The emergence of the Ricketts family as the apparent winners of the Chicago Cubs derby now shifts the discussion to what the family plans to do with Wrigley Field, one of the crown jewels of baseball. That Tom Ricketts has a great love of Wrigley Field is well-documented — the Chicago native met his wife in the infamous Wrigley Field bleachers — and the assumption by many is that the family plans to finally implement the many changes, upgrades and repairs needed at Clark and Addison. Let’s hope the Omaha billionaires will proceed in a way that maintains the Cubs mystique.
The emergence of the Ricketts family as the apparent winners of the Chicago Cubs derby now shifts the discussion to what the family plans to do with Wrigley Field, one of the crown jewels of baseball.
That Tom Ricketts has a great love of Wrigley Field is well-documented — the Chicago native met his wife in the infamous Wrigley Field bleachers — and the assumption by many is that the family plans to finally implement the many changes, upgrades and repairs needed at Clark and Addison.
But there are renovations, and then there are renovations. The Tribune Co. had taken a bare-boned approach in the most recent and oft-delayed plans to bring Wrigley Field to the 21st Century, with the Wrigley 2014 proposal designed to spiff the place up for Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. This $250-million plan would fix the most basic problems with the Wrigley Field grandstand, as well as totally renovate the grandstand concourse, concessions, luxury suites and restrooms, as well as add a club-style lounge away from the action.
In addition, the team would finally build the so-called "triangle" building adjacent to and connected to Wrigley Field, housing parking spaces, retail, team offices and workout facilities. Though the specific composition of that building has changed over time — parking spots and a green roof were eliminated, while more retail and office space were added — it’s a certainly the Ricketts family will move ahead with construction, probably changing the mix as they take a critical look at the project. (Besides, the Cubs are obligated to construct the building: it was a condition imposed by the city and the neighborhood when the Cubs received permission to add 1,800 seats to the Wrigley Field bleachers.)
Will this be enough? We’re guessing when Ricketts puts together a budget for a Wrigley Field overhaul, the price tag will be closer to $350 million to do what truly needs to be done. When Sam Zell floated a plan for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to buy Wrigley Field in a transaction separate from the Cubs, the talk was that the grandstand would basically be stripped down to the girders, with new seating and luxury boxes installed. That ambitious plan carried a price tag of $650 million and would force the Cubs to play at least one season at U.S. Cellular Field.
When fans talk of the Cubs, they’re not talking about what happens on the field, really; sure, it’s nice Lou Piniella has a winning club, but overall it’s not really that relevant to the majority of fans, who simply see Wrigley Field as a wonderful place to meet friends, throw back a few brews (perhaps the Ricketts family could put in a few more Old Style taps as long as they’re at it) and soak in one of the quintessential Chicago experiences.
But what the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is proposing threatens to wipe out the Wrigley Field mystique with a much more commercialized venue. First, the authority would sell naming rights. Second, the authority would install more advertising in the ballpark. Really, there are few places where you could put more advertising (though we would not be surprised if they had planned to remove some of the iconic ivy), and it’s not as though Wrigley is a sponsor-free zone as it is. The suites would be expanded, probably way out of proportion to the rest of the aggressively egalitarian ballpark. Finally, the authority would sell seat licenses to the 1,200 most desirable locations in the ballpark under a plan that’s already been rejected by Major League Baseball.
Luckily, it doesn’t sound like the Ricketts have any interest in such an aggressive overhaul of Wrigley Field. Or, if they do, they’ve not shared those plans with anyone else, including local elected officials.
One big reason why the emergence of the Ricketts family as the future owners of the Cubs is such a great story: it restores family ownership to one of baseball’s flagship franchises. The increased corporatization of the game may be increasing revenues, but it’s also changing the nature of the game. It’s easy to make money during boom economic times, but the challenge is to do it in a down economy — and one of the great sells of baseball is tradition. Maintaining the tradition will be one of the biggest challenges facing the Ricketts, and we’re hoping they are up to the task.