Kaplan: Will the Cubs' business plan ever work?

Kaplan: Will the Cubs' business plan ever work?
January 24, 2014, 12:45 pm
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Ever since Oct. 30, 2009 — the day the Ricketts family was introduced as the new owners of the Chicago Cubs — we have all been waiting patiently for signs of progress that the team is moving towards a championship level both on and off of the field.
 
However, in the four-and-a-half years since the family purchased the team from the Tribune Company, we have seen a substandard on-field product and heard about revenue streams and rooftops ad nauseam. 
 
We are also still waiting on the first shovel to hit the ground for a much-ballyhooed $500 million renovation of the stadium and surrounding area. So when will we see the business plan start to provide the resources Theo Epstein and his front office need to make an impact in the free agent market? 
 
The Ricketts family has had some wins on the business side since they took over. Landing Epstein when many didn't believe he could be persuaded to leave Boston for Chicago was a huge win. Adding Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod to Epstein's team was a great victory. Adding millions to the scouting and player development budgets and landing highly-regarded prospects such as Jorge Soler and Eloy Jimenez took the Cubs farm system to a place it has never been before and should pay dividends down the road.
 
 
A new Dominican academy and a state-of-the-art spring training facility are all great additions to the franchise. However, it will not mean much if the Cubs cannot land a big-time TV deal and finish a highly-profitable Wrigley Field renovation plan that has been in the works for years.
 
But there are major obstacles facing the organization. What other team in professional sports has rooftop owners blocking a several hundred million dollar renovation plan? What other team in sports has the handcuffs on it that the Cubs do? Add in a very constraining financing plan necessitated by the sale process and you have a team that has serious financial limitations when it comes to competing with the top teams in the game.
 
However when he signed on as the owner, Ricketts knew what he was buying — a team that had a contract with the rooftops negotiated by the Cubs and the previous administration themselves. He also inherited a stadium that needed extensive work and he was buying a team that had a very weak minor league system that needed several strong drafts, some big trades and an international presence to produce impact players.
 
He also knew he had a subpar TV deal in comparison with the rest of the heavyweights in Major League Baseball and he also knew the state of the game was changing with TV dollars driving major player acquisitions. The Cubs are currently negotiating with WGN TV but are in a cable exclusive deal through the 2019 season with Comcast SportsNet, so they are not able to land the type of deal that several teams — including the Yankees, Dodgers and Rangers — have all landed over the past few years.
 
 
Add in the second smallest stadium in baseball, the fewest sky boxes in the game and the aforementioned financing deal as required by the purchase and you have a tough situation to repair. Again, these are all things the Ricketts family knew when they purchased the Cubs, so the issues should come as no surprise to them.
 
How much longer can a fanbase be expected to show patience when you have an ownership group that is unwilling to flex their muscles and stop taking what is being handed to them in the Wrigley renovation discussions? You can't blame the rooftops, who are not stealing anything from the Cubs (despite what some would have you believe). Instead, they are working under a contract that was negotiated by the Cubs. You can call it a bad deal, a stupid deal or anything else you want, but it is a deal that the Cubs entered into with their eyes open.

Perhaps Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel can ride in to the rescue and find a suitable location in the city that the Cubs can build a new stadium on. Why not somewhere near the lake to take advantage of the greatest skyline in the United States? Combined with Lake Michigan, it would provide a view that no stadium in America could match.
 
If not, why won't Tom Ricketts begin talks immediately with any and all interested suburbs who would like to help build a new home for the Cubs. Sources tell me that there are multiple members of the Ricketts family that are tired of the renovation negotiations and are ready to explore options outside of Wrigley. However, Tom Ricketts has never indicated a willingness to look at any option other than the current ballpark. Until he tires of a process that has bordered on the ridiculous, he is forced to take what is being shoveled his way.
 
To take the Cubs where they promised to go when they bought the team, the Ricketts family and the Cubs business operations team must start delivering at the level that we expect Epstein and Hoyer to perform at to deliver a championship team.
 
There are a million reasons that the Cubs renovation plan is stuck in the mud, but if we are still here in another year with no discernible progress towards a renovation plan, then it may be time to admit that it may never get done. 

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