Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Severely, severely embarrassing

I'm definitely going to finish the Simmons "Let's turn the Hall of Fame into a novelty structure celebrating the careers of Jim Rice and Jack Morris" article later, probably Friday, but this particular dumpster fire could not wait.  Holy fucking cat shit.  Even for Rick Reilly, this is indescribably bad.  I've never seen a journalist lower themselves to shill for a franchise or league like this before.  Not even immediately before and during the NFL lockout, when mouthbreathers like Peter King stepped up to defend the league and (try to) give credence to the claim that its then-current revenue sharing model was unsustainable.  Not even then.  This is worse.

For the 98th straight season, the Chicago Cubs will attempt baseball this season in Wrigley Field. It's historic, magical and covered in vegetation. Then again, so is Machu Picchu and nobody's trying to win baseball games there.

We start off with a dip into the bottomless well of comedy that is Machu Picchu.

I love Wrigley Field. 

I used to live in Chicago and have attended many games at Wrigley.  If you have any experience with that decrepit (but profitable!) place, you'll agree with me that Rick serves as an excellent proxy for every fat, loud 50something business tripper/midlife crisis haver getting drunk in the bars around Wrigley on game day, sloppily hitting on reluctant 20somethings, and boasting about his plans to head down to the Viagra Triangle to crush some steaks at Morton's after the game.

But I'm not a Cubs fan. 

Perhaps your most redeeming quality.

If I were a Cubs fan, I would despise Wrigley. I'd want Wrigley laid flatter than Wrigley gum.

Gum is flat!

There's a reason the Cubs have never won a World Series at Wrigley. There's a reason they're 0-for-the-last-67 pennant races at Wrigley.

Yes.  Really, it's a confluence of factors, but it can be summed up in not too many words.  First, in the very long term, part of it is just bad luck, because fuck, you'd think they would have stumbled ass-backwards into a title at least once in the last century, right?  The Marlins have two in in the last sixteen years for crisesakes.  A few bounces go differently in 2003, and they at least win the pennant that year.  But anyways, that's just part of it.  The rest is that for years, the Cubs have had incompetent management and ownership, and have fielded subpar teams while making money hand over fist.  It's a pretty common story in the wide world of professional sports, although many teams run in a similarly terrible manner break through and manage to secure a title at least once every half century or so.  Anyways, the reason the Cubs haven't won a pennant since 1945 or a World Series since 1908 has barely a fucking thing to do with Wrigley.

The reason IS Wrigley.


Wrigley isn't just the old family dog that needs to be put down. It's an old family dog that probably costs the Cubs about $73 million a year.

I know what you're thinking.  Just wait until he gets there.

That's three Prince Fielders!

The EXACT kind of player teams like the Cubs should avoid signing, because he's not going to get them from where they are to a championship.  See: Soriano, Alfonso, a man currently signed to the worst contract in baseball not involving a Phillies first baseman.

Where do I get $73 million?

My guess: by sitting down to a nice dinner with a member of the Ricketts ownership group, or someone employed by them, and asking "How much do you want me to say you're losing as a result of playing in Wrigley?  You name the dollar amount, pick up the tab for this food, and I'll write the story.  Also: can we talk about how exciting golf is during the meal?"

Start from the outside-in -- with the money-sucking rooftop mini-stadiums that metastasize outside the ballpark.

Ah yes, the mini-stadiums that, per a 2004 agreement with the Cubs (which has a twenty year term, because the Cubs are fucking idiots--more on that later), give the team 17% of their gross revenue in exchange for the team agreeing not to block the rooftop views.  Or in other words, 17% of their gross revenue in exchange for the Cubs doing exactly nothing.

The owners of these annoying watchtowers sell tickets as though they were the Cubs themselves.

The correct way to state that is that they sell tickets as though they are people who own property next to the stadium, which... they are.

They even sell season tickets! 

Even if the presence of the rooftops seats were something outrageous, I'm not sure how this would contribute to the outrageousness.

The city continues to protect these leeches, who pass themselves off as mom and pop entrepreneurs, but actually rake in an estimated $24 million a year, according to the club.

Where to begin: first of all, I hope you believed me when I said the Cubs probably paid Rick to write this column, because by this point in the article, he's practically admitting it.  Second of all, the city is not protecting the rooftop owners.  The deal the rooftop owners struck with the Cubs, which runs through 2023, is protecting the rooftop owners.  Guess who was at the bargaining table for those negotiations, undoubtedly represented by very expensive lawyers and with full knowledge of what they were and were not agreeing to?  THE FUCKING CUBS, WHO HAVE NO ONE TO BLAME BUT THEMSELVES.  Third of all, let's assume the rooftops do make $24 million (combined, not each) every year.  The Cubs have what is considered to be a very bad TV deal in the current climate for sports broadcasting rights.  It expires after 2014, and at that point they will undoubtedly work to get an deal in place that dwarfs it, possibly similar to the gargantuan deal the Dodgers just signed which will pay the team about $250-$300 million a year for the next 25 years.  Do you know what this current bad deal (split between WGN and Comcast) pays the Cubs per year?  $45 million.  So yeah, I think bitching about a dozen or so rooftops making a couple million a year is pretty fucking pathetic.

