By Ken Reed

In July, the Chicago City Council approved a rarity in modern professional sports: a major stadium renovation funded completely by the ownership of the pro franchise playing in the stadium. The Rickets family, owners of the Chicago Cubs since they purchased the team from the Tribune Company in 2009, developed a plan in which they would fund all renovations to Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. However, they wanted assurances from the rooftop owners surrounding Wrigley that they wouldn’t sue the team if some rooftop seating had obstructed views after the renovation was complete.

“We’re still talking to the rooftop owners to come to a resolution. Basically, the family is not comfortable making a $500 million investment with the threat of a lawsuit hanging over their heads,” says Cubs spokesman, Julian Green.

There’s no telling at this point how this dispute will play out. Nevertheless, it’s refreshing in this day of professional sports franchise blackmail (See LOF’s “Community Ownership Model“) that a team owner agrees to pay 100% of new stadium construction or a major stadium renovation. An owner agreeing to foot the entire bill for a sparkling new sports palace is definitely a rarity.

As Harry Graver wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this summer, despite a growing mound of research debunking franchise owners’ claims of signifiant economic impact benefits for the host city resulting from new or renovated stadiums, cities continue to handover taxpayer money for these stadiums and arenas.

“In a 2000 study examining sports franchises in 37 cities from 1969 to 1996, economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys found that building a new stadium ‘will have no effect on the growth rate of real per capita income and may reduce the level of real per capita income in that city.’ Crain’s Chicago reported last year that ‘over the last 22 years, during which 125 of the 140 teams’ — in five sports — ‘have built or refurbished home stadiums — most using public subsidies — evidence shows the facilities rarely, if ever, live up to their ‘measurable economic boost’ billing.

“But you don’t need to look far to find bureaucrats eager to write checks … Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder approved $284 million in tax dollars for a new Detroit Red Wings hockey arena — a few days after the city declared bankruptcy. Florida is on the hook for nearly $1.2 billion in subsidies, bonds and loans for the Miami Marlins Park, which opened last year but has seen attendance plummet after owner Jeffrey Loria sold off the team’s best players to cut costs.”

If the renovation to Wrigley Field eventually does take place, and the Ricketts family actually foots the entire bill, it will provide an alternative model for other cities to point to; one that virtually every taxpayer could get on board with.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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