This Associated Press story is awful for the headline alone, which implies that plans for the city of Chicago to subsidize a renovation of Wrigley Field were rolling happily along until politics reared its ugly head — when in fact it was controversial from the get-go, and with good reason. But the AP then doubles down on awfulness, asserting that “fans are left wondering if the complicated financial deals and presidential politics mean the team’s owners will have to put more money into the stadium, and less into building a winning ballclub.”
How can I explain this slowly, in words than an AP editor will understand? Let’s try this: Sports team owners don’t spend money on their teams because they have too much of it burning a hole in their pockets. Or how about this: The Ricketts family is worth more than a billion dollars, so it’s not lack of cash that’s holding them back from buying some outfielders.
There are two reasons why team owners spend money on players: One is that they want to win a championship because they like the idea of getting that big fancy trophy. That will be a motivation regardless of whether they get renovation subsidies, or whether they renovate, or whether they have to go play in the street and pass a hat for tips.
The other is — those with sensitive constitutions should avert their eyes at this point — to make money. And the amount of money that you make by investing in better players has nothing to do with who paid for your stadium renovations. Yes, getting renovations, and the increased revenue opportunities that will come with them, would make investing in the team more lucrative, and so increase the incentive to boost payroll — it’s more enticing to sign Cole Hamels if you figure the fans he’ll draw will be dining on your new high-priced food options. But that’s just as true if you paid for the renovations out of your own money as if they were supplied by Chicago taxpayers.
So when “longtime fan Pam Paxton” gripes to the AP that “You watch, Anthony Rizzo (the Cubs latest young star) is going to be long gone if they don’t win,” she really doesn’t have to worry. As a team with one of the highest ticket prices in baseball, the Cubs have plenty of money to spend on players, and plenty of reasons to spend it — even if right now they aren’t, because they don’t want to repeat the mistakes from the last time they went on a spending spree.