Will fans own Wrigley seats? EQUITY SEAT RIGHTS | Thompsons plan to fund rehab may rely on signing ticket holders to long-term deals

May 1, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter

Former Gov. Jim Thompson’s secret plan to have the state acquire and renovate Wrigley Field with “no taxes of any kind” may rely on a stadium financing scheme pioneered by former Democratic fund-raiser Lou Weisbach: equity seat rights.

It’s been touted as a revolutionary, fan-friendly way for teams to raise up to $500 million in cash to build new stadiums or renovate old ones without incurring debt.

Weisbach, a local entrepreneur who has traveled the world explaining the deal to sports owners, has described equity seat rights as the “antithesis” of personal seat licenses (PSLs), which have drawn the wrath of fans.

With PSLs, fans are asked to pony up thousands of dollars upfront for the right to buy season tickets. The team then uses the pile of PSL cash to offset construction costs.

But with equity seat rights, there is no upfront fee. Instead, fans sign a long-term contract to buy a specific seat for a fixed price that’s locked in for the duration of the contract. A financial backer, acknowledging the fan’s ongoing financial commitment, then fronts the money to the team.

Not every seat in the stadium would need to be involved. Just enough to raise the construction cash.

Contacted Wednesday, Weisbach offered a cryptic response when asked whether he has discussed the equity seat rights concept with the Thompson-led Illinois Sports Facilities Authority or with Tribune Co., owner of the Cubs.

“I can’t confirm or deny anything. I can’t discuss it in any way, shape or form. I’m bound not to. . . . Whatever is going to happen is not for me to discuss or even lead you towards,” Weisbach said.

But Weisbach, who made his fortune with his Ha-Lo promotional marketing company and has talked about buying the Cubs, was not shy about touting a scheme he believes will someday revolutionize the stadium financing industry.

Weisbach is CEO of Stadium Capital Financial Group LLC. Morgan Stanley Principal Investments purchased a controlling interest in the firm a year ago.

“There’s no correlation between what we do and PSLs. It’s dramatically different. It will totally fix the cost of tickets for people who participate in it and there would be no price increase for the life of the agreement,” Weisbach said.

“We’ve found the financial balance between something that’s extraordinarily good for the fan and the team.”

Thompson refused to say whether his plan relies on equity seat licensing. But he was familiar enough with the concept to draw distinctions.

“A PSL is a license to buy a seat. Equity is the ownership of the seat. It’s different,” he said.

And how would he know that if equity seating was not part of his plan? “Because I’ve been working on a Wrigley plan for six months. I’ve heard every proposal ever made by anyone,” the former governor said.

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