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Wrigley name change more likely as Cubs sale slows
By Bruce Miles | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 1/20/2008 12:37 AM

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Look for the Tribune Co. to continue its ownership of the Cubs at least through the 2008 baseball season.

And look for Wrigley Field to bear a different name in the not-too-distant future.

Those were two of the main items to come out of Saturday morning's "Meet Cubs Management" session with fans during Day 2 of the team's annual convention.

The likely first step is for the new Tribune Co. to attempt to sell Wrigley Field to the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and have the Cubs play there under a lease.

"We are looking at a stadium transaction," said Crane Kenney, the Tribune Co. liaison to the Cubs. "Sam Zell has become the owner of the Tribune Co. His focus is on as unique a stadium structure where we can improve Wrigley Field over time.

"He's not focused on selling the team at this point. I don't think there's going to be a transaction by Opening Day, and likely maybe not for the season."

What to call Wrigley Field surely will be an emotional issue with fans. The Cubs point out that before the ballpark at Clark and Addison was called Wrigley Field, it was called Cubs Park. The Wrigley family, which owned the Cubs and also a chewing-gum company, renamed the park in 1926 to honor William Wrigley.

So even though the park wasn't named for a corporate entity, per se, it still bears the name of a company.

"The naming rights are very valuable," Kenney said. "The last naming-rights deal that was done in New York, (the new) Shea Stadium is being renamed Citi Field. That's a $400 million naming-rights deal.

"The Wrigley Co. doesn't pay anything for the naming rights at our ballpark. We're trying to balance our desire to win, to have a big enough payroll that gives us an advantage. We should have an advantage. We're the only major market in our division.

"Nobody wants to see the name changed. In my perfect world, the Wrigley Co. would step up and start paying for what they've been getting for free all these years."

That last comment drew laughter and some applause from the fans. Later, speaking to a small group of reporters, Kenney said the Cubs are sensitive to the history of the ballpark.

"This thing's got a little life of its own," he said. "When he (Zell) asks, 'What are we getting paid for the naming rights today,' I tell him nothing. When he says, 'What are they worth,' I point him to two of the most recent deals.

"In New York, Barclays is paying $20 million a year for 20 years for the new Nets stadium and Citi Corp is paying $20 million for 20 years for the new Mets stadium.

"He says, "I can do pretty good math here. Four hundred million dollars seems to be the benchmark, and you're telling us we're being paid nothing.'

"On the flip side, we're very sensitive. We don't do impulsive things. We don't do stupid things that would alienate our fans. We know this would be a hot button."

Kenney added that the Cubs have not engaged with any company yet on naming rights. He said selling Wrigley Field -- or whatever it's going to be called -- to the state authority would be beneficial in the long run.

"That's the transaction that we like the most because rather than just selling everything to someone who sorts the pieces out later, what it would do, most importantly for us, it would require the Cubs to play at Clark and Addison for the foreseeable future," he said.

"When we sell the team to someone, that restriction is going to go with it. And they can't move the team. They can't talk about playing in Glenview or Arlington Heights or anywhere else.

"They're going to be where we all want them to play, and that's important for the city. We're the third-largest tourist attraction in the state, at Wrigley Field. We want to see that continue."

Kenney declined to say how many groups will bid to buy the Cubs.

"We have quite a number of well-financed groups," he said. "I think there are two left to be approved by baseball to get the information. So not all of them have been approved yet.

"Once we get a stadium deal done, I think Sam will decide how the books go out and what order. I think he's going to want a very level playing field for the auction."

All that said, Kenney added that it has been business as usual for the Cubs and general manager Jim Hendry, who has seen his player payroll increase again. Kenney tied a desire for a championship with ownership at the ballpark.

"We want a championship," he said. "That's Goal 1. We also want a wonderful stadium to see that championship in. That's Goal 2. And Goal 3, what is the stadium's name? I kind of put them in that order.

"If doing something different with No. 3 allows us to have a championship in that ballpark, I start to think about it."

Kenney acknowledged the frustration of Cubs fans, who haven't seen a world championship since 1908.

"We have a big due-bill here," he said. "It's 100 years at this point. And our job is to make sure it gets paid off this year."