Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Keep Wrigley Field Out Of Government Hands

All the talk is about the pending sale of the Cubs being delayed until the ball park can be sold first. It seems that the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) wants to add to its vast stable of Illinois sports stadiums that include... The Stadium Formerly Known as Comiskey Park Whose Sponsor Doesn't Pay Me To Mention Their Name. Why they want to own Wrigley Field is a good question. Why the Tribune Corporation wants to split the stadium from the team is another.

So, why does ISFA want to own Wrigley? Well, it's not because Wrigley is some jewel to own. Just in case you haven't been there in a while let's get you caught up -- the place is falling apart. It's only a matter of time until someone is outright maimed or killed by falling concrete or some side effect of the ebbing structural integrity of the place.

Who would want to own a place that could result in massive personal injury cases?

The answer seems to be: to suck up to extremely wealthy men who have massive clout.

And that brings us to the second question.

The reason the Trib wants to sell Wrigley to the state is to maximize the revenue from the sale. Let's stipulate that this is a perfectly appropriate thing for a corporation to do -- maximize profits. Why would the state pay more than a private investor for Wrigley? Well, this non-lawyer thinks (and is open to correction by the legal readers hereof) that is a shield from liability that is exactly the reason the state is the ideal owner. And that Sam Zell has the clout to get this done frees a new owner from lowering their offer for the Cubs because of the potential liability of owning Wrigley Field.

The second reason the team and stadium are to be sold separately is to minimize the amount of capital an investor would need to purchase the team. See, if you only need $600 million for the team instead of $1 billion for team and park, a potential buyer with fewer dollars than another buyer could still make a competitive bid.

Is there anyone you have heard of as a potential owner of the Cubs with seemingly unlimited funds that Major League Baseball would like to keep out of their ownership ranks? And with the Trib needing to maximize the total proceeds of the sale, anything that can be done to allow shallower pocket investors to compete equally with those with bottomless pockets benefits everyone on the sales side.

The bottom line is this. The government exists to provide markets that the private sector does not create efficiently on their own. Sports stadiums are clearly a market in which the government, despite past participation, has no business engaging. Wrigley Field, being privately held since 1914 and changing hands multiple times since then, has done very well without the government's interference.

Keep the government out now.

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