Wrigley Field, the goat-themed cemetery where the past 105 seasons of Chicago Cubs baseball are buried, is finally getting an overhaul befitting the task at hand. The Ricketts family that now owns the Cubs apparently wants to win more games, and to spend money to do so. Presently the team doesn’t earn money it could if it were to make the stadium bigger and to spruce up its old-fashioned insides with more and bigger amenities, by which of course you can assume ads.
In fact it looks like a fait accompli. Reports have the price of these renovations and a new hotel at around half a billion American dollars. That buys a lot of Samardzija. It also requires that Chicago ease its restrictions on Wrigley’s status as a landmark — ’cause history don’t pay the bills — and will bring more concerts and night games to the park. Also, the Cubs presently seem content to piss off all the formerly freeloading rooftop owners who in 2004 started paying the Cubs a big, wet slab of cash for the right to continue seeing over the wall of Wrigley.
The team and the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association have yet to figure out what’s what. Surely the next agreement would account for any 6,000-square-foot (at least) video board that might obstruct the views of right field a smidge. Unless the Cubs are just plum nuts, they’ll accommodate “the 16 small businesses” who ring the Wrigley outfield and presently ladle 17 percent of their revenues into the Cubs’ coffers. For the right to look at games the Cubs would play anyway. The roofs may not constitute a golden goose, or not quite. But they might be the easiest, laziest revenue stream for any team in sports, an industry already choc-a-block with easy, lazy sources of revenue, and the Cubs should pay up to keep 'em happy.
The photo at top was taken in September of 2010, six years into the revenue-sharing agreement between the Cubs and the Wrigley rooftops. Things were lean then (bad economy, worse team) but no mistake, the business has boomed of late, and it’s much more sophisticated than it once was. The 1998 season, I’m going to guess here, was a turning point for the rooftop fortunes. At bottom is a photo taken early that season, when bleachers, if any, were far less sophisticated. People had been charging for views of Cubs games at least as far back as the 1938 World Series against the Yankees, but until Sammy Sosa started blasting moonshots (there was a lot of McGwire in the yard during those days, too) in the late ’90s and actually leading the Cubs to the playoffs, the roofs were mostly flat. In other words, they were roofs.
The Cubs treated rooftop gatherers as leeches, even erecting privacy screens in the early 2000s, but came to an agreement with them after the Cubs’ near-Pennant run in 2003. By 2005, folks were paying as much as $380 a ticket to attend rooftop barbecues and ogle Wrigley over the fence. Quick math says 17 percent of $380 is $65 a head going to the Cubs in exchange for squat. With a good team in the dugout, wee Wrigley (capacity: 41,159) was going to be full forever and ever. Why shouldn’t the Cubs then help themselves to a few million dollars essentially in exchange for doing as close to nothing as possible?
Now the Wrigleyville Rooftop Association is threatening lawsuits if the Cubs disrupt the sightlines. It is a crass bleat but also a smart one. The rooftops and the Cubs have an agreement. That agreement pays the Cubs millions a year. (As a source told ESPN in 2004: "It's an amazing deal for the Cubs. They are just handed $2 million for doing nothing.") The Cubs owe the rooftops no upkeep, print no tickets, hire no ushers and no custodians and no security guards. All they have to do is keep the windows open a crack so the neighbors can peer inside. Rahm Emanuel has said he won’t let the Cubs proceed until they work things out with the rooftop owners. And surely that must come to pass. If anyone can put a price on an obstructed view, it’s them.
Report: Wrigley Renovation Deal Close [Associated Press]