Cubs Convention Recap (Part II): Hanging with the Ricketts’ (Mostly Tom)

The opening panel at the Cubs Convention on Saturday morning, entitled “Hanging With the Ricketts,” was designed as part speech and part question and answer session. In his opening remarks, Cubs’ owner Tom Ricketts focused on several developments that he coined “reflection points” from 2013.  Among the accomplishments cited by Ricketts were the opening of the Cubs’ Dominican Republic training facility, the opening of the Spring Training complex in Mesa, Arizona, and the progress the Cubs made with their redevelopment plan with the City of Chicago.  Along these lines, Ricketts stated that the Dominican training facility is essential for international player development given the disproportionate number of major league players who come from that island.

Ricketts declared that, in order to succeed, teams have to spend money on the draft as well as in the international free agent market. The Dominican Republic facility, he said, fits into this overall plan.  Ricketts also noted that the Cubs “went from having one of the worst Spring training facilities in baseball to the best in baseball.”  The new complex, impressive both in its large size and the quality of its facilities, moves the Cubs’ practice fields and indoor training area within close proximity to the stadium. These two projects represented a significant capital investment in the Cubs’ player acquisition and development blueprint.

Cubs Park -Concourse View 2 Cubs Park - Sidewalks 2

With regard to the renovation of Wrigley Field, Ricketts indicated that the ongoing negotiations with the rooftop owners stand as the only hold-up to construction. While there remain “details” to iron out, Ricketts said, both sides are “actively” working to do so.  On the bright side, Ricketts now believes that the Cubs can finish the redevelopment in four off-seasons rather than in five years as previously thought.  Expediting the renovation plan helps to offset the loss of this off-season for construction purposes, which fell victim to the protracted negotiations between the team and rooftop owners.

When questions arose about the rooftop owners, Ricketts compared them to having a neighbor who watches Showtime on your television through your window. He neglected to acknowledge, however, that the Cubs negotiated a contract with the rooftop owners to share said revenues. (If your neighbor is paying part of the Showtime bill, they get to watch too, right?) Ricketts was asked why he didn’t simply buy the buildings across the street from Wrigley Field. Without being more specific, Ricketts indicated that there were different owners with varying timelines that would make buying all the buildings difficult to accomplish. However, he acknowledged that the Cubs were “considering” their options.  Laura Ricketts chimed in that the Cubs had had good conversations with the rooftops recently and the team was hoping for a resolution soon.

On a few miscellaneous notes, Ricketts conceded that in purchasing the team, the Ricketts family took on debt to placate the Tribune.  Per Ricketts, the debt is a “factor” in decision-making, but not as big a deal as people think (by people, he meant Gordon Wittenmeyer of the Chicago Sun Times). Rather than the debt, Ricketts intimated that the greatest factor in holding the team back financially was their outdated television contracts. He claimed that the big spending teams these days are the ones with new and more lucrative television deals. Ricketts appeared pessimistic about the Cubs’ future with WGN television noting that he was not sure if the “synergy” was there for that partnership.  Nonetheless, Ricketts did leave the door open for a renewal of the WGN television deal (which expires after the 2014 season), but provided no additional information.  Finally, Laura Ricketts remarked that kids love Clark the Cub. It really is just for the kids. So, please be nice to him.