Ever since there was discussion of the State of Illinois purchasing historic Wrigley Field from the Tribune Co. and renovating it, the question has been, “How would the State fund the renovation?” As we outlined yesterday, the Cubs (ergo, Tribune) see a complex deal with several moving funding parts (read Kenney Outlines Funding for Wrigley Field, Renovation).
One thing that was not mentioned, possibly due to the hot-button nature of it, has been the possible selling of naming rights to The Friendly Confines. As Kurt Hunzeker and I noted in The Curse of the Ex-Wrigley Field, any company looking to purchase the secondary naming rights for Wrigley would find it nearly impossible for anyone to think of Wrigley Field as, well, anything other than “Wrigley Field”. While secondary naming deals have been able to get out from under the original name’s recognition (best example would be the short-lived Enron Field which is now Minute Maid Park), Wrigley would nearly impossible. As we wrote in Curse, “Hyatt Field? Gatorade Field? State Farm Field? Blue Cross Blue Shield Field? None of them work.”
Beyond the financial implications (based upon Hunzeker’s research, using the Mets Citigroup naming deal as a barometer, a secondary naming deal for Wrigley would run -276 percent of value based on Wrigley’s longstanding history as a name), the political realities of those immersed in the purist and traditional world that baseball, and more importantly, the Cubs hold, show that a complete renaming of Wrigley Field would create a backlash the likes of which the Cubs may have never seen before.
Jim Thompson, who is the chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, seems to realize that a full rename of Wrigley would be nearly sacrilegious. However, given the need for the revenues that a naming rights deal would offer, would a partial renaming of Wrigley work? Think of “<YOUR BUSINESS> At Wrigley Field”. Thompson hinted Wednesday that the concept is still in play. As reported by the Chicago Tribune:
"We certainly would want the name to stay Wrigley," said Thompson, who is chairman of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the state/city agency that is in negotiations to purchase the park.
Asked whether the authority would sell partial naming rights so that the Wrigley Field name would be linked to another corporate moniker, he said, "I presume there are people out there who think so highly of Wrigley Field that they would want to be associated with it and, therefore, would be willing to pay for that privilege.
"But I have no deals, I haven't heard of any deals. We would have to test the marketplace."
“Testing the marketplace” would be an interesting feat. One could speculate that a company that decided to do a naming deal might find a customer backlash, as opposed to a positive relationship. Still, the Cubs have incredible brand recognition. There would surely be a company that would take the risk for the chance to place their name in association with one of the top 3 clubs in terms of brand recognition.
But, as we have reported prior (read Zell is Selling and Maximizing, Much to MLB's Discontent) Sam Zell, the new owner of the Tribune Co. sees selling Wrigley separately from the other baseball holdings that Tribune owns as more lucrative than selling them all together. That might be true, but it’s a negative for the bidders for the Cubs, and it’s technically more difficult for the ISFA to pull off. That’s why, when the financial information is delivered to the prospective bidders this week, there will be not one, but two books handed over. One with Wrigley, and one with it factored out of the deal. How the new owners would treat the name “Wrigley Field” if they owned The Friendly Confines, is something all will be looking at, should Sam Zell not get his wish of selling Wrigley Field to the State of Illinois.