Continental Chicago

now in its one-hundred-and-eightieth year

This Just in from Wrigley Field: Private Enterprise Needs You

CHICAGO WAS SHOCKED to learn this week that, in these tight times, both Rahm Emanuel and Toni Preckwinkle believe it’s the public’s duty to help improve the privately owned ball park of one of the nation’s wealthiest families.

Panoramic photograph of Wrigley Field by Bob Horsch

That’s right, people: the Ricketts family needs OUR HELP.  They’ve just discovered that the stadium that they bought with their eyes wide open in 2009 needs some upkeep, and, despite their deep knowledge of how money works (they founded the on-line brokerage Ameritrade), the only solution seems to be: public money, public support, and public sympathy.

At least, that’s the line that two of our most powerful officials began selling us this week.  Somehow, both the mayor and county-board president expect us to agree with them and continue to support them, even as they “explore” ways to waste our money.

Aiding the wealthy and resourceful capitalists who own Wrigley Field is simply not conscionable at a time when public dollars are so scarce, and the PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE of our city is crumbling.

Let’s be honest.  We all like going to Wrigley Field, but this is not a public property.  The Ricketts bought this team out of love, not necessity.  Now they’re discovering it’s an expensive hobby, especially when the ball team itself isn’t top quality.  We know they have the wherewithal to meet the demands of running a sports franchise, because their bid received careful scrutiny within Major League Baseball before being unanimously approved less than three years ago.  According to Forbes, the value of the Ricketts’ investment has since increased by an estimated $73 million.

Consider the resources that the Ricketts family, as capitalists, have at their disposal. They could pay for capital investments at Wrigley Field by adding a one-cent surcharge onto every stock transaction Ameritrade handles.  They could seek partners to share ownership of the team.  Tom Ricketts is founder and CEO of InCapital, a corporate-bond brokerage.  He could raise the money needed for Wrigley with corporate bonds.  Finally, there’s bank lending.  There are innumerable ways the Ricketts could secure their own financing.

The bottom line in all this: the owners of the Cubs COULD pay for the improvements at Wrigley Field, but they prefer not to.  Instead of shouldering the burden of paying for improvements to their own company, they would like Chicago citizens to pay.  And the mayor and the county-board president?  They, too, hope that you’ll be willing.

Will this deal be, as Tom Ricketts put it, a “real win” for Chicago?  No.  If there is a deal, the win will be in the Ricketts’ column.

Courtesy of the photographer, Bob Horsch,
via Wikimedia Commons.

6 comments on “This Just in from Wrigley Field: Private Enterprise Needs You

  1. Robert LaLonde
    April 12, 2012

    Susan–I totally agree with you too. If the public is going to have to pay for these improvements, they should have a corresponding stake in the team! Like shares, and lots of them. The White Sox swindled taxpayers by making the incredible threat of moving the team to Tampa Bay. Yes, they were saying that they would give up splitting a share of a market with 10 million people to go to Tampa Bay! The Bears were even worse — no surprise there — they contended that they would pick up and move to Gary and become the Gary Bears!!! Their deal was especially sweet for what is widely rated as the worst-run franchise in professional sports.

    • Susan Barsy
      April 12, 2012

      I doubt the Cubs could threaten to leave–the loyalty people feel to the club is inextricably tied to the team’s location and the charm of Wrigley Field. This is all the more reason why the owners should be intent on fixing the park themselves.

      Incidentally, “fixing” the park may entail rolling back the landmark status that the city gave to the park as a concession to citizens who objected to night games.

      I highly recommend the Sun-Times article I linked to in an earlier comment. The double-speak being used to justify the city’s involvement in this undertaking is dizzying.

      The many wealthy people in Chicago who are ardent sports fans should form a civic consortium whose function would be to pool capital in support of the city’s sports franchises and help them stay on a stable footing. There is no reason for the city or county governments to be involved.

      Such arrangements were relied on earlier in the city’s history to accomplish major capital projects, such as the building of Auditorium Theater (which was a stunningly expensive undertaking for its time).

      Thanks for commenting, Bob!

  2. Uji
    April 9, 2012

    Yes, of course. But let’s also stop Amusement Tax support of the White Sox and Bears. Local tax payers built their stadiums and still contribute to their finances. Something you seem to be unaware of.

    • Susan Barsy
      April 9, 2012

      As my article suggests, I don’t favor public support of privately owned sports franchises. I don’t think we should have helped rebuild the other stadia, and I definitely don’t think the park service should be the entity maintaining the grounds inside Soldier Field.

      Americans are constantly being told that all private enterprise wants is to be let alone, yet when it comes to sports franchises, we are habitually subjected to this special pleading. The idea that these sports organizations can’t make it without our help, or that they particularly merit public financing, is unconvincing. There are many other forms of public investment that have a stronger claim.

      For more on the proposed deal:

  3. Margaret Spoerl
    April 8, 2012

    Great article Susan.

  4. sam dune
    April 7, 2012

    Great article–I hope many baseball folks will read this–especially Ricketts, Emanuel and Preckwinkle…..I totally agree with you 100%.

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