduling and land-use concessions that will help recoup the expenditure. Seems reasonable.
What’s less so is Tunney’s steadfast allegiance to the rooftop owners. They’re no longer Wrigley neighbors but private club operators who have either grown wealthy or are hoping to by virtue of their proximity to a product in which they have no proprietary interest. And they should have known that access to that product could be curtailed.
The Cubs’ plan to take their broadcast rights to market is one example of a new order. Next to bad baseball and Wrigley Field, an association with WGN Radio and TV is the strongest symbol of the Cubs’ identity, the most enduring link to a large and loyal fan base that WGN and its various voices helped develop. If a storied 65-year broadcast history can be put aside for the sake of more revenue, a few real estate speculators are not going to dictate terms as the Cubs reconfigure their business.
For all its flaws, there’s no denying Wrigley Field’s nostalgic charm as a factor in the Cubs’ appeal. You think it’s the baseball? Visitors to Chicago simply have to go to Wrigley, despite the presence of a nicer ballpark housing a better ball team eight miles to the south.
With Harry Caray and John McDonough as unlikely urban planners, Wrigley was also the engine that drove the transformation of a once-seedy neighborhood into a thriving enterprise zone. Could all that commerce vanish in a dispute over outfield signs?
Ample parking, more night games, luxury suites, unlimited signage, a cheaper amusement tax, urinals instead of troughs … what Rosemont could offer sounds like a license to print money. Ivy, too, and adequate cell-phone reception for ballpark dilettantes who don’t know who’s playing.
It’s worth noting, though, that DePaul is seeking to leave Rosemont at the very moment the Cubs might be exploring a move there.
An apples-and-spinach comparison, sure. But problems getting there for midweek night games is one reason cited for DePaul’s inability to attract more than 7,500 fans per game. The Cubs would hope to draw five times that many fans to four times as many night games. Ah, rush-hour traffic.
For that and other reasons, Rosemont doesn’t make sense. A refurbished Wrigley does, and so what if some outfield signs impede the rooftop view. It’s all about networking, socializing and schmoozing up there. Nobody watches the games.