Ricketts forum: Wrigley rehab in 4 years?

CHICAGO – One of the Saturday highlights of the annual Cubs Convention is the Ricketts Family Forum. It’s where the owners of the Cubs -- this year it was chairman Tom with brother Todd and sister Laura -- answer questions from the fans about their team.

Here are some highlights from the hour-long session:

  • Wrigley Field rehab could take place in four years instead of five.

    This was one newsy nugget the Ricketts dropped on the crowd.

    “The initial plan was a five-year plan,” Tom Ricketts said. “Five consecutive offseasons. We may have found a way to shorten that and make it four. I think we can do it in four if we switch things around.”

    Analysis: It’s unclear what “switches” Ricketts was talking about. Does it mean a less ambitious renovation or simply a more aggressive approach to it? Either way, it can’t be a bad thing to finish it in four years, which would still mean it would be done in the five years since it was announced last convention. That is, if the bulk of it can start next offseason.

  • Debt load not that big of a deal.

    Tom Ricketts, in his purchase of the Cubs, admitted that the family took on a lot of debt. He was quick to point out that every team has some and it isn’t a big deal. And he said the debt isn’t holding the Cubs back.

    “It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not as big a piece of the puzzle as people think,” he said. “The fact is there are other things we’ve had to spend money on. We’ve had decades of under-investment in the park that we’ve had to address. We had one of the smaller front offices in baseball and the smallest baseball organization in baseball. We’ve added 102 new associates (employees) to build out what is now an average-sized organization. So there are a lot of expenses that come in over the last few years.”

    Analysis: There’s probably some truth to what Ricketts is saying. After all, the Cubs are in the hunt for Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. His price tag will be huge. But if they wanted to spend on 2-4 free agents they’d be limited and their debt would then become part of the puzzle. It’s not a big deal now because the Cubs aren’t ready to make those kinds of moves anyway.

  • Cubs and WGN-TV could part ways.

    As hopeful as Tom Ricketts tried to sound about WGN-TV continuing to air Cubs games after the contract between the sides expires after next season, he didn’t exactly say it was anywhere near a done deal.

    “We hope there is something that works out between the team and the station,” Ricketts said. “There’s a lot of shifting dynamics in television economics that have to be part of the discussion.”

    Unsolicited, brother Todd jumped in on the discussion.

    “WGN-TV is going through a lot of changes itself,” he said. “So it’s a matter of, is the synergy still there?

    Analysis: The bottom line is the notion of kids running home from school to watch Cubs games on WGN television is antiquated. Big business will take over future dealings with television and radio deals. It’s simply doubtful WGN will match the financial and programming needs of the Cubs as they move forward.

  • Family isn't looking for the quick fix.

    Team president Theo Epstein pointed out that the Ricketts family is in it for the long haul and the Ricketts themselves reminded everyone they want sustained success.

    “There is no way to cheat the devil on this,” Laura Ricketts said. “Have to do it the right way ... We’re not shooting for one World Series. We’re not shooting for that one year that 30 years from now we can point back to and say, ‘remember that one year? Remember how great it was?”

    Analysis: It’s the right answer -- for now. Sustained success sometimes means taking a step back to go forward. The situation the Cubs were in when the family bought the team was a precarious one in terms of anything more than a successful year every so often. Besides, there’s no going back on this rebuilding process now. It just better work, or else the family may have to simply try to buy a winner since fans will be fed up even more by then.

  • Mascot Clark will be good in the long run.

    Laura Ricketts was very pleased a young fan asked about Clark. She envisions a renovated Wrigley Field with a family or kid section in which Clark will be very popular.

    “I’m glad you brought up Clark, he’s gotten some bad press,” she said. “He had a very positive response at a school appearance the other day. That’s what he’s for ... Clark is a good example of what we’re trying to do to make the Cubs more accessible to kids.”