Friday, February 29, 2008

 

Change Is Coming To Wrigley Field

One way or another, much to the consternation of Cub fans

Earlier this week Sam Zell, owner of the Chicago Cubs, went public with the idea of selling the naming rights to Wrigley Field. Predictably, Cub fans absolutely hate the idea. Fran Spielman comments:
Another downer for baseball purists would be the potential sale of Wrigley naming rights. Without the $400 million-plus generated by a new corporate name over 20 years, Zell wouldn't get what he wants for the stadium, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to finance a Wrigley renovation.

Tribune Co. risks a potential backlash from the name change, as evidenced by the furor that followed Zell's remarks on the subject this week. But the media conglomerate stands to make out like a bandit. Zell would receive a huge upfront payment for Wrigley -- tens of millions more than he might otherwise get by selling the stadium privately -- because the finance authority can issue tax-exempt, longer-term bonds at a reduced interest rate.

The stadium deal also has opened the door for Zell to put other issues on the table that could bolster the value of the Cubs, ranging from a request for more night games and outdoor concerts, to increasing the density of a "planned development" that currently allows a restaurant and 400-space parking garage.
Zell also wants the city to drop Wrigley Field's landmark status.

Zell, an astute businessman who knows a thing or two about public relations, raised these issues in just about the most provocative way possible. The Sun-Times quotes Zell from a CNBC interview:
"Wrigley is an obvious world-wide icon and Wrigley Field is world-wide known. But, in the world of economics, when I bought the Tribune, I didn't get a discount because I wasn't going to use the naming rights that field represents," Zell said in an interview on the CNBC program "Squawk Box."

"Perhaps the Wrigley Co. will decide that, after getting it for free for so long, that it's time to pay for it."
I rather doubt it. As I see it, the whole point is to generate public support for Zell's proposal to sell Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns US Cellular Field:
(Cubs Chairman Crane) Kenney later told reporters any deal with the ISFA could take time because the Cubs need to gather political support from Mayor Richard Daley, Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, Ald. Tom Tunney, state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and state Sen. John Cullerton. Kenney said the company hoped to get a deal done on the ballpark by Opening Day on March 31.

"We need all of their support, and we're working hard with each of them to explain why we think the stadium deal is good for the team, for our employees, the shareholders of the Tribune and for the community," Kenney said.
They are also working hard on the fans, most of whom view Wrigley Field as sacrosanct.

Its a good move for Zell and I think he'll succeed in getting the ISFA to take the ballpark off his hands. Wrigley Field is an albatross, politically, financially, and public relations wise for the team. The Cubs are worth much more should they successfully rid themselves of it.

But from a taxpayer's standpoint, what possible rational exists for having the state take responsibility for Wrigley Field? There is no reason to do it. As a practical matter, the Cubs have nowhere else to go.

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