Friday, March 26, 2010

Tom Talks

As the grind of spring training wears on, all the news out of Cubs camp seems to be on the business side. Crain's publishes this piece on Tom Rickett's presentation to the Executives' Club of Chicago where Tom tried to make the case for more signage at Wrigley:

Addressing hundreds of business people at an Executives' Club of Chicago breakfast Thursday, Mr. Ricketts used a PowerPoint presentation to show that Wrigley is one of the city’s top tourist attractions: It generates nearly $400 million a year in spending and funnels $59 million in tax revenue to city coffers. More than one-third of fans are out-of-state visitors.

Then he flashed the next slide: an image of the 60-foot, lighted Toyota sign he's seeking to install behind the left-field bleachers, which would likely bring the ballclub more than $2 million a year.

"So I don't think it's too much to ask," he deadpanned amid laughter.

First, let's stipulate that Tom is not asking too much. He and his family should be allowed to monetize his investment. Just because Wrigley Field is a historical landmark doesn't mean that the Ricketts shouldn’t be allowed to make non-permanent changes to the look and feel which will provide the capital to maintain the actual physical plant.

But there is a major problem with Tom’s logic. As has been noted here and many other places before, sports franchises and stadiums are not an economic engine for a city. They are for a small neighborhood, but that’s it. Why? Simple.

People have a finite number of dollars to commit to leisure activities. If they spend it on baseball tickets, that means they won’t spend it on other entertainment venues. Every dollar spent on a baseball ticket reduces the amount spent on movie tickets. Or restaurants. Or amusement parks. The list goes on. Entertainment spending within a metropolitan area is a zero sum game. Yes, Wrigley is an engine for Wrigleyville, but not much else.

But Tom's smart. He understands this. That's why he said that one-third of fans come from out of state. Out of state spending isn’t necessarily zero sum. It's possible that some people actually come to Chicago specifically because of Wrigley Field and wouldn't were it not here. But many of the people who come from out of town are also coming for Michigan Avenue and the lakefront and trade shows and to see family. They are not driven here by the Wrigley engine. Furthermore, logic suggests that the number of "one-third" of Wrigley attendees is way too high. One million people per year visit Wrigley Field from out of state? That doesn’t seem possible. You would think that the Executives’ Club of Chicago would know this.

The answer is that they do. What Tom is really doing is speaking to the politicians. To the Tom Tunney’s. He's making a public argument to give political cover to Tunney to approve what the Ricketts want to do (and need to and should).

Frankly, it's pathetic that Tom needs to do this. Tunney should be doing it for him. As should the owners of the Cubby Bear, Murphy’s, Salt & Pepper, Sports Corner, Sports World, Harry Caray.s...

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