Have the Cubs Turned A Corner? Breaking Down the Renovations, Media Deals , Neighbors and a Monster Truck Rally

“Turning the corner.” “Be patient.” “Go the distance.”

Those were some of the talking points during a forum for bloggers and social media hosted by the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday. Well, maybe not the last point. I think that’s from The Music Man or some movie like that. I’m somewhat averse to avant-garde cinema.

Focusing on business operations, which have had a bit of an active year or two, Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney provided an update on where the Cubs stand in several business areas and how things could or should shape out in the months and years ahead.

Breaking Bad

Approaching Wrigley Field from just about any direction these days, it’s obvious the grand old dame is undergoing a facelift. The jackhammers, concrete trucks and general demilitarized-zone look of the ballpark’s exterior are not-so-subtle indicators that change is afoot.

Construction on Phase One of the renovations may have begun within hours of the final home out of 2014, but an aggressive construction timetable and Chicago winter do not make good bedfellows. Due to unforeseen problems (underground water pipeline), logistical issues and weather, some micro-phases of the process are behind schedule. Should the Chicago area get Buffaloed at any time or times over the coming months, things could be delayed even further.

According to Kenney, the team feels confident that essential construction will be wrapped by Opening Day, but if worse comes to absolute worst, the team has a contingency plan for relocating the fans in the bleachers. The best of the worst-case scenarios would be relocating just shy of 3,000 bleacher season ticket holders. Circle Friday, March 6, 2015 on your calendar, as this is the date by which we will know whether bleacher seats for Opening Day will go on sale to the general public, or if there will be around 3,000 general seats taken off the public market.

Although under a pressure cooker locally and now nationally, thanks to ESPN picking up the home opener for the 2015 season premier of Sunday Night Baseball, Kenney indicated the team is most concentrated on getting it done right vs fast.

Breaking Wind

Sorry, but this headline was too easy.

For those of you with questions about how the new jumbo scoreboard in left will affect wind direction and speed during games, according to Kenney, it should have minimal impact. Even the most minor effect it could have has already been shared with Theo Epstein and the rest of the front office, as any aspect of ballpark intricacies plays into how you field a team.

Breaking Away

2014 saw the Cubs end a decades-long relationship with WGN Radio. It’s a change that still does not rest well with traditionalists, even though the spin down the dial from 720 to 780 won’t take but a second. But, according to Kenney, the differences between what a linear outlet such as WGN can provide, versus that of a multi-platform one in CBS, made better sense for the team and its non-baseball activities.

With the plaza where Yum-Yum Donuts (moment of silence) once stood now under development as a place for gameday and non-gameday activities alike, the partnership with CBS makes sound business sense. In Chicago alone, CBS owns WXRT, US99 and K-Hits 104.3, presenting a multitude of opportunities for concerts and various other events. At press time, CBS Radio had still not acquired K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies, but when that happens, as well as the monster truck rally featuring Big Daddy Don Bodine’s truck, “The Behemoth,” count on Cubs Insider to break it first.

On the television side, while the team waits for the opportunity to herald its own broadcast deal, either solo or with broadcast partners (i.e., FOX Sports) or private equity firms, it is still in need of an over-the-air distributor to carry games locally through at least 2019.

Since summer, the team has indicated it is “close” to deals on several occasions, but one still is not in place. Although Kenney would not go on the record with a specific deadline to get a deal done, he stated that he wants to have it completed by the end of the year.

In moving forward with its own broadcast deal, the team is taking a very slow-and-steady approach. 2019 is by no means just around the corner, and by that time, the media landscape and how fans access games will have evolved.

Although traditional broadcasts will still be delivered to living rooms and bars, the market demands immediate, individual access to games and content, and the method by which games are broadcast to homes and businesses will also have evolved.

Will we all have a Cubs microchip implanted in our brains? Maybe not… yet. But if it comes with a locked $9.99/month fee with no overages or blackout areas, I may be at the head of that line.

Breaking Neighbors

Everybody has that one neighbor. You know, the person who just loves to stick it to us by mowing their lawn in Bermuda shorts and black socks (only), upon whom we seek passive revenge by perhaps plopping a 25-foot inflatable lit-up Rudolph in our front lawn as way to wish a Happy Holidays. Neighbor squabbles have been around since Fred and Barney’s kids started dating, and they still remain, as evidenced by the battles between the Cubs and rooftop owners.

