This week in “Last Week in BizBall”, financing Wrigley Field renovations plus the weekly tidbits.
FINANCING WRIGLEY FIELD RENOVATIONS
LWIB saw new Cubs owner Thomas Ricketts publicly defending his clubs proposed agreement to erect an illuminated Toyota sign in the left field bleachers. (see details on the proposal here). It was necessary for Mr. Ricketts to publicly justify the deal given that it requires approval from local pols (Wrigley Field has landmark status). As well, Mr. Ricketts needed to counter criticism from a segment of fans, pundits and architecture critics concerned about the deleterious impact of the new signage on Wrigley Field‘s unique character. None of this controversy is unanticipated but it does reveal how challenging it will be for the Cubs new owners to increase revenues at Wrigley Field without antagonizing or alienating fans and politicians.
The most interesting of Mr. Rickett’s comments was the renewed discussion of the possibility of future renovations being financed in part by the selling of Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs). Fran Spielman reported for the Chicago Sun-Times:
In a luncheon address to the City Club of Chicago, Ricketts also raised a few eyebrows when he refused to rule out personal seat licenses at Wrigley Field to someday finance renovation of the 96-year-old shrine of Major League Baseball.
“I won’t rule them out only because I don’t know what it’s gonna take to really save Wrigley. It may be a financing option that makes sense for us down the line,” Ricketts said.
“There’s no current thought on doing that, at least any time in the near future. But, I don’t know what all of our issues are and I can’t 100 percent say that that’s always gonna be off the table.”
Ms. Spielman also points out that this is not the first time that such a plan has been floated. Previous owner Sam Zell (who acquired the Cubs as part of his purchase of Tribune Co.) discussed selling Wrigley Field (separate from the Cubs franchise) to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. In turn, the ISFA considered selling equity seat licenses (a variation of the PSL) to fund a $400 million renovation.
The selling of PSLs, or equity seat licenses, to finance Wrigley Field renovations would not be unprecedented in MLB. The construction of AT&T Park (then Pac Bell) was financed in part by the sale of 15,000 Charter Seat Licenses. Still, the sale of PSLs in MLB is very rare but Mr. Ricketts is in a unique situation and the trial balloon he floated last week should be taken seriously. As evidenced by the kerfuffle over the proposed Toyota sign in the left field bleachers, Mr. Ricketts is limited in his options in increasing revenues at Wrigley Field. Ed Sherman blogged for Crain’s ChicagoBusiness.com:
The Cubs play in a ballpark that severely limits revenue opportunities. According to Marc Ganis, the president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports marketing firm, all the signage at Yankee Stadium nets the team in the neighborhood of $120 million.
The Cubs probably wouldn't go that high, but you've got to figure they could push the $80 million-$100 million range if they decided to decorate Wrigley Field with corporate signage and replaced the vintage scoreboard with a Jumbotron. That kind of cash could go a long way to keeping ticket prices in line and/or paying salaries.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have to jump through hoops and endure all sorts of hand-wringing to put up a sign in the outfield that will net them in the range of $2 million to $2.5 million.
"There isn't another team that faces the restrictions the Cubs do," Mr. Ganis said.
Along the same lines, selling corporate naming rights to Wrigley Field is a non-starter.
SELECT READ MORE TO SEE OTHER DETAILS ON WRIGLEY'S RENOVATION, AS WELL AS TIDBITS
While Mr. Ricketts publicly floated the possibility of selling PSLs, at the same time he denied that he has any plans to seek public dollars for the Wrigley Field renovations. Nonetheless, in arguing last week why local politicians should not interfere with the Toyota sign deal, Mr. Ricketts was eager to point out the economic benefits that the Cubs bring to the city of Chicago. According to the Cubs, they contribute $59 million in tax revenue to Chicago annually. As well, Mr. Ricketts brought attention to the results of a team survey touting the Cubs contributions to Chicago tourism. Cubs CMO Wally Hayward was also pointing out that the Cubs receive no public funding for their ballpark, unlike their peers in MLB. Typically, the publicizing by franchises of the economic benefits they purportedly bring to their community are associated with a campaign for public funds.
Renovating Wrigley Field is necessary and inevitable. How that will be financed is a more complicated scenario. Last word to Ed Sherman: “Let's be honest, the fix-up isn't going to be cheap. Don't be surprised if Cubs fans are asked to help pay for it.”
- Terry Lefton and John Ourandreported for the SportsBusiness Journal from the MLB Sponsor Summit. Effective April 1 MLB Network will be for the first time a Nielsen-rated network. It will be especially interesting to see how “MLB Tonight” fares, particularly when it goes head-to-head with ESPN’s nightly “Baseball Tonight.” As well the report includes some demographic data on MLB fans. About 60 percent of the U.S. population is interested in MLB. The diversity of the MLB fan base was also touted as being reflective of the diversity of the U.S. population in terms of race and ethnicity, the most gender balanced of the major sports with 45 percent of fans being female. Perhaps most importantly as it applies to sponsors, MLB fans are 17 percent more likely than the average population to live in households making $100,000 or more in income.
- Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh and the Pirates announced a new long-term agreement which guarantees that at least 150 Pirates games will be televised each season. (HT Fang’s Bites) Does this mean the end of Penguins owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux’s plans to purchase the Pirates and launch their own RSN?
- Ben Grossman reported for Broadcasting and Cable that MLB Network and News Corp could be expanding upon their existing partnership. The MLB Network may be expanding its roster once again, as the league-run network is in talks with Fox's Chris Rose about an on-air role. Rose, who is expected to function as a studio host, would maintain his position with Fox Sports as well. Earlier this month MLB Network and Fox Business Network announced a partnership.
- ESPN is increasing their coverage of college softball and baseball games. Fang’s Bites has the press release here.
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Pete Toms is senior writer for the Business of Sports Network, most notably, The Biz of Baseball. He looks forward to your comments and can be contacted through The Biz of Baseball.
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