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September 26, 2011
Should Cubs sell Wrigley to fans in order to save it?
With not much left to focus on in the Chicago Cubs this year other than whether they'll be stuck with Carlos Zambrano for another season, Chicago Tribune columnist Phil Rosenthal tries to solve the lingering Wrigley Field crisis* by making a modest proposal: Sell shares in the beloved ballpark to baseball fans, thus raising money without tapping the public purse:
Separate the ballpark from the team, on paper at least. Set up a foundation. Something. Let the Ricketts family retain control of the subsidiary and sell shares in it to finance the rehab.
Okay, that's a bit hand-wavy. But could something like this actually work?
First, keep in mind that Wrigley Field is current privately owned, so pays property taxes. That would have to be dealt with in any sale — it's one thing to buy a certificate that says you own a brick of Wrigley Field, another to commit to sending checks to the city of Chicago every April 15. (I don't actually know how the tax law would work if the Ricketts family tried to transfer ownership to a foundation, let alone a "something.")
Second, what would the market be for these shares? Yes, the Green Bay Packers are owned by shareholders, but there you're actually getting a park of the team. The most recent example of a team trying to raise funds by selling bits of a stadium was Labatt Park in Montreal, and that wasn't exactly a rousing success.
Rosenthal proposes that buyers could "get to attend annual meetings at the ballpark, private tours, special events and other perks," calling this "free money" for the Cubs. But, of course, if those things have value, then the Cubs could sell them right now — call it a "Cubs Platinum Members Package" — and keep the cash for themselves. That's not something Ricketts is going to jump at, certainly not as long as the possibility of using other people's greenbacks is still on the table.