For almost a century, the Chicago Cubs have played their home games at iconic Wrigley Field, a ballpark so old it has vines growing on its outfield walls. Yet if a major renovation deal doesn't go his way, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts has threatened to take his team elsewhere.
This week, Ricketts floated the possibility of moving the Cubs to a new stadium if a proposed $500 million renovation of Wrigley does not include huge new outfield video displays.
"The fact is that if we don't have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, we'll have to take a look at moving — no question," Ricketts said Wednesday.
The proposed video screen is the biggest sticking point in the renovation package, which also calls for stadium-wide upgrades, a new clubhouse, and an adjacent hotel.
From the Associated Press:
By far the thorniest issue is the plan for a 6,000-square-foot video screen over left field, as seen in many major league ballparks. The difference is that Wrigley Field — the second oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball behind Fenway Park in Boston — is surrounded by privately owned clubs with rooftop bleachers whose owners object to any changes that could block their bird's-eye views into the stadium.
The rooftop businesses have been left out of discussions on the proposed upgrade, but they feel they should have a seat at the bargaining table because they have a contract in which they share 17 percent of their revenue with the Cubs. Legal action is a possibility. [Associated Press]
Relocation threats are a staple of stadium negations. But given Wrigley's fabled history, would the Cubs really uproot?
"He was bluffing," says Sports Illustrated's Cliff Corcoran. "Of course he was bluffing. Moving the Cubs out of Wrigley Field because he can't have a jumbotron would make Ricketts one of baseball history's greatest monsters."
Not only would moving the team almost assuredly spark a fan revolt — as was the case when the Red Sox considered replacing 101-year-old Fenway Park with a near-identical stadium — it would deprive the team of one of its biggest draws: The stadium itself. The team's record has gotten steadily worse for the past five years straight, and the franchise is most notable for its unprecedented World Series drought — 104 years and counting. The thrill of victory isn't exactly a hallmark of the franchise.
"Threatening to leave, coming from a franchise that hasn't won in 104 years and has relied on the attraction of Wrigley Field for the past 30 years or so when Cubs games became popular to attend in person, might sound funny," says Yahoo! Sports' David Brown. "It does to rooftop owners."
While the renovation deal is far from done — it was only submitted to the city this week — it's likely the contentious sideboard will go up in the end. The owners of the neighboring rooftops signaled a willingness to compromise in mid-April, so Ricketts' threat may be all bluster ahead of the public discussion on the proposed changes. Plus, Ricketts himself backpedaled a bit afterward.
"The fact is we are committed to try to work this out," he said. "We've always said that we want to win in Wrigley Field, but we also need to generate the revenue we need to compete as a franchise. Having the ability to put video boards and signs in the outfield is very important to us."