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ASU-Cubs spat may have unexpected beneficiary: new life for Phoenix Muni

New Chicago Cubs spring training facility

A disagreement between Arizona State and the Chicago Cubs over a new Mesa spring-training complex may see the Sun Devils baseball program relocate to Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for ASU officials, the Cubs management and Mesa politicians, as an agreement to place the Sun Devils at the new Chicago Cubs spring-training facility has deteriorated to the point where ASU seems ready to walk away. It’s a battle of perceptions: ASU leadership says the Cubs really don’t want the Sun Devils playing out of the new spring-training facility, while Cubs officials saying yes, they want the Sun Devils, but maybe not at the previously agreed-upon terms. That spat has caused ASU President Michael Crow to write this in an e-mail to Mesa Mayor Scott Smith:

“When you and I talked about this, you indicated that we might need to invest a bit more to make all the numbers work. We agreed to do that and went back to our board for their approval of our leasing terms and the new capital improvements necessary for the project to fit into the city’s budget. … We were still operating under the notion that your partner operated in good faith.

“The Cubs are not people of their word.”

Under the terms originally announced, the ASU athletic department would spend $2 million on its own clubhouse at the training facility and pay rent once $1.1 million in concessions and ticket revenue is reached. Presumably the Cubs want to either see more upfront or a quicker payment of rent. Locals peg the chances of ASU playing at the facility at 50-50 at best.

But Packard Stadium is going away no matter what, so that means a new home for the baseball program no matter what. Enter Phoenix Municipal Stadium, currently the spring home of the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are negotiating with Mesa to move to HoHoKam Park once the Cubs leave, a move that could happen if Mesa can rustle up the money to spiff up and downsize the facility. 

If you’re a Mesa or Phoenix elected official, you’ve got to be jumping for joy at this development. Remember, ASU was just a sublessor at the Cubs facility: the Cubs would be pocketing the rent paid by ASU, not the city. If the A’s do indeed move to HoHoKam Park, that doubles the number of Major League Baseball teams training in that city. And if ASU moves the baseball program to Phoenix Muni — which first opened in 1964 and been upgraded since, most recently in 2003 — it keeps open a historic ballpark that has the potential to be a draw on its own. Surely ASU officials saw what happened to archrival University of Arizona this past spring: the move to Hi Corbett Field turned baseball into a revenue generator and launched the Wildcats to the NCAA Regionals. In baseball’s arms race, Phoenix Muni would be a considerable upgrade from Packard Stadium. Everyone wins — except the Cubs, who lose out on the assured ASU revenue stream.

Image courtesy city of Mesa.

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