October 30, 2009
BY CHRIS DE LUCA Staff Reporter
Now that Tom Ricketts has control of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, he has plans to make immediate upgrades to the ballpark that turns 100 years old in 2014. Enough upgrades, he hopes, that Major League Baseball will agree to hold the 2014 All-Star Game at Wrigley.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Sun-Times before taking control of the team, Ricketts confirmed ticket prices will rise in 2010, but vowed to retain as much of the history at Wrigley Field as possible. And he has no immediate plans to sell naming rights to the old ballpark or install a JumboTron—for now.
“First of all, just so everybody knows, we intend to preserve the ballpark and improve it,” Ricketts told the Sun-Times in an exclusive interview.”It’s a special place and, hopefully, when we all bring our kids or grandkids here, they are going to have that same experience when they walk up the stairs as people have today and have had for many years.
“Away from the bowl or away from the seating, you step back, go down the stairs and go, ‘Wow, this could get better.’ There are a lot of things that we can address in the offseason. We can look at more washrooms, we can look at some of the congestion on the concourses, we can look at a few other things that will make it a little easier for fans in the short run.
“But in the long run, what we have to do – and that’s a big part of next year – is just sitting down and putting together a five- to seven-year plan on what we are going to do each and every offseason to improve the stadium. Also we are going to develop more revenue opportunities and increase fan choices and increase the fan experience.”
A big part of the upgrade will involve the surrounding area, where Ricketts hopes to open restaurants, retail shops and a Cubs hall of fame that would be open year-round.
“Area-wise, you will have more options and more flexibility of things to do once you get here,” Ricketts said. “We also want people to drop by on a non-game day and have something for them to do. We’ve talked about the triangle building, it’s not just that. There are other buildings in the area we would like to take a look at using more effectively. When you build in something like a Cubs hall of fame, something for kids in the triangle building, you just bring in more value to the whole experience of coming here. We want people to get more value out of it and show up early. Not just to jam into the local bars and drink 10-dollar cans of beer. We want to make more well-rounded options and a more well-rounded experience.”
All of this, of course, means higher ticket prices.
“Ticket prices, nothing’s really been determined for next year, but I think it’s safe to say they will go up some,” Ricketts said.”I’m not sure which packages, but I think we will probably raise tickets a little bit.
“Premium seating, if we can build in amenities that support higher ticket prices at certain places in the stadium over time, then we’ll charge more. But I think that’s just a matter of increasing the value of what you’re getting. You can’t charge someone $2,200 for a seat and then have them wait in line for an inning to go in a trough.”
Ricketts added that he would like to make some seats more affordable for families, though he had no specific plans for such accommodations.
“One of the things we have to focus on is making sure that people can bring their kids,” he said.”I’m not deaf to the comment that, ‘Oh, I go to the White Sox games because I can take my kids. It’s easier, I can park right next to the stadium, it’s a little bit cheaper, I can always get tickets.’ We have to be looking in our plans to make sure that we are looping in this next generation we’re saving this stadium for so it’s not the place my dad took his business associates. It’s the place my dad took me. That’s important to us.”
Though previous owner Sam Zell seemed opened to the idea of selling naming rights, Ricketts—a Cubs fan at heart—likes the idea of retaining the name Wrigley Field.
“We don’t have any naming-rights discussions going on at all,” he said.”I think Wrigley is the name we are going to go with. Down the line, I’m not going to say it will never happen—the right kind of sponsorship or maybe naming the triangle building or something like that.
“You have to be open-minded to that stuff. You can’t let easy revenue opportunities get away from you. There is this balance, right? You have to pay your players and the other teams are going to be making money, so you have to be making money. You can’t ignore it, but there are no plans to change the name of Wrigley.”
Just as important to some purists is keeping Wrigley a JumboTron-free zone. Ricketts has no immediate plans for a giant television screen.
“There are no plans to do that,” he said. “If it got to the point that it made sense or we could figure it out, I would take a look at it. But there’s nothing like that in the near term.
“There’s a special feeling to Wrigley that you want to really respect. It is a special place and I don’t think that Kiss Cam would do anything for us. It’s a great place to watch baseball.”