Daily Herald
Is Wrigley sale good for the Cubs?
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 1/10/2008 12:22 AM

It wasn't on the original itinerary, but we hear the Cubs are hoping to add a caravan stop in Springfield next week.

Actually, it'd be more like a major detour if they pull it off logistically, and all that shaking of hands and kissing babies down yonder has everything to do with the state's possible purchase of Wrigley Field.

The question that hasn't been asked around here is whether that's actually a good thing for the Cubs, but it's probably a question Commissioner Bud Selig and his owners are pondering.

They might be imagining what happens after the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority purchases the 94-year-old stadium and leaves the team to be sold on its own, minus its most valuable asset.

Prospective buyers will begin to look at the books and notice that without the deed to Wrigley Field, the new owners will immediately lose about $20 million a year in naming rights, which will instead go to the state.

They'll also add the expense of roughly $30 million a year in rent, which also will go to the state.

The next owner would lose the opportunity to create stunning new revenue streams, an innovative group perhaps finding another $100 million within, and just outside, the walls.

If you're keeping score at home, that's about $150 million the next owner loses.

Per season.

The new owner might also lose the land adjacent to Wrigley Field, and probably the Cubs' share of Comcast.

All of these items shed before the sale of the team will make it more difficult for the next owner to turn a profit, and lest you forget, that is part of the exercise.

Smart businessmen worth billions didn't load their bank accounts by losing money, no matter how cute the investment.

But the next owner will start with that big deficit and add in a monster of a payroll problem that's going to get worse as the years go on.

The Cubs have spent about $500 million on new contracts in the last 15 months, and many of them are back loaded, leaving the new owner with a few choices.

They can lose about $100 million a year, or raise ticket prices to ridiculous levels and begin cutting payroll immediately.

Not an appealing thought.

So many of the very bright and wealthy men who intended to look seriously at buying the Cubs are going to drop out of the process if Wrigley Field is no longer part of the equation.

Bank on that.

Oh, there will still be bidders, but they might not be the very best of the Chicago best, and there's not the same guarantee that the team will be solvent for the next owner's complete term.

On the flip side, Sam Zell is about as good at this game as anyone's ever been, and if he believes he can get $1.2 billion for the team and the park, parts sold separately, he's probably right.

Maybe it's only $100 million more than he would have received had he sold them together. Maybe $200 million. But in his line of work, that is pure profit and not a small number.

We're hardly qualified to tell him different.

But from a baseball standpoint, the separate sales are quite obviously going to hurt the Cubs, the new owners, the fans and the value of every franchise in Major League Baseball.

When you strip it down, the Cubs become worth more like $650 million rather than the $1.1 billion they might get in a complete package, and that higher number increases the resale value of every other team in the game.

And if there's one thing Selig has done well in his years at the top, it's increase franchise value.

True, the commissioner and I agree on very little, but if he were to step in with his "best interests of baseball'' clause and prevent the park from being shopped without the team, he'd have me on his side.

And many others.

Can he do that? Well, he has the power to approve -- or deny -- any sale of any team, and he probably can let it be known that he won't OK the sale of the Cubs without the park included.

The governor, meanwhile, says a sale of Wrigley Field to the state is good for Cubs fans because forcing the team to sign a 30-year lease means the club will have to stay in the old ballpark.

But the Cubs can merely include that provision in any sale and prevent the next owner from leaving for any period of time they choose.

Yes, the state -- which can't run many of its existing businesses -- eventually will turn a tidy profit on this deal, and Zell will do well.

Still, it's difficult to see any way it benefits the team or the fans.

It's fair to wonder if Bud Selig sees it that way, too.