- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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For the 98th straight season, the Chicago Cubs will attempt baseball this season in Wrigley Field. It's historic, magical and covered in vegetation. Then again, so is Machu Picchu and nobody's trying to win baseball games there.
I love Wrigley Field. But I'm not a Cubs fan. If I were a Cubs fan, I would despise Wrigley. I'd want Wrigley laid flatter than Wrigley gum.
There's a reason the Cubs have never won a World Series at Wrigley. There's a reason they're 0-for-the-last-67 pennant races at Wrigley. The reason IS Wrigley.
Wrigley isn't just the old family dog that needs to be put down. It's an old family dog that probably costs the Cubs about $73 million a year. That's three Prince Fielders!
Where do I get $73 million? Start from the outside-in -- with the money-sucking rooftop mini-stadiums that metastasize outside the ballpark.
The owners of these annoying watchtowers sell tickets as though they were the Cubs themselves. They even sell season tickets! The city continues to protect these leeches, who pass themselves off as mom and pop entrepreneurs, but actually rake in an estimated $24 million a year, according to the club.
Of that, the Cubs get a paltry 17 percent, or $4 million a year. Any fair deal would give them at least half. (There's $8 million they don't get.)
Inside, the Cubs are prohibited from putting up advertising signs that could make them up to $30 million more a year (that would be $38 million) because the signs would block the views of the precious rooftop oglers and the city can't have that.
You talk about a business being in your business. Can you imagine this happening to any other business?
Hey, H&R Block! We're not going to pay you for your tax advice, but we ARE going to pocket the cash people give us to sit outside your window and listen to it!
If all this seems insane to you, you should talk to Bruce Springsteen. In the middle of a recent concert at Wrigley, he stopped, turned toward the rooftops and said, with a smirk, "Everybody up on the roof! Who'd you pay?"
You say, "Well, the Cubs aren't really a business. They're a city treasure, a kind of living museum."
Fine, if they're a city treasure, then the city should help support them, the way it did for this summer's 30th anniversary of the Chicago Blues Festival, which received a $15,000 grant.
The Cubs pay 12 percent city "amusement" tax on every ticket (about $17 million a year -- we're up to $55 million), and yet the city doesn't give them a dime. Very unamusing.
There's more. You can open the doors of your business pretty much whenever you want, but the Cubs can't. They're allowed to play only 30 night games a year. And they can't even pick the nights. When owner Tom Ricketts inquired if they might play a few Saturday night games this season, the local restaurants fumed, "It'll kill our dinner business!"
Got it. Everybody gets to compete for customers except the Cubs.
Any idea how much more the Cubs could get for a TV package with 55 night games, which is what many teams play and when most fans watch? Me neither, but let's guess $5 million. (We're up to $60 million.)
God forbid they'd want to put up a decent video replay board, which is ad gold for most teams and, by the way, a place where Cubs fans could actually tell the score of the game without having to do the inning-by-inning math themselves, as they do now on the old hand-lettered relic in center. ($7 million? Total so far: $67 million.)
Plus, can you imagine the frogs that would rain down if they tried to sell the name of the stadium? They could never do what the White Sox did, which is to sell Comiskey to U.S. Cellular for $68 million over 20 years. The Cubs could probably get $100 million. There's another $5 million a year. (That's $72 million.)
And forget about how long it takes you to get up and get a hot dog at Wrigley (two innings sometimes), or get to the restroom and back (often three). Hell, by the third inning, the Cubs are on their third reliever. No wonder so many people sneak food in. What's that total in lost concessions? A million? (We're at $73 million.)
And that's just the money they don't get. Imagine the players they don't get -- because of their weird start times, their rotting training facilities, their wimpy weight room, their nonexistent in-game batting cage, their backachingly small clubhouse and their 104-year ringless streak.
Can you imagine what a genius like Cubs GM Theo Epstein could do with another $73 million a year? He'd be Theo, Unchained. He'd have the fourth-highest payroll in MLB instead of the 15th (2012). One of the biggest draws in sports shouldn't be 15th in anything.
The Red Sox finally stopped treating their little neighborhood park like it was a Faberge egg. They started putting up signs everywhere at Fenway, maxed out revenue anywhere they could, and won two of the past 9 World Series. You hear Boston fans complaining?
And yet Ricketts doesn't want to raze Wrigley. He was practically raised on Wrigley. He lives close enough that he takes the "L" to most games. And because he loves it, he has offered to pour $500 million of the family's money into renovating Wrigley -- $300 million for fixing the joint and the rest into a proposed hotel/fitness club across the street.
And what does Ricketts want for plowing no government cheese into the Wrigley rat trap? Not a dime. He just wants the city to relax some of the restrictions that make the Cubs a kind of crippled Carnival cruise ship with foul poles. And STILL aldermen such as Thomas Tunney are gumming it all up. Tunney wants more parking, more cops and to extend the sleazy rooftops deal, all of which he doesn't want to pay for. "You're talking about one of the richest families in America," Tunney told reporters the other day.
Not at this rate.
Epstein really didn't want any part of this column, but he did email to say, "We're focused on doing everything we can with what we have available to us now to make the baseball operation as healthy and successful as possible."
Too bad there's so little available.
It's simple, Chicago. You can either have your creaky, quaint, vine-covered crypt, or you can win. But you can't have both.
Do the math. You're used to it.
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