Of that, the Cubs get a paltry 17 percent, or $4 million a year.

Which they themselves agreed to in an arm's length negotiation, in exchange for doing nothing.  It may well have been a bad deal, and given that the Cubs agreed to it, it probably is.  But they sure as shit can't blame the city and they can't blame the rooftop owners.

Any fair deal would give them at least half.

Perhaps.  Guess Rick should have led those negotiations.  No worries, Rick: in ten years, when the deal is up, you'll get your chance to make sure those poor destitute owners get the deal they deserve!

(There's $8 million they don't get.)

And here begins Rick's political campaign-worth math exercise.  Try to stay with him, now: the Cubs play at Wrigley Field ==> the Cubs agreed to not obstruct the views of the rooftop owners around Wrigley Field in exchange for $4 million a year ==> Wrigley Field is costing the Cubs $8 million per year.

Inside, the Cubs are prohibited from putting up advertising signs that could make them up to $30 million more a year (that would be $38 million) because the signs would block the views of the precious rooftop oglers and the city can't have that.

We have already been over this like four times.  The Cubs are "prohibited" from doing so because in exchange for that $4 million per year they're getting, they agreed not to build any signs.  This is called a legally enforceable contract.  Each side offers consideration to the other.  If they fail to deliver what they have promised, the other side can bring suit against them to remedy the breach.  To complain that the Cubs aren't getting enough from the rooftops and simultaneously lament that the Cubs are "prohibited" from building signs that block the rooftops is the height of disingenuous bullshit.

You talk about a business being in your business. Can you imagine this happening to any other business?

I can!

Hey, H&R Block! We're not going to pay you for your tax advice, but we ARE going to pocket the cash people give us to sit outside your window and listen to it!

Just wait until Rick finds out that people sell beer, hot dogs, and (often) unlicensed Cubs apparel MERE BLOCKS from the stadium!  What a bunch of leeches!

If all this seems insane to you, you should talk to Bruce Springsteen.

Ah yes, Bruce Springsteen, that champion of big business who hates it when the little guy makes a buck here and there.

In the middle of a recent concert at Wrigley, he stopped, turned toward the rooftops and said, with a smirk, "Everybody up on the roof! Who'd you pay?"

Well first of all, they paid the Cubs with 17% of their ticket price.  Second of all, it's sad to hear he said that, and I hope he didn't, but if so it's because the Cubs got to him like they got to Reilly.  Give the Ricketts credit for trying to win the PR war--the Tribune Co. (owners of the team until the Ricketts bought it in 2009) would have been far too stupid to even realize that was something they should attempt.

You say, "Well, the Cubs aren't really a business. They're a city treasure, a kind of living museum."

No one says this.  This is the worst straw man ever.  Everyone knows that pro sports teams are enormous businesses.  It just so happens that to some people, the Cubs are also a charming local institution with a lot of cool history.  Most of those people will die of heart disease before the age of 45, but there are a lot of them in the greater Chicagoland area, and even they know the Cubs are "really a business."

Fine, if they're a city treasure, then the city should help support them, the way it did for this summer's 30th anniversary of the Chicago Blues Festival, which received a $15,000 grant.

I hope you didn't have any liquid in your mouth when you read that, because you probably just ruined your laptop.  WHERE IS THE $15,000 GRANT FOR THE CUBS, MAYOR EMANUEL?  SHAME ON YOU.  THEY'RE STRUGGLING TO MAKE ENDS MEET UP THERE AT CLARK AND ADDISON.

The Cubs pay 12 percent city "amusement" tax on every ticket (about $17 million a year -- we're up to $55 million), and yet the city doesn't give them a dime. Very unamusing.

My angle in this post so far has mostly focused on his gross mischaracterization of the 2004 rooftop deal, but let's not neglect his embarrassingly pathetic overarching message that a team with nine figure annual income, valued by Forbes as the 36th most valuable pro sports franchise in the world in 2012, is in some kind of financial quagmire.  I don't mean to turn this into #OccupyWrigley, but holy fucking shit on a stick, the Cubs shouldn't be paying taxes on their tickets?  What the fuck is wrong with you?  Also, that $17 million, to the extent it's even worth acknowledging the argument, has nothing to do with Wrigley itself.  Obviously any stadium in any part of Chicago, rooftop LEECHES or not, would be paying that tax.

There's more. You can open the doors of your business pretty much whenever you want, but the Cubs can't. They're allowed to play only 30 night games a year. And they can't even pick the nights. When owner Tom Ricketts inquired if they might play a few Saturday night games this season, the local restaurants fumed, "It'll kill our dinner business!"

