Trib columnist: Cubs lose because Wrigley doesn’t make enough money, yeah, that’s the ticket

Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rogers has written some not-very-smart things before about why he thinks the Cubs need to renovate Wrigley Field, but yesterday’s column is just awe-inspiring. From the title, “Key to Wrigley renovation: Will it lead to a title?” (spoiler: Rogers isn’t making any promises), we head straight to the opening lines:

Quaint ballparks are cool, no question about it. But they don’t win championships.

That’s why the Yankees did an ugly overhaul on the House That Ruth built in the mid-1970s and scrapped the original Yankee Stadium altogether five seasons ago.

Read that again, all together now. Yep, he said the Yankees. Yankee Stadium had to go, because it didn’t win championships. This is an actual argument made by an actual sports columnist on the actual payroll of an actual newspaper.

Now, I’m the first to acknowledge that money makes a difference in who wins championships. Though less so in MLB, where there’s so much randomness to the postseason scramble. (Consider that the Florida Marlins have won more World Series in the last 20 years than the New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Los Angeles Angels combined.) And while more spending money helps lead to more wins, more stadium revenue doesn’t necessarily lead to more spending money — that’s going to be about how much money your shiny new free agents can generate in additional income, which is going to be more of a matter of the size and wealth of your market than how new your stadium is. (When Pittsburgh and Cincinnati built new stadiums, that didn’t suddenly mean the Pirates andReds could earn back a $30 million a year outlay on a new slugger by selling $2,000-a-pop seats like the Yankees could.)

But anyway, back to Rogers: What does he say about the Cubs in particular, and why they need a renovated Wrigley?

[Cubs owner Tom] Ricketts is dead on when he says the business side of baseball and what happens on the field are “two sides of the same coin.” Spending money doesn’t guarantee success, but it is impossible to sustain it without revenues that rank at the top of the game.

Right, and the Cubs have been suffering along with revenues that are, according to Forbes, fourth out of all 30 MLB teams. That’s ahead of the San Francisco Giants, who won the World Series last year, and the St. Louis Cardinals, who won the year before that, and the Detroit Tigers and the Texas Rangers, who won the A.L. pennant those years. It’s behind the Yankees, who have won one championship in four years at their new stadium after winning four in the last thirteen years at the old one, and the Boston Red Sox, who play in a park two years older than Wrigley (albeit recently renovated), and the Philadelphia Phillies, who indeed won one championship in their new stadium, but are currently playing almost as badly as the Cubs.

There are certainly reasons to consider a Fenway Park-style redo of Wrigley: If the Cubs can shift some of the back-office and food-prep functions to an adjacent building as the Red Sox did, freeing up room for fans to get around and buy stuff and not crowd each other in the restrooms quite so much, that can only be good both for fans and for the bottom line. A 6,000-square-foot electronic scoreboard sounds like less of a win-win, especially for a park whose main attractions are its old-time feel and its view of the surrounding neighborhood. (Forget for a moment the griping of the rooftop owners across the street from Wrigley; will Wrigley still be Wrigley if you can’t see out of it because there’s a giant replay-and-ad board in the way?)

A new scoreboard will, undoubtedly, allow Ricketts to make even more money than he does now from Wrigley. But Chicago has no vested interest in that, unless you believe that a richer owner means a more successful ballclub. Which bears no resemblance to what baseball history has shown — but apparently knowledge of baseball history isn’t a prerequisite for being a Chicago Tribune baseball writer.


14 comments on “Trib columnist: Cubs lose because Wrigley doesn’t make enough money, yeah, that’s the ticket

  1. The article wasn’t mean for readers to see rational thought and insight. It was for Rogers to get single sentence quotes from to use in future extortion schemes. Maybe the trib gets money for providing those.

  2. C’mon, he wrote “…but it is impossible to sustain it without revenues that rank at the top of the game.” Since when is #4 at the top? ;)

    btw, I think you left his name out of the first line of your post.

  3. Not to mention the 35,000 sq. feet of advertising space they want to put up at Clark and Addision… I believe the technical term of that is a ‘fuckload.’ That’s 6x the size of the scoreboard that has everyone up in arms.

    Suddenly I feel like the scoreboard is a trojan horse. Isn’t massive outdoor advertising in Wrigley that can run 24/7/365.25 way more valuable (and unsightly) than a scoreboard for close-ups of Starlin Castro errors?

    But yeah, this whole ‘we need these renovations to compete’ argument is BS.

  4. Agreed that the outside billboards are likely even more valuable. Anyone know what the going rate is for ad board space in Chicago?

  5. Checking Clear Channel’s rate card. For a bulletin (large billboard… about 670 sq. feet), it’s going to be a little less than $2K/week. By my (possibly faulty) napkin math, that puts them north of $5M for that amount of square footage.

    I would think they would want digital signage where you can either do rotating ads (and those cost a lot more), or Times Square type large digital advertising. Then you’re talking $2-$3M a year per space.

    That comes with a huge asterisk as foot traffic in that area is a fraction of that in NYC save for 81 days a year for about 5 hours. Still, if the neighborhood threw a shitfit over a Toyota sign, can’t imagine 35,000 sq feet of ad signage is going to be met with hugs and or kisses for the Ricketts.

  6. Why would anybody take seriously anything sportswriters spew these days outside of game recaps? We’re talking about the likes of Pee Wee Vermin (Lupica) in this era who couldn’t change the typewriter ribbon of the likes of Red Smith.

  7. Rogers’ article could well be the basis for a new record holder for largest prime number…. the number of ways in which my Cubs are not like the Yankees…. I can think of 30-40,000 of them without breaking a sweat…

  8. BTW; adding up the totals some of your readers have postulated for ad board revenue these change might earn the Cubs, I am forced to point out the very, very obvious:

    That they could just not do any of these renovations if they don’t waste Soriano-like contract money on, oh, let’s see, Alfonso Soriano, when his contract is up.

    Clearly there are other options… and while they’d have to pay at least the league minimum to fill the hole created in left field, I can say with confidence that the rotating ad boards wouldn’t pick up many fewer runners from 3B with less than 2 outs than Soriano can.

  9. For proof of what a new, state of the art field can do for the success of
    your team, look no further than the Minnesota Twins…….. ooops!!!

  10. As a subscriber whom reads Phil Rogers columns on a daily basis, I can quite firmly tell you:
    The head baseball writer at the Tribune
    Unabashed Cubs fan (he’ll write up trades & ideas for the Cubs to improve their team even in the general baseball column)
    Extremely New School (has spoken out against baseball traditionalists & Conservatives)
    Anything the Cubs want, they should get it (including taxpayer funds)

  11. Janet: The Marlins have set the bar amazingly low as well… but thank goodness that taxpayers in Florida will be filling Loria’s pockets regardless whether anyone actually buys tickets or not…