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Cubs Thu Jan 24 2013
There are three things every professional sports team should be doing. They should be actively involved in events and organizations that benefit the community, treat their fans to a wonderful experience when attending games, and most of all, "Just win, baby!"
The Cubs are passing the first portion with flying colors, but when it comes to fan experience and winning, they're failing miserably.
Theo Epstein was hired over 15 months ago to take care of the baseball problem. And for a team that lacked any impact talent in the minor league system when he arrived, he's done an incredible job at flooding the farm with potentially great hitters in the coming years.
After 15 months of negotiating with the city on ways to upgrade the facilities at Wrigley Field, it seems Tom Ricketts is finally getting somewhere too. The proposed project would pour $300 million over five years into making Wrigley a better place for fans, staff, and players. The best part is not a single dollar of the cost will come from the taxpayers.
That's the way that it should be. Taxpayers almost universally get screwed when organizations beg for money from the city or state. Ask the citizens of Miami how much they like their new stadium after the team sold off all their high paid players. Ask the Twin Cities and the state of Minnesota how much they liked negotiating with a gun pressed against their skull when it came to the Vikings new stadium. Give us money, or we'll move the team. Frank and Jesse James would be salivating at the opportunity to sit down at the negotiating table.
But if Chicago is going to demand the Cubs pay the entire bill, then a number of rules need to change.
No longer should the Cubs be the only team in baseball that isn't allowed to have games on Friday night (hell, the team is just begging for 3:05pm starts). In fact, the entire night baseball game restriction should be removed (the team is allowed only 30 night games per year, and none of them can be on Friday or Saturday).
The team also needs to be able to hold more non-baseball events at the ballpark like other teams do. The Wrigley Field concert series has been a major success the past few years, and the Cubs are more than happy to donate money to neighborhood kids, and keep an allotment of tickets reserved for people in the vicinity of the ballpark. They need alternate revenue streams that other teams in baseball have access to.
Why do the Cubs need money? Lack of lucrative television cash, that's why. A number of MLB teams have negotiated multi-billion dollar contracts in the past couple of years that have allowed for massive spending on players. The Cubs have been pretty stagnant in their revenue potential, and can't renegotiate their own TV deals with Comcast (2019) and WGN (2014) for a few more years. The pickle the team is in is the fact that they own a chunk of Comcast SportsNet Chicago (along with the White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks), but love being on WGN because of the national exposure (lot's of future fans are gained that way). The big bucks are in creating your own network, or putting two stations into a bidding war for all 162 games.
As for Wrigley, it's becoming a joke. The building is crumbling, pissing in troughs is pretty ridiculous in 2013, and trying to get food and drinks is an absolute nightmare. The stadium needs upgrades for fans. The marquee, scoreboard, and ivy can only blind people from the protective netting for so long. And if they want more signage and a videoboard, more power to 'em. More revenue in those areas make it possible (though it's not always the case) to keep ticket prices from exploding.
Not only are the fans in need of facility upgrades, but players too. A new clubhouse is an absolute must, along with underground hitting facilities close to the dugout to allow players a more accessible place to get warmed up. A higher number of later games should help woo incoming free agents as well, who are creatures of habit and like playing at night more than the daytime.
The Ricketts has finally come around to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's thinking on funds -- now the city needs to meet them half way. It's time to pave the way to a better Wrigley, and to a better Cubs team the city can be proud of.