One of baseball’s most historic and well known stadiums could become available to put your company name on.
With new Tribune Co. owner Sam Zell looking to sell off the Chicago Cubs and its associated assets, there have been talks of selling historic Wrigley Field to the State of Illinois through the Illinois State Facilities Authority. Along with that deal, the possibility of a naming rights deal for the Friendly Confines is being considered. As reported by the Chicago Tribune:
The two sides have worked on a concept in which the ISFA would issue bonds to finance the purchase and sign the Cubs to a 30-year lease. Naming rights for the stadium would be used to help defray the cost of Wrigley renovations.
"We believe that transaction, when completely vetted, is very beneficial for the city of Chicago, it's very beneficial for the Cubs and for the future of a Major League Baseball team in this city," Zell said.
"The governor originally approached us on this, we studied it, we thought it was really an interesting concept, we started meeting with mayor's people on it. We will see where that goes."
If the sale of Wrigley to the ISFA were to go through, it would most assuredly impact how the bidding for the Cubs would be dealt with. Wrigley Field and the Cubs are a tightly knit set of commodities that would seem to diminish their values if separated. The possible move to sell off Wrigley Field would partially explain why there has been a delay in the delivery of the offering book valuating the Cubs and the associated assets to the likes of John Canning, Jr., Mark Cuban, and the Ricketts family, and more than a dozen others who have made overtures about purchasing the Cubs from Tribune.
As to when the sale might occur, word has been that it would not occur until well into Spring at the earliest. Zell said in his introductory press conference as Tribune Co. owner yesterday that he hoped the deal would be done by Opening Day, an extraordinarily aggressive time line given the complexities of the deal.
Commissioner Selig also wishes to review the current state of the Cubs’ management structure since John McDonough left the club in November. As reported by the LA Times:
The Cubs' new management and pending sale are on the agenda for the Jan. 16 owners meeting in Arizona, Major League Baseball President Bob DuPuy said.
"The commissioner will review the situation," DuPuy said.
Back to the naming rights issue, and the possibility of selling the Cubs assets off piecemeal… Let me add the following:
There are few institutions left in baseball. Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park, and Wrigley Field are certainly ones that are. The backlash to a naming rights deal would be enormous. To add to this, if the sale of Wrigley were to be disconnected from MLB entirely, the capacity for a naming rights deal is increased, impacts the valuation and branding aspect of the Cubs, and creates issues beyond in a domino effect. One can only hope that Zell is simply exploring this matter as a way gauge valuation or possibly as a method to gin up the total sale valuation. If it is a matter of decreasing Tribune Co. debt load in advance of the sale, it will be a sad day indeed for baseball. What would Harry Caray say? "Holy Cow!" might be putting it mildly.
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also an author for Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and is an available writer for other media outlets.
Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.