Wrigley alderman’s pitch: Scrap scoreboard for video version
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org March 19, 2013 7:02PM
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Updated: April 21, 2013 6:43AM
Determined to preserve the birds-eye view from rooftop clubs overlooking Wrigley Field, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has made a bold suggestion to the Cubs: replace the iconic landmarked centerfield scoreboard with a video scoreboard that would generate millions without blocking anybody’s view.
Two sources close to the negotiations said Tunney has made that suggestion repeatedly in his continuing effort to protect rooftop club owners whom the aldermen counts among his most reliable campaign contributors.
“Put it in centerfield. Make it as big as you want,” a source close to the negotiations quoted the alderman as saying.
“He wants no signs that block a rooftop. [But], how do you think the fans would react? They would revolt. The Cubs wouldn’t dare to suggest it. To have Tunney suggest it underscores what this is all about.”
Tunney did not return repeated phone calls on his explosive idea.
Dennis Culloton, a spokesman for Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, said “demolishing the landmarked old scoreboard has never been part of any plan discussed or envisioned by the Ricketts family.”
Instead, sources said the Cubs are considering locations in left- and right-field for a video scoreboard that would provide the instant replay modern-day baseball fans demand and still be a revenue-generating “force multiplier” because of the digital advertising it would carry.
In 2004, the centerfield scoreboard was one of several “historic elements” of Wrigley landmarked as part of an agreement that paved the way for 12 more night games.
The designation also covered the exterior and marquee sign at Clark and Addison, the ivy-covered brick walls and the uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers and grandstand.
Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, said the group does not believe the Cubs need to demolish the centerfield scoreboard to bankroll a $300 million renovation of 99-year-old Wrigley without a public subsidy.
“They developed a creative solution with the transparent Toyota sign. That set some precedent [and demonstrated that] it’s possible to work with the Landmarks Commission,” McDonald said.
“We believe there is a design solution that can be found that would accommodate the revenue-generating needs of the Cubs without demolishing the historic scoreboard.”
Chicago-based sports marketing consultant Marc Ganis likened Tunney’s scoreboard demolition idea to “ripping out the ivy and putting scoreboards on the outfield walls.” The “desperate ploy” is proof-positive of “where the alderman’s loyalties lie,” Ganis said.
“If the scoreboard is not important to Tunney or the Landmarks Commission, it should not have been landmarked in the first place. But, it is entirely inappropriate to trade something that’s landmarked to protect a private business that’s the largest contributor to a local politician,” Ganis said.
“With all the changes the Cubs have asked to make, they have not asked to change the iconic scoreboard. They feel it is an important part of the Wrigley experience. They think they can make the changes they need to make without removing it.”
Ganis’ negative view of Tunney was echoed Tuesday by a surprising source: David Axelrod, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s friend of 30 years who worked together with Emanuel at the White House under President Barack Obama.
During his annual trip to spring training in Arizona, Axelrod, a die-hard Cubs fan, tweeted, “I love Wrigley and hope @Cubs stay. But, no team should be held hostage the way the Cubs have to rooftop owners and the ward pols they own.”
The Cubs have had a rocky relationship with Tunney, in part, because of how frequently he has gone to bat for rooftop club owners, who have hosted campaign fund-raisers for the alderman.
Tunney worked closely with the Cubs on a 2006 bleacher expansion. But, he drew the line on the illuminated Toyota sign in left field that obscured the view of a Horseshoe Casino sign on the rooftop of a building owned by Tom Gramatis.
Tunney initially argued that the see-through sign was “not in keeping with the character of the neighborhood or the spirit of the landmarks” designation, then agreed to it in exchange for a four-year moratorium on additional outfield signs that expires in 2014.
Opposition from Tunney and area merchants also blocked the Cubs’ plan to close down a block-long stretch of Sheffield for nine days to make way for a family-friendly, interactive street fair during sold-out series against the Yankees, Cardinals and White Sox.
Ricketts has offered to bankroll a $300 million Wrigley renovation without a public subsidy — and build a $200 million hotel development on McDonald’s property he purchased across the street from the stadium — if the city agrees to lift restrictions on outfield signs and night games and opens Sheffield Avenue for street fairs on game days.
With Tunney’s support, rooftop clubs that share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs have pitched a plan to generate $17.9 million-a-year to bankroll the stadium renovation by putting seven digital signs on top of their buildings instead of inside the ballpark blocking their views.
But, they’re still striking out with the Cubs, who argue that there’s far more money to be made by putting up signs inside the ballpark that can be seen during television broadcasts of Cubs games.
Earlier this month, Tunney told reporters that he would not agree to the Cubs’ request unless it’s part of a larger deal that includes more remote parking and added police protection after Cubs games.
But, Ganis said, “It is abundantly clear that he’s protecting the rooftops. What’s that old saying? The emperor has no clothes.”