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White elephant on Cubs ledgers? Debt service, not Wrigley Field imperfections

Proposed Wrigley Field renovations

ESPN’s Rick Reilly proves why sportswriters should never write about business, penning an utterly insane argument on why Wrigley Field prevents the Chicago Cubs from winning a World Series.

You can read Reilly’s screed here.

Reilly’s basic argument is that the Cubs’ payroll could be increased by $73 million a year if the team could do all the other things MLB teams do to generate revenue: treat fans to a barrage of marketing messages, sell naming rights and schedule more night games. In other words, suck all the charm and tradition out of Wrigley Field and take away everything that makes a Cubs game a unique experience. Of course, these changes won’t affect a sportswriter like Reilly: the view from the press box wouldn’t change. (And we acknowledge the need for Reilly to post flamebait like this in order to get some attention. His article really isn’t a serious analysis of team finances, but an example of bar-stool journalism that reigns in the sports world.)

But let’s swim our way past Reilly’s crocodile tears. Fact is, the Cubs are already one of the most profitable teams in Major League Baseball: it’s certainly not a lack of cash flow that keeps payroll in the middle of the MLB payroll field. Forbes estimates the team brought in $266 million in revenue in 2011 (third highest in the majors), with $28.1 million in operating revenue (the 2012 rankings should be out shortly). The team’s payroll is projected to be up 17 percent this year, up to $103 million. One big factor in team finances: Tom Ricketts and family highly leveraged assets when they bought the team, racking up some $580 million in debt. (That level of debt, by the way, violates MLB guidelines, but Bud Selig gave the Ricketts a ride.)

Funny, we didn’t see Reilly mention debt service as a factor in the Cubs budget.

Now, many of the proposals floated by the Cubs in its Wrigley Field makeover plan and endorsed by Reilly — new videoboard, more signage, expanded and streamlined concessions — make a lot of sense. And city officials need to stop opposing anything the Cubs do in the name of neighborhood impact when in fact the likes of Tom Tunney are carrying water for the wealthy rooftop-bleacher owners.

But let’s cut the crap about things like day games and the lack of naming-rights revenue preventing the Chicago Cubs winning a World Series. As recent history has shown us, the days of buying a World Series are over; even the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are on austerity kicks. Day games, a charming ballpark and a blissful game-day experience are the sorts of things that allowed the Cubs to rank in the top three when it comes to MLB team revenues and stand out in a crowded Chicago sports marketplace. Hell, if a Chicago fan wanted corporate naming rights, night games and lots of videoboards and signage, they need only look to the South Side for a team to follow.

Rendering courtesy of the Chicago Cubs.

RELATED STORIES: Chicago mayor: We can work with Cubs on Wrigley Field renovations; Cubs unveil more details on Wrigley Field renovations; Cubs exploring hotel, courtyard as part of Wrigley Field upgrades; Ricketts: We’re taking long-term view on Wrigley Field improvements; Spat between Cubs, Mayor Rahm continues; Can Bud Selig warm relationship between Cubs, politicians?; Cubs: Following the Fenway Park recipe for renovationsRicketts family political activity threatens to scuttle Cubs reno plansWSJ: Tear down Wrigley Field now!Chicago politics at play: Tunney vs. the CubsCubs reno plan draws harsh criticism from key aldermanCubs funding request: $500M in Wrigley Field improvementsEmanuel plan for Wrigley renovation: set aside landmark statusIllinois guv: No public money for ballpark renovationsCity, Cubs finalizing terms of Wrigley Field renovationsRicketts: Time to talk Wrigley Field public funding againWant to buy a chunk of Wrigley Field? Dream onGammon rips Wrigley Field, defends RickettsMayor Rahm: No to city aid for Wrigley FieldPoll: Voters oppose public funding of Wrigley Field renovationsState funding of Wrigley Field renovations dies as Assembly adjourns


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