Imagine, if you dare, the Chicago Cubs playing somewhere other than Wrigley Field.
Team owner Tom Ricketts would have everyone believe it could happen. All it would take is for him to not get his way with his proposed renovations to the Friendly Confines.
Nobody should believe him, mind you. I'm just saying it's what he would have everyone believe.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Ricketts said on Wednesday morning that he could look into moving the team if the organization is barred from adding a new Jumbotron and signage to Wrigley Field's outfield walls as part of the recently agreed-to renovations.
I'm not sure how anyone is going to stop the 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 our outfield then we're going to have to consider moving. It's a simple as that.
Cue record scratch sound effect. Yeah, he said that.
But did he mean it?
Nah. I fear this may be stating the obvious, but, well, here goes: This would appear to be a bluff.
The target? Well, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has already signed off on the proposals. The proposals themselves are now going into the public approval phase, but the only people who have a legitimate reason to object to the renovations are the rooftop owners. Their bleachers are at stake.
The details may have already been ironed out, but people who own the rooftop bleachers across the street from Wrigley Field have been left out of the negotiations. From the sound of things, they're still not convinced that the Jumbotron and the signage Ricketts wants won't be impeding the views from their seats.
If so, that's a problem.
After all, the rooftop owners have a deal: a 20-year partnership signed with the Cubs in 2004. They pay the team 17 percent of their gross revenues, and David Kaplan of CSNChicago.com has reported that the Cubs have benefited to the tune of $40 million since the deal was put in place.
That's not such an impressive number compared to the money the Cubs could make per year by way of the signage they want, however. According to ESPN Chicago, that would be $20 million.
Will the rooftop owners take Ricketts to court? Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com got a non-answer straight from a representative:
Make no mistake, the rooftop owners could sue to have the Jumbotron and the other outfield additions blocked, and there's always the off-chance that they would get their wish. The new signage would be blocked, and the views from the rooftops would remain unimpeded.
If it comes to that, what Ricketts is going to have in abundance is anger. What he's not going to have in abundance are options.
Ricketts could choose to take a look at moving the Cubs to Rosemont, where Mayor Brad Stephens told David Kaplan in March that the Cubs are welcome to a 25-acre piece of land for a new stadium.
“The Chicago Cubs are being held hostage by the neighborhood as they look to run their business. We are willing to offer them a tremendous opportunity if they are interested. Bring the bricks and the ivy and we can get a deal done,” said Stephens.
Sounds like a plan, but who would pay for it?
Good luck getting the public to foot the bill for a new stadium while Wrigley Field still has considerable drawing power. This wouldn't be a case of the Miami Marlins pointing to Sun Life Stadium and shouting "Problem!"
This also wouldn't be a new Yankee Stadium situation, as the new Wrigley Field would not be going in right across the street from the old one. The new one would be going in by O'Hare International Airport, roughly half an hour away from the Friendly Confines.
Ricketts could finance a new ballpark mostly on his own, but then you're talking about a whole lot more money than the $500 million he's already agreed to put into the Wrigley Field facelift project.
So building a new ballpark nearby and moving the team there isn't a very practical possibility. Moving the team outside of Chicago, meanwhile, is even less practical.
There are two things we know about Chicago. One is that it's a city that loves its baseball, and the other is that it's one of baseball's biggest markets. It's not the kind of market that a team would want to, you know, leave.
And it's not like there are better or even reasonably viable alternatives out there. Maury Brown of Baseball Prospectus provided a breakdown of potential relocation markets last November, and he granted that none of the 10 he came up with—including Las Vegas, Portland, Sacramento and Northern New Jersey—are particularly appealing.
So moving locally is very unlikely to happen, and I feel bad about even wasting words on the prospect of the Cubs leaving Chicago. That's not happening either.
Put bluntly, I'd say the odds of the Cubs playing their games anywhere other than Wrigley Field in the years to come are pretty much zero. Zip. Nada. They don't exist.
What is going to happen?
If Ricketts has his way, he'll get his Jumbotron and outfield signage with no further fuss. That would involve everyone—rooftop owners included—being satisfied with the plans.
If the rooftop owners aren't satisfied, Ricketts' best hope would be that they would be told to back off once they were to make a federal case out of the signage. That would essentially involve a judge deciding for them that the signage isn't going to harm their business.
Worst comes to worst, Ricketts and the rooftop owners would go to court and the whole affair would end with Ricketts cutting them a check. He wouldn't like it, but he'd avoid forever becoming Chicago's public enemy No. 1, as the fans get to keep their Cubs in Wrigley, and he'd get to have his renovation plans in full.
Not a total victory, but a victory all the same.
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