SBD/April 4, 2014/FranchisesPrint All
The Ricketts family is "exploring the idea of selling minority ownership shares" in the Cubs as a "way to help finance" the $500M Wrigley Field renovation, according to sources cited by Patrick Mooney of CSNCHICAGO.com. A source said that those shares would be for a "non-controlling interest." The source added that the family "hasn’t made any final decisions yet." Mooney reported the move would be an "acknowledgment of the team’s complicated financial reality." Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel "is said to be getting antsy" as Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts "continues to negotiate with the rooftop owners after already missing one offseason of construction." Emanuel "wants the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the groundbreaking, the image of hard hats, concrete and steel," while Ricketts "wants assurances the team won’t get sued before green-lighting" the project. The rooftop owners "want their piece of the action, clinging to a revenue-sharing agreement with the team" that runs through '23. A source said that a sale "wouldn’t impact the futures" of Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein. Sources said that as the Ricketts family "does estate planning, the intention is to still control the team through at least the next generation." Sources suggested that whatever happens, the "spending restrictions imposed" by the terms of Sam Zell’s sale of the team in October '09 "will remain in place" through the '19 season. At that point, the Cubs "would also be free to start their own cable network, while seeing new revenues from the Wrigley Field renovation" (CSNCHICAGO.com, 4/3).
DECISION DETAILS: ESPN.com's Darren Rovell cited sources as saying that the Ricketts family has "hired Galatioto Sports Partners, the firm that helped" it buy the team. GSP "already has begun to talk to high net worth individuals with the goal of raising capital through as few investors as possible" (ESPN.com, 4/3). Meanwhile, in Chicago, Robert Channick notes it "does appear the rooftop situation needs to be resolved before the family makes a decision whether to sell shares." This "wouldn’t be the first time the Ricketts family considered bringing in partners." When the family was negotiating to buy the team and ballpark, Ricketts "had separate conversations with a handful of celebrities, including Bill Murray, about investing in the Cubs" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/4).
NATIONAL PROFILE: The Ricketts family this week was profiled on Showtime's "60 Minute Sports." CBS' Armen Keteyian said the Ricketts family since acquiring the Cubs has "preached patience as they've dealt with a grand slam of problems: An aging ballpark; depleted farm system; Chicago politics; and a team that's finished an average of 27 games out of first place the past four seasons." Ricketts said the moniker "'lovable losers' hits a raw nerve for everybody in the family." Keteyian noted the Ricketts family is "doubling down on a radical baseball bet for a big-market team." While the Dodgers and Yankees have "loaded up on high-priced free agents," the Ricketts family has "gutted their team of aging stars and weighty contracts." They instead have "poured tens of millions of dollars, far more than most teams, into their farm system." The Cubs "once had one of the worst facilities" in the Dominican Republic, but the Ricketts family has poured $7M "into a new 50-acre baseball academy." Epstein said, "There's a real dichotomy between how we're perceived from the outside looking in, which is fair, and then they assume we're depressed and they assume we can’t wait to get out of here and nothing could be farther from the truth. The morale inside the organization is fantastic." Keteyian noted under the Ricketts' ownership, the family "has committed about" $1.4B to the team, including $300M to "restore century-old Wrigley Field to its glorious past." Meanwhile, Cubs BOD member Laura Ricketts said of the dispute with the rooftop owners, "Our patience is out and has been for awhile" ("60 Minutes Sports," Showtime, 4/2).
SKEPTICAL PRESS: In Chicago, Rick Telander wrote with all of the Ricketts family's "thrashings and firings, and the addition of scores of genius front-office people, led by smartest-man-in-any-room-on-any-planet Theo Epstein, and all the promises and vows, and all the 'rebuilding,' you would reasonably be led to believe that the Cubs once were far worse than they are now." Telander: "What have the Rickettses been 'rebuilding' except whatever mess they made? And when does this 'comeback' begin?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 4/3).
