Ricketts: Naming rights, seat licenses not in Cubs' plans

Ricketts: Naming rights, seat licenses not in Cubs' plans
May 1, 2013, 2:30 pm
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After a presentation to the City Club of Chicago that publicly unveiled the Cubs plan for a restoration of Wrigley Field, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts gave his thoughts on a number of topics both related to the ballpark as well as the financial abilities of his franchise on the baseball operations side to improve a struggling major-league product.

For the first time, he publicly floated the possibility of the Cubs moving out of Wrigley Field if the Cubs do not receive approval for the outfield signage and a 6,000 square-foot video board he called essential to making the financials work for the franchise moving forward.

[RELATED: Ricketts throws threat to move into Wrigley negotiations]

"I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop any signs in the outfield but if it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in the outfield then we are going to have to consider moving. It is as simple as that," Ricketts said.

When he was pressed on his threat to leave Wrigley Field, he talked about his hope that the Cubs will stay at the nearly 100-year-old stadium.

"The fact is we are committed to try to work this out. We've always said from Day 1 that we want to win in Wrigley Field, but we also need to generate the revenue we need to compete as a franchise," he told me. "There has been some question as to whether or not we can put up a revenue generating video board and signage in our own outfield and if we can't then at some point we've got to look at other options. But I don't think it's now. We really believe that we are going to be able to work this out and move forward."

[PHOTOS: A look at proposed Wrigley Renovation project]

In response to a question about putting signage on the rooftop buildings rather than inside the ballpark, Ricketts left no doubt that the Cubs will not support that plan and it appears the Cubs wouldn't support any plan that would further deepen the relationship between the team and the rooftops, whose contract has 10 more years to run.

"We need to control our relationship with our sponsors. We want the signs to be on our side of the street and we'll work to limit the impact of those signs on the rooftops." he said.

Ricketts also outlined the Cubs' position that the rooftops are direct competitors based on their recent history of selling individual seats as opposed to the group sales that the rooftops focused on originally.

"At one point, the rooftops were largely focused on group sales and now they are selling individual season tickets. Furthermore, we know that they have put seats on all of the discounting sites so it's become more of a competitor the last few years," he said.

In addition to his threat to move the team if he cannot make a restoration deal work, Ricketts also put to rest any thoughts about selling the naming rights of the stadium.  
"There is no plan to sell the name of Wrigley Field," he said. "We think it has real meaning to people, particularly to those people who come to Wrigley from all over the country because it is their trip to see the famous Wrigley Field. So, no there is no plan to sell the name of Wrigley Field.

"However, one of the great things from the way we've designed the park with the plaza and the hotel and the other amenities is that it gives us great opportunities to bring in strong corporate partners to increase revenue for the team."

As for the Cubs raising more revenue through the sale of personal seat licenses (PSLs), Ricketts said the team has no plans to do that.

"We are not considering that," he said. "I know it's been used effectively in the NFL and in many new stadiums, but for us, we look at it as it's best for us to work on generating revenue within the organization to pay for the enhancements to the stadium."

[MORE: Proposed Cubs' Wrigley renovation plan]

When Ricketts was questioned about the threat of a lawsuit by the rooftop owners, he was emphatic on the Cubs' belief that the rooftop owners would not prevail in a lawsuit regarding adding more signage and the video board, which he says are some of the key components of the increased revenue streams he says the franchise must have.

"What we put out there today is kind of a blend of revenue opportunities and being respectful of the rooftops views. So we think it's really a fair compromise. We'll talk to them in the next few days and there are a lot of things built specifically into the plan to minimize the impact on the views from the rooftops. So we'll talk to them and try to work it out," he added.

When I asked him if his lawyers are telling him that the Cubs would prevail if the rooftop owners were to file a lawsuit he was extremely confident.

"Absolutely. We think this is going to go forward, yes," he said.

While the Cubs had hoped to have the new clubhouse completed in time for the 2014 season as the first step in the restoration plan, it appears time has run out to get that project completed before next season. He also has no plans to order steel and book construction crews until the Cubs' plan receives final approval.

"That's probably the prudent way to go about things. We have to know the timing and the timing of the process will dictate what we can and cannot do this off-season."  

[RELATED: Window closing if Cubs want to begin Wrigley renovation on time]

For fans that are concerned that the Cubs' payroll has declined from the final years of Tribune ownership, Ricketts offered hope for the future when he talked about seeing the team's payroll exceed what was spent in the past.

"I can absolutely see our payroll exceeding what was spent before," he said. "It's a function of doing everything the right way on the business side and that includes the Wrigley renovations and then there is no doubt that I can see our payroll exceeding what was spent in the past."

He also asked for Cubs fans to trust him as it relates to building a winning organization.

"People are going to have to trust us. The fact is, we know what we are doing on the business side and we have great guys on the baseball side and we are building a winning organization," he added.

I asked Ricketts if he is as frustrated as the legions of Cubs fans are as they watch a less-than-satisfactory product continue to struggle on the field, all while hearing endless talk about renovations, Jumbotrons and increasing the number of bathrooms at Wrigley Field.

"I received an interesting e-mail the other day from a season-ticket holder. He told me 'stop talking about restrooms. I'll gladly have my bladder burst if we win the World Series,'" Ricketts said. "I get that. One thing I know for a stone-cold fact is that the Ricketts legacy will be defined by whether or not we won. Fixing the park? Great, and that helps us win. Doing more around the neighborhood? Great, and that helps us win too, but it comes down to winning. No one knows that more than I do and no one focuses on that more than I do. We wear that pretty heavy. Everyone has to understand each of these steps that we take and everything that we do is building towards that goal."