Although, according to Kenney, the rooftop owners have threatened on multiple occasions to file suit against the Cubs, the only one that has been filed is against the City. “Today I’m not dealing with a lawsuit. Tomorrow they might file something. If they do, we feel strongly about our merits. Today, lawsuits aren’t an issue for me.”

Going back to the original agreement with the owners in 2004, which has led to the threats, Kenney indicated that he didn’t entirely regret the agreement, because it allowed for the original bleacher expansion and additional night games the team sought. He only wished that the team had gone to full litigation from the start.

So why not just buy them out? This was a prediction I first made when the Ricketts family bought the team. You essentially have outfield luxury suites that are a similar distance from play as some major league upper decks, so bringing them into the fold seems like a win-win. Well, not so much.

As I came to learn some time ago from a real estate executive, the buildings are no longer just buildings, but full-on business operations. They can be successful when the team is successful but drain you dry when the team is unwatchable. Perhaps not the soundest of investments, but when you already have the essentials of running such a business (facilities management, concessions/catering, human resources, etc.), it may not be such a tough nut to crack.

The Ricketts family has a financial interest in one of the rooftop businesses, but they do not own any of the buildings or businesses outright. Still, according to Kenney, Cubs ownership has been in discussions for several years with owners about fair-market value for their properties. Both sides may be closer to agreement on what each side’s perceived fair-market value is, but the family– at this time – is not focused on those businesses and properties, but rather their $600 million Wrigley renovation project.

Breaking Balls

So, have the Cubs turned a corner on the business side of things? I think it’s safe to say they’ve turned many. How we listen to the game on the radio, view it on TV, or watch it from the stands will all be different soon, and some of those changes look to beget others. The major question, though, is will all these changes result in wins on the field and, ultimately, a World Series?

In the end, that is the change fans want to see, the corner they want to see the team turn. You could paint the marquee yellow, and as long as it says “20blank-blank World Series Champions,” most fans won’t care.

That said, please don’t paint the marquee yellow. Thanks.

19 Comments

  1. Cubs games will be on 78 am.

    and word is from my inside Cubs organization friend is that Lester will sign with ….

    Drum roll please……….

    and the Winner of the Jon Lester contest is…….

    The Atlanta Braves !

  2. I understand the Wrigley renovation is suppose to take a few years, and most of the work is to be done in the off-season. How much does it affect future plans when the Cubs make it to the post season. That month going into the playoffs could throw the timeline off quite a bit. I am very confident that this will be an issue very soon. Thank you for your time and love the articles.

    1. This could be the beer talking, but I’m not sure I really understand the question. Are you asking how the renovations impact the future for the team on the field? Or how the Cubs making the postseason impacts the renovation? What is it that you’re thinking will be an issue?

      If it’s the need for additional revenue streams in order to fund the rebuild, that honestly may not be fully realized until 2019. Another blog did a really exhaustive post on that a few months ago, and it’s all centered around the Ricketts family’s actual ownership of the team. In the meantime, this first phase includes all of the signage that will create a nice influx of capital.

      Depending on what you choose to believe, this could be used in order to better the team or it could simply be used to line Ricketts’ pockets. As I think any cursory figures can tell us, a high payroll and full ballpark will generate far more revenue than a low payroll and half-empty park.

      I don’t see how the month going into the playoffs impacts the timeline though. I suppose that could happen if they are in the race and choose to become buyers for, say, David Price (if the Tigers are out of it) or a similar big piece from a team that has fallen out.

      I hope the early part of this response wasn’t abrasive, but I wanted to make sure I was responding properly, even though you were technically asking Wilco. We all appreciate the fact that you read and commented though; keep coming back.

      1. I believe he was asking, “Will having one less month each year for renovations (assuming the Cubs are playing baseball in October and not sitting at home), have any impact on the renovation timeline?”

  3. This > Although traditional broadcasts will still be delivered to living rooms and bars, the market demands immediate, individual access to games and content, and the method by which games are broadcast to homes and businesses will also have evolved.

    TV Everywhere is a thing starting November 30th (I know, because this is my livelihood) and look for the Cubs to be one of the pioneers in sports broadcasting to leverage this technology. Given their worldwide fan base, the timing couldn’t be any better.

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