Imagine a world where the Chicago Cubs do not play in Wrigley Field.
But team chairman Tom Ricketts has threatened to make that a reality if the city of Chicago does not approve the club’s plans for a larger scoreboard and additional signage.
Speaking at an event at the City Club of Chicago, Ricketts reminded Chicago fans that the Cubs’ are seeking approval to construct a 6,000-square foot video board in left field, to add four new signs around the outfield, and to build a luxury suite across from the ballpark and add a walkway that connects the two structures. The organization is also lobbying to add 40 more night games, extend beer sales, expand a nearby club and attain the rights to shut down neighboring Sheffield Avenue for street fairs.
The hope is that these additions will add tens of millions of dollars in additional team revenues, a necessity to catch up to larger market stadium revenues according to Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations.
The teams’ plans may be facing opposition from the owners of nearby buildings that have rooftop views of the ballpark. Those building owners currently charge fans for access to watch Cubs games, and are afraid the new video board and signage might obstruct views.
The organization submitted its plans to the city on Wednesday, and if the plans are not approved Ricketts has said the team will consider moving out of Wrigley Field.
Apparently, he isn’t bluffing. The Cubs are already flirting with the idea that, if they cannot upgrade the Wrigley facilities the way they want to, they may be forced to build a new stadium – most likely a Wrigley replica – somewhere else.
And the organization already has a willing suitor in Rosemont, Illinois.
Rosemont, a suburb on the Northwest side of Chicago, largely consists of industrial and commercial developments. It borders O’Hare International Airport and already features a casino, convention center, sports arena, and several luxury hotels and nightclubs.
Wrigley Field, and the surrounding Wrigleyville area, have become as much a part of the Chicago game-day experience as peanuts, cracker jacks and the seventh inning stretch. The uniqueness of its playing confines has been a key component of the Cubs brand that, according to Forbes, is the fourth most valuable franchise in Major League Baseball, worth approximately $1 billion.
But the Wrigleyville neighborhood is quaint, as are the amenities inside of the team’s current ballpark, which first opened way back in 1919. So the Cubs face a dilemma of trying to modernize revenue streams while preserving the nostalgia of its historic venue.
Ricketts’ preference is to accomplish that goal with the above described renovations, which estimates show will cost around $300 million to complete. However, the public is concerned that the additions will increase public safety concerns, impact density and will not do enough to preserve the rich history and tradition that has made Wrigley Field so memorable.
Team officials remain steadfast in their determination to propel the Cubs into the 21st century. In the current sports landscape, attending a professional sporting event is just that – an event. Fans today expect more than just the game itself.
The planned additions would improve the game-viewing experience for fans, and would likely be more profitable for the organization in the long run than are the rooftop venues provided by neighboring building owners.
In this stadium debate, something has to give. And it’s becoming abundantly clear that that something is not going to be the goal of Wrigley modernization. Whether it is accomplished with renovations to the current Wrigley in Wrigleyville, or by the building of a new and improved Wrigley in Rosemont remains to be seen.