CHICAGO – The owner of the Chicago Cubs threatened Wednesday to move the team out of Wrigley Field if his plans for a big, new video screen are blocked, saying he needs millions of dollars in ad revenue to help bankroll the renovation of the storied ballpark.
It was the first time during months of contentious negotiations over plans for a $500 million renovation of the 99-year-old stadium that Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts threatened to move the team out of the Chicago neighborhood of Wrigleyville.
The fact is that if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we’ll have to take a look at moving – no question, Ricketts told reporters after outlining renovation plans to Chicago business leaders.
He added that he remained committed to working out a deal.
By far the thorniest issue is the plan for a 6,000-square-foot video screen over left field, as seen in many major league ballparks. The difference is that Wrigley Field – the second-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball behind Fenway Park in Boston – is surrounded by privately owned clubs with rooftop bleachers whose owners object to any changes that could block their bird’s-eye views into the stadium.
The rooftop businesses have been left out of discussions on the proposed upgrade, but they feel they should have a seat at the bargaining table because they have a contract in which they share 17 percent of their revenue with the Cubs. Legal action is a possibility.
Ricketts presented an architectural rendering of the video screen during his speech to the City Club of Chicago and insisted that the team’s own studies have shown it would have minimal, if any, impact on the views. He described the sign as midsize compared with those at other stadiums. It is nearly three times as large as the scoreboard currently atop the center field bleachers. Another smaller sign with the name of a sponsor is planned for right field.
He said without such signage, the team was losing out on $20 million a year in ad revenue – essential for helping fund the extensive renovations without dipping into taxpayer funds.
All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum, Ricketts told the audience.
Ricketts said the team filed its full renovation proposal with the city on Wednesday. The plan must get approval from city planners and the City Council. There will also be public hearings.
The proposal calls for a 175-room boutique hotel, a new clubhouse, an open-air plaza and an office building with retail space.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the alderman whose ward includes Wrigley Field, Tom Tunney, support the overall plan.
The mayor’s office has already agreed that the outfield signs can be installed, but there has been no agreement on size or design.
If the deal wins approval, Ricketts said work could begin after this season ends and be completed during offseasons over the next five years.
One of the rooftop owners, Beth Murphy, told reporters after listening to Ricketts’ speech that it was the first time she’d seen any drawings of the screen.
Murphy said it would not be a wise business decision for Ricketts to move the team elsewhere.
The reason the Cubs are such a tourist destination ... is because it’s a ballpark in a neighborhood, Murphy said.
If Ricketts is serious about leaving, he already has a suitor. Several weeks ago, the mayor of nearby Rosemont said that the village near O’Hare International Airport has a 25-acre chunk of land that the Cubs could have for free if they wanted to build a replica of Wrigley Field there.