According to CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, the Ricketts family is looking into the possibility of selling minority ownership stakes in hopes of financing renovations for the century-old ballpark – a process that has been stalled for quite some time due to disagreements and potential legal battles between the organization and rooftop owners.
Among those reportedly interested is the world’s fourth-richest person, Warren Buffet, according to Forbes. Buffett recently sold his stake in the Omaha Storm Chasers, a minor league team, so he has some experience in the professional sports industry.
Mooney opens the article by saying that Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is getting “antsy,” and is looking for the renovation to begin sooner, rather than later.
Emanuel wants the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the groundbreaking, the image of hard hats, concrete and steel. Ricketts wants assurances the team won’t get sued before green-lighting the $500 million Wrigleyville project, which would also include a new hotel across the street from the iconic marquee. The roofies want their piece of the action, clinging to a revenue-sharing agreement with the team that runs through 2023 and trying to block the Jumbotron.
Agents like Scott Boras, as well as a tired, restless fan base have questioned where the club’s financial resources are going, given that once you factor in the contract still being paid to Alfonso Soriano, the Cubs’ Opening Day payroll is somewhere in the $75 million range – a far cry from where it was late in the last decade when the team competed for the division crown and make the playoffs several times.
Tom Ricketts has remained adamant that the renovation of the Friendly Confines is a major piece needed for the Cubs to put a better all-around product on the field – something fans are demanding of late – as evidenced by the rapidly declining attendance numbers at Cubs’ home games. (Down from an all-time high of 3.3 million in 2008 to just over 2.6 million in 2013).
Ricketts told Mooney, “The way we look at it is, you’re going to put the dollars in, you want to put it into something that has a long-term return. We think the renovation of the ballpark is $30 to $40 million of incremental revenue per year.
When the Ricketts family purchased the team back in 2009, they took on massive amounts of debt in the deal with Sam Zell and Tribune Co, as the deal “demanded any buyer take on a debt-heavy structure that would create a shelter from huge capital-gains taxes,” according to Mooney.
The financial state-of-being of the Chicago Cubs is almost infuriatingly complex. Many fans believe that Ricketts simply isn’t giving president of baseball operations Theo Epstein the resources needed to build a contender. But until the Cubs can establish, as Ricketts said, consistent streams of revenue – such as a complete overhaul of Wrigley Field and its facilities or the establishment of new media deals – it will remain difficult to make the major moves fans want to see.
We can only hope that minority ownership stakes – which is overwhelmingly common in Major League Baseball today – will help lift some of that financial stress and lead to the business models of the organization finally moving forward.