SBD/January 20, 2014/Franchises

Cubs Exude Optimism About Future To Skeptical Fan Base At Annual Convention

Kenney said he is hopeful of coming to an understanding with rooftop owners
Cubs execs at this past weekend's annual Cubs Convention "took an optimistic and aggressive view" of the big issues facing the organization, according to Mark Gonzales of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney on Saturday said that team execs "hope to finalize the status of their radio deal with WGN-AM for 2015 and beyond and part of their television deals with WGN-TV before opening day." But the Cubs will not start the $500M Wrigley Field renovations project "until rooftop owners assure them that they won't be sued over blocked views or contest construction of an adjacent plaza." Kenney: "(Rooftop owners) basically want to delay the project unless there's an accommodation made, and we're willing to make reasonable accommodations. We're hopeful." He added that thousands of jobs "are at stake with the overall project and the team is willing to absorb an extra expense" of less than 10% of the total cost to "complete it all in four years" as opposed to five. Team Chair Tom Ricketts and Kenney "professed a willingness to extend their contracts with WGN radio and television, but they have been negotiating with other outlets in hopes of enhancing their total package" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/19).

PROJECT OUTLINES: Ricketts said of the renovation plans, "We may have found a way to shorten that. I think we can get it done in four now if we just switch some things around." Kenney said that the Cubs "met with city officials and a bloc of rooftop owners last week, trying to resolve several issues." He "outlined the team’s demands -- enforcing capacity limits at the rooftop clubs, protection against 'ambush marketing' and a clear understanding of how the Cubs can expand the bleachers and put up advertising signage 'without their interference.'" Ricketts said that he "doesn’t see the Cubs buying up all those neighborhood properties" to end the rooftop issues. Ricketts: "There’s a whole bunch of different owners. They all have different goals and different timelines. ... They enjoy the lifestyle. They enjoy growing their business. It’s not like you can just write a check" (CSNCHICAGO.com, 1/18). Kenney said that a left-field video board "would be erected in time" for the '15 season (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/19). In Chicago, Gordon Wittenmyer noted Kenney "touted the Cubs’ fifth-highest revenue stream in the majors without effectively explaining why there’s apparently not enough to fund a more aggressive, big-market approach to rebuilding at the minor-and major-league levels." Ricketts said of the team's reportedly high level of debt, "Almost every single team has some debt. It’s a factor. It’s something that’s a piece of the puzzle. But it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as people think" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/19).

EPSTEIN WEIGHS IN: Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein said of the Ricketts family, "They know they’re doing the right things to lay the foundation to get this right, to turn this into a franchise they can be proud of for generations and generations. I’m more proud of them for their willingness to take that heat and stick to their plan than I would be if they panicked the first time their name was dragged through the mud publicly and said, 'we can’t do this.'" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/19). Epstein on Friday said, "We're not trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes: We're a last-place team" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 1/18). Epstein, regarding high season-ticket prices, said to a fan, "I would never tell you how to spend your money. I think there is something special about being part of it the entire way" (ESPNCHICAGO.com, 1/18).

WARY FANS: In N.Y., Ben Strauss wrote fans at the Cubs convention had "eagerness in their eyes and perpetual hope in their hearts, alternated between wide-eyed optimism for the future Epstein has promised and apprehension over a 2014 season that will probably resemble the previous two." A fan said that he "had never had more difficulty writing a check than when he paid $11,000 for his season tickets this year." The fan said, "What I’m paying for and what I’m seeing are two different things." That comment was "greeted with a round of applause" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/19). Cubs co-Owner Laura Ricketts said to attending fans, "We feel your pain. Your pain is our pain" (Illinois DAILY HERALD, 1/19). In Chicago, Wittenmyer writes a "picture emerges of a wealthy team pinching baseball pennies to compete" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/20).

SKEPTICAL PRESS: The CHICAGO SUN-TIMES' Wittenmyer wrote the track record for the Ricketts family with the Cubs "includes some of the worst baseball of any ownership tenure in the history of the franchise." Sources questioned the "fitness of the family to operate a big-market franchise" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/19). In Chicago, Rick Morrissey wrote the team's new mascot is "not just a mascot," but rather a "symbol of all the things over the years that have had nothing to do with winning, whatever that is." Morrissey: "It’s just a mascot? No, it’s a breathtaking disconnect that allows a team to think it’s a good idea to loudly introduce a mascot after a combined 197 losses the last two seasons and that of course everyone will love a fluffy cartoon character." It is the "excruciating stab at logic that says a mascot is a way of growing a fan base and filling the empty seats abandoned by all the fans who have seen too much losing" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/19). Also in Chicago, David Haugh wrote Epstein "can't promise a great season." But it "should be a better one for the Cubs, mostly because it would be hard to fathom things getting much worse" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/19).
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