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Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Updated: May 17, 5:18 PM ET
Suburbs not option for Cubs move

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Wrigley Field
Wrigley Field has its limitations, but moving to a suburban location is not the answer.

CHICAGO -- You know it's silly season for the Chicago Cubs' never-ending Wrigley Field saga when someone suggests they move to Rosemont and people take it seriously.

Rosemont!

For my out-of-town readers, Rosemont is a city, population 4,000 and change, up by the airport that is essentially just office buildings, hotels, restaurants, parking garages, a casino and the Allstate Arena.

Tom Ricketts
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has invested in land surrounding Wrigley Field, further cementing the Cubs' roots in the area.

With traffic -- and there's always traffic because this is Chicago -- it takes about 45 minutes to get there from the city. You can see it from the Blue Line as you ride into the city if you bother to look. I won't even get into the organized crime stuff.

The forgettable idea of the Rosemont Cubs was proposed by publicity-seeking Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens in an interview with a local reporter affiliated with the Cubs. Stephens offered the Cubs free land near the airport.

Hey, who doesn't like free land near an airport?

And people actually wasted time debating it. Myself among them.

Hey, it's that or talk about Ian Stewart.

Thanks, Tom Tunney. See what you started?

Let's be clear. Leave Wrigley? Leave Chicago? You think the Cubs draw 3 million every year to watch the Chris Rusins of the world? You think all the booze hounds who frequent Wrigley in the summer would be thrilled to jump on the Blue Line? I guess the Cubs would lead the league in single tickets sold to business traveler fans. Better than eating alone at Chipotle.

The Rosemont Cubs idea isn't a real plan, so I feel dumber for even discussing it. But just to end the chatter: Baseball teams don't move from the city to the suburbs. It's pretty obvious why they wouldn't.

If the Cubs went to Rosemont, or any suburb, they'd only lose the 20-somethings who are there to get drunk, the downtown businessmen and lawyers who buy season tickets, and the tourists and casual fans. You know, everyone. Would locals replace some of that revenue? Maybe, but there won't be a five-digit waiting list anymore.

Every so often, though thankfully less and less nowadays, professional sports teams fool governments into giving them free money by promising them a replica of Wrigleyville and all its tax revenue and postgame bonhomie. It rarely works. You can't create what the Cubs have because it's unique and organic and synergistic.

For all the problems you can find for Wrigley Field, you're missing the advantages. Ask the White Sox.

Wrigley Field scoreboard
How about ditching the historic Wrigley scoreboard for a jumbotron to finally give fans video replays.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts knows all of this, and I respect him for not bluffing that he would ever move as he worked with the city and county, first for a tax-revenue plan, and then to remodel and market landmarked Wrigley Field. There is something to be said for being a realist and an adult.

Considering Ricketts just bought a plot of land for $20 million, I'd say he's pretty committed to staying where he's at.

All the people calling Wrigley a dump (and I've done this) are missing the real point. Yes, the stadium, nearing a century old, needs a full rehab and yes, the Ricketts family, the team's owners, should pay for it as they've finally committed to doing.

It should have started years ago. But that's in the past.

Now that he's rightfully "offered" to pay for the work, the hot sports news has been Ricketts' dealings with an obstructionist alderman in Tunney and contract-waving rooftop owners in order to get approval to put up signs in the outfield. I'd be frustrated too. It's not always charming to hear Ricketts and his people espouse their "Cubbies Exceptionalism" philosophies, but fixing up Wrigley is the right thing to do.

The Cubs should be able to put up signs in the outfield just like the Toyota sign that bothers no one. I'm all for preserving the charm of Wrigley, but you can update it too. The Cubs make plenty of money, and much, much, much more is to come when they can sign a new cable deal, but I see no reason to limit mundane advertising. I'd love a video scoreboard too. Who wouldn't? The city already seems amenable to more night games -- though the Cubs would be wise to keep some day games, which is how they built their national following in the first place -- and other relaxing of the stringent rules about how the Cubs can do business.

Tunney has been pretty consistent with his approach. I respect his moxie -- it's rare to see an alderman stand up to a power figure in Chicago -- but he's flailing badly in the court of public opinion.

Tunney sounded like a naive Twitter fan when he snapped at reporters recently: "You're talking about one of the wealthiest families in America" in referring to the Ricketts. It's not that simple and he knows it.

The Cubs are certainly playing hardball in the court of public opinion. First, there was the Rosemont story reported by Comcast SportsNet Chicago (the Cubs own 25 percent) and then a story in the Sun-Times quoting anonymous sources who say Tunney told the Cubs to tear down the landmarked, world-famous hand-operated scoreboard to put up a JumboTron video board. The Cubs, of course, want to put up a video board that might block a rooftop.

But regardless of your feelings on the matter, don't forget the problem isn't that the Cubs can't make money at Wrigley Field. Can they make enough to satiate owners with a major debt incurred to buy the team? I'd have to see the books.

What I do know is that last year, they failed to draw 3 million for the first time since 2003, and that was considered a story. The Cubs still drew 2,882,756 fans. That's the 10th-best total in baseball and, according to one source, the Cubs had the highest attendance of any team in history that lost 100 games.

Advertising, premium seats, a decent media deal. The Cubs are doing OK as they tone down major league spending for a sensible organizational rebuild.

Also, they sell beer. How much beer? Two years ago, a Major League Baseball source told me the Cubs sell the highest volume of beer in baseball.

No, the Cubs aren't going to move because one obstructionist alderman is a fearless negotiator when it comes to his fiefdom. No one would abandon a gold mine because the light bulbs are broken.

The truth is that the Cubs signed a 20-year contract with the rooftop owners in 2004 and have tacitly endorsed the rooftops as part of the Cubs experience, per that contract. In fact, when Tom Ricketts introduced his father to the idea of using the family trust to buy the Cubs, they were on a rooftop. Ricketts also invested in a rooftop in 2010.
Wrigley Sign
The Cubs should be able to put up more advertising such as the Toyota sign in left field.

No one's throwing a parade for these folks, but the rooftop owners aren't stealing the Cubs' product. They provide a real service. I think the cost is ridiculous, but fans are still willing to pay -- though less when the team is bad. Seventeen percent of gross revenue goes to the Cubs. If you do the math, a $150 ticket for an all-you-can-eat-and-drink rooftop spot gives the Cubs $25.50. That's a little more expensive than the cheapest ticket at Wrigley. It's basically free money for the Cubs.

But outfield signage would bring in substantially more money, and the rooftop owners don't want their business, selling views and ambience harmed. It's understandable.

The rooftop owners aren't to be pitied, and their sloppy, amateurish attempt to come up with their own plan in January deserves mockery.

But while everyone is sick of the public negotiating, there is a middle ground here, one Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his people have tried to find. Tunney needs to get realistic about his demands (though asking for more parking is a good one) and find a compromise with the rooftop owners and the Cubs.

Don't listen to anyone who says otherwise. Wrigleyville is perfect. Why waste a good thing?