Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh weighed in on the Wrigley Field renovation controversy yesterday, with a slightly strange column calling for the city to find ways to let Cubs owner Tom Ricketts get more money out of his 97-year-old landmarked ballpark.
Why strange? For starters, there was the headline, which insisted that it is “Time for government to get out of Cubs‘ way” on renovations and also that the club “needs [a] helping hand” from government. Hough then issued a list of complaints about Wrigley Field and the way the city stymies the Cubs from earning money on it:
- Because Wrigley is landmarked, the Cubs are limited in what changes they can make to the structure, or what ads they can hang on its sides.
- City officials wouldn’t let the team take over adjacent Sheffield Avenue to turn into an outdoor mall on busy game days, as the Boston Red Sox do with Yawkey Way.
- The White Sox got a free restaurant. And, um, the Cubs didn’t.
- City ordinances limit the number of night games the Cubs can play.
- Chicago collects a 12% amusement tax on each Cubs ticket sold, even though the stadium is privately owned.
Concludes Haugh: “If the Cubs were permitted to lift landmark status to allow signage, increase the number of night games and redirect some of the revenue the amusement tax generates, it would considerably lessen the burden on the Cubs for the proposed $400 million Wrigley renovation.”
Makes sense, right? All the city needs to do is to lift some of those nasty regulations that other teams don’t have to follow, and Ricketts could have enough money to pay for a renovation of Wrigley in order to bring in more money to make up for the fact that nasty city regulations prohibit him from… waitaminnit…
The fact is, though things like rent breaks and additional ad signage sound less like subsidies than the straight-out cash transfers that Ricketts has been gunning for, they’re just the same thing under a different name. In particular, exempting the Cubs from the city’s amusement tax — something that, regardless of whether the Boston Red Sox don’t pay one as Haugh complains, is applied to everything from cable TV to pleasure boat rides — would be a massive kickback of city funds, not to mention exactly what Ricketts has demanded (though Haugh never mentioned this).
Even more to the point, all those terrible city ordinances were in place when Ricketts bought the team in 2009, something that was no doubt taken into account in the $900 million sale price. Yes, the Cubs aren’t the money-making machine that the Red Sox are — but then, you almost certainly couldn’t buy the Red Sox today for $900 million. If Ricketts didn’t notice the fine print about the city amusement tax or the ban on billboards on his landmarked stadium — one that, incidentally, allows him to charge sky-high ticket prices even when the team playing in it is dismal, as is often the case — then it’s a bit disingenuous for him, or his supporters in the media, to be griping about how gummint regulation is strangling his ability to find a half-decent center fielder.