Ricketts Talks Wrigley Renovations, Cubs' Development Strategy
Cubs Exec Chair Tom Ricketts kicked off the '19 SBJ Dealmakers in Sports conference this morning, chatting with Proskauer Chair and Sports Law Group co-Head Joe Leccese on a range of topics related to the ballclub. Ricketts said when his family bought the Cubs in '09, he had a "little bit of (a) feel" for how they could "make the baseball team go in the right direction." He said, "I knew I could probably absorb enough information to bring in the right people to make good decisions and get us on the right track there." However, Ricketts said they had "no idea" how much it would cost to renovate Wrigley Field. "During the deal, we had people walk through and give us some ideas of what it would cost," he noted. "But until you really tear out walls and dig deep and really understand what you have, you don’t know what’s going to happen when you renovate an old ballpark.” Ricketts: "We probably missed our budget by around 100%."
LEARNING ON THE FLY: Ricketts said Chicago politics was the steepest learning curve during the Wrigley renovation process. "The only way I thought I would ever meet an Illinois politician was if I somehow ended up in prison," he said. "It was a lot more complicated than I thought it would be." He said the biggest political hurdles were the rooftop bar owners across the street from Wrigley. Ricketts said, "It took a couple years. They were really well entrenched, politically. Very generous with their donations to local politicians, so it took a look time to grind out the ability to even put a video board up."
ONE FOR ALL: Ricketts talked about the Cubs strategy of developing around Wrigley. He said, “We had to do something. Ten years ago, I had five kids under the age of 14, and bringing them to Wrigley was a little challenging. You have five fraternity brothers, then Wrigleyville is built for speed. You have choices. But if you have five little kids, you’re asking ‘what am I going to do?’ We had to think about fan base and we had to think about neighbors." Ricketts: "We thought about what we could do that works all year round. It’s a relatively dense, relatively nice part of Chicago. But you pull up to Wrigley Field in January, and most of the bars were closed and Wrigley looked like an old parking garage. So the plan had to include the outside of Wrigley being restored to what it looked like at its best in 1935." He noted the space used for the Gallagher Way development used to be a player parking lot, but is now an open-air plaza that has 200 events a year. Ricketts: "We have 250,000 people coming to our Winterland. And then it had to work on game days for families."
• On creating Marquee Sports Network for broadcasting Cubs games: "Ultimately, we felt the best way to serve our fans and the best way to tell our Cubs story was to be independent. We’re fortunate that we have the fan base and the following and the viewership that will lend itself to a single RSN."
• On the potential for a sportsbook at Wrigley: "We’d have to take (a look) at that. Illinois legislation allows for stadiums to apply for a license for a sports book. We would obviously not run a sports book. That’s not what baseball teams do. We’d get a partner to do that. We’d have to find a location and figure all that out."