Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts pushed back against the idea that selling minority ownership shares could signal deeper financial issues for the franchise.
That’s one option on the table as the Cubs try to figure out how to pay for the $300 million Wrigley Field restoration. The final bill could run closer to $500 million, including the Clark Street hotel and neighborhood development.
“Most teams are owned by dozens of investors,” Ricketts said before Friday’s home opener against Ryne Sandberg’s Philadelphia Phillies. “It’s unusual for anyone to own 95 percent of a team. So we’re going to look at whether or not that fits for us.”
Multiple sources dismissed the rumors connecting the Cubs to billionaire investor Warren Buffett. Historically, the Ricketts family has not been that close with “The Oracle of Omaha,” despite their shared Nebraska roots.
One possible theory has the Cubs looking at John Canning Jr.’s network. The Madison Dearborn Partners chairman owns a piece of the Milwaukee Brewers and has a good relationship with commissioner Bud Selig. Canning organized a group of Chicago businessmen who submitted a losing bid after Tribune Co. put the team up for sale on Opening Day 2007.
“Anytime you’re looking at privately financing a big project like this,” Ricketts said, “you’re going to look at all your different sources of potential financing. We’re going to take a look at whether or not it makes sense to bring in outside people.”
The Ricketts family has watched the franchise value soar 42 percent since entering into a leveraged partnership with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. in 2009, an $845 million deal that also included a piece of Comcast SportsNet Chicago.
Working from the recent $1.2 billion Forbes valuation, the Cubs could sell 15 percent and generate $180 million. That back-of-the-envelope calculation could cover the roughly $150 million the Cubs once projected in their amusement-tax proposal, before getting mixed up in presidential politics and the 2012 Super PAC controversy.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel – who took his second-row seat in the second inning and watched part of the game next to Ricketts – is said to be frustrated with the slow pace of negotiations between Cubs executives and the rooftop owners.
Building the Jumbotron that would impact the Waveland Avenue rooftops is a process that could take up to two years. Ricketts said he wasn’t sure exactly how far the Cubs had gotten into that process.
The Cubs had intended to put up the Budweiser sign in right field for the home opener, part of a sponsorship deal said to be in the neighborhood of 10 years and $140 million. It’s not ready yet.
“We’ll take that day-by-day and see how it’s going,” Ricketts said.
There are rumblings that the Cubs have been approached by outside investors in the past. But the non-controlling shares currently being discussed wouldn’t give you a real voice in how the team is run or a seat on the board of directors.
It’s more a chance for a few deep-pocketed individuals to rub elbows with celebrities, stand on the field during batting practice and tell people you own a piece of the Cubs. In these types of deals, the cash payout doesn’t come until the team is sold.
“From time to time, people reach out,” Ricketts said. “But the process is just getting started. It’s just an option for us.”