The Bills "could have a new owner before the season is halfway over," as the team's sale "is on a much faster track than many probably expected," according to a source cited in a front-page piece by Graham & Gaughan of the BUFFALO NEWS. A sale "must be approved" by 75% of the owners, and that vote "could take place as early as their annual October session." The Bills will "start evaluating offers within the next few months." The source said that a "more likely timetable to vote on the Bills’ sale would occur later than this autumn -- perhaps at the annual labor meeting in December or the annual owners meeting in March -- but October is possible." The Bills on Thursday formally announced that Mary Wilson, the widow of Ralph Wilson Jr., has "assumed control as the club’s principal owner" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/4). NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the move designating Mary Wilson as principal owner "is a formality, this really does not mean anything." Rapoport: "This is a plan the Bills have had for more than a year now in case of the eventual passing of Ralph Wilson. CEO Russ Brandon is still going to be in charge of the team, General Manager Doug Whaley will still serve as the General Manager. ... Everything will be the same" ("NFL Total Access," NFL Network, 4/3).
Knicks President Phil Jackson "engaged in his first informal sit-down with the media on Thursday, divulging his thoughts" on several topics, including the team's ties to CAA, according to Chris Herring of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Jackson "vowed to relinquish the team's close ties" with CAA, "which has appeared to hold a considerable amount of sway with the Knicks' front office as it tries to persuade Carmelo Anthony, a CAA client and free-agent-to-be, to re-sign with the club." Knicks G J.R. Smith, C Andrea Bargnani and coach Mike Woodson are "also represented by the agency." Jackson said, "Part of my role in coming here was, 'Is there anything that would inhibit me from having the freedom to work with all the people in the NBA that represent players?' And there is nothing. So I know there are connections, and there are friendships, and whatever there's been in the past. But those don't weigh on me" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/4). NBCSPORTS.com's Kurt Helin wrote CAA has "long had special sway over the Knicks organization." If you "listen to the scuttlebutt around the league," Bargnani "is a Knick because he is a CAA/Leon Rose client" just like Anthony. Jackson's declaration -- "along with keeping owner James Dolan out of basketball decisions -- are two keys to turning the franchise around." Helin: "It behooves any team president/GM to stay on good terms with agents and agencies, there certainly are ways they can help each other out. But you can’t let it effect your decision making" (NBCSPORTS.com, 4/3).
FIRST ORDERS OF BUSINESS: Jackson said that he has "spent his first few weeks on the job mostly in assessment mode, as he anticipated would be the case." He said that he talks daily with GM Steve Mills, has "had a few 'getting-to-know-you' chats" with Anthony and "met with the team's scouts this week to begin discussing his vision for the future." On Long Island, Jim Baumbach notes Jackson "doesn't expect to sit still this offseason" despite the team's "salary-cap issues." Jackson: "There's always ways to make moves. Even though the limitation and flexibility is limited, but we anticipate we're going to try and improve the team at every position we can" (NEWSDAY, 4/4).
MLS Earthquakes President Dave Kaval said that the team will "be accepting bitcoin with the upcoming soccer season," according to Kyt Dotson of SILICONANGLE.com. Fans "can expect to use the virtual currency for anything from the merchandise store as well as tickets to see games." Kaval said, "We hope to create a really seamless experience." Dotson reported Bitcoin is "planned for merch and tickets and possibly even concessions, if a POS system can be worked out and launched in time for fans." Payment processor Bitpay "will be the Quakes’ payment gateway." Kaval said that choosing Bitpay "came down to professionalism and a good product." He added, "We took our time and did our research and they seemed like the organization with the most robust solutions." The Earthquakes also "have a brand new stadium opening" in '15, which will lay a "foundation for using new technologies including Big Data technology." The Earthquakes are "the second professional sports team to take bitcoin as a payment option," after the NBA Kings began accepting the currency March 1 (SILICONANGLE.com, 4/2).