This is the only part of the article that is not buttfuckery of the highest order.  In short: until 1988, the Cubs did not play any night games.  That year they finally began doing so after installing lights, but they had to make a deal with the city restricting the number of night games they could play per season to get the lights approved in the first place.  Part of the city's justification was the high degree to which Wrigley is integrated with its surrounding neighborhood, making night games a pain in the ass for local resident.  These regulations remain in place today, and really, I think the Cubs probably have a legitimate gripe in wanting them relaxed.  The area directly bordering Wrigley is all businesses at this point anyways.  And anyone who moves to the neighborhood certainly knows what they're getting themselves into (unless they do so during winter and have the least informative real estate agent ever): Cubs fans are going to piss on your house.  They're going to.  They might be slightly less inclined to do so after a day game than after a night game, but it's going to happen.  If the Cubs want to play a normal "every game is a night game except for getaway day" schedule, fuck it, I say let them.

Now back to the buttfuckery.

Got it. Everybody gets to compete for customers except the Cubs.

The degree to which he's shilling for the team is exactly as embarrassing as I promised it would be, right?

Any idea how much more the Cubs could get for a TV package with 55 night games, which is what many teams play and when most fans watch? Me neither, but let's guess $5 million. (We're up to $60 million.)

Regardless of their day/night game balance, starting in 2015 they're going to have a deal that's worth a fuck of a lot more than $45 million per year.  Let's try not to weep too hard for them.

God forbid they'd want to put up a decent video replay board, which is ad gold for most teams and, by the way, a place where Cubs fans could actually tell the score of the game without having to do the inning-by-inning math themselves, as they do now on the old hand-lettered relic in center. ($7 million? Total so far: $67 million.)

They can do this anytime they want.  This is one of the few complaints raised that actually directly relates to Wrigley (as opposed to if they played in a different, modernized stadium in a different location) but unfortunately for Rick it's still fucking idiotic.

Plus, can you imagine the frogs that would rain down if they tried to sell the name of the stadium? They could never do what the White Sox did, which is to sell Comiskey to U.S. Cellular for $68 million over 20 years. The Cubs could probably get $100 million. There's another $5 million a year. (That's $72 million.)

Again, they are welcome to do this anytime they want.  Not even those nefarious robber baron rooftop owners would be able to stop them.

And forget about how long it takes you to get up and get a hot dog at Wrigley (two innings sometimes), or get to the restroom and back (often three). Hell, by the third inning, the Cubs are on their third reliever. No wonder so many people sneak food in. What's that total in lost concessions? A million? (We're at $73 million.)

Who cares, but yeah, Wrigley is a fucking trashhole for a lot of reasons and this is one of them.  They can't really remedy this until they move to a new stadium.  Too bad for them.

And that's just the money they don't get.

You say this as if you have made arguments so far in this article that would be convincing to anyone other than the Ricketts family.

Imagine the players they don't get -- because of their weird start times, their rotting training facilities, their wimpy weight room, their nonexistent in-game batting cage, their backachingly small clubhouse and their 104-year ringless streak.

To the extent this is even an issue, which, who the fuck knows if it is unless you hook a bunch of MLB players up to lie detectors and then ask them if these things actually make the Cubs an unattractive destination, it can and has been remedied by money many times in the past.  See: Soriano, Alfonso, and many many others.

Can you imagine what a genius like Cubs GM Theo Epstein could do with another $73 million a year? He'd be Theo, Unchained. He'd have the fourth-highest payroll in MLB instead of the 15th (2012). One of the biggest draws in sports shouldn't be 15th in anything.

Prior to 2012, they had not been outside of the top 10 in payroll since 2003.  They were 3rd as recently as 2010.

The Red Sox finally stopped treating their little neighborhood park like it was a Faberge egg. They started putting up signs everywhere at Fenway, maxed out revenue anywhere they could, and won two of the past 9 World Series. You hear Boston fans complaining?

Again, with the fucking signs.  Good thing the Red Sox were able to put up those signs after reneging on their deal to not do so with the rooftop owners around Fenway!

And yet Ricketts doesn't want to raze Wrigley.


He was practically raised on Wrigley. He lives close enough that he takes the "L" to most games.

MLB owners: they're just like us!

And because he loves it, he has offered to pour $500 million of the family's money into renovating Wrigley -- $300 million for fixing the joint and the rest into a proposed hotel/fitness club across the street.

And what does Ricketts want for plowing no government cheese into the Wrigley rat trap? Not a dime. 

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA nice try.  There is a sizable difference between "not wanting any city funding" and "being told to fuck off after asking for city funding."

He just wants the city to relax some of the restrictions that make the Cubs a kind of crippled Carnival cruise ship with foul poles.

There's your trademark Rick Reilly Topical Joke.  I think I liked the Machu Picchu one better.

And STILL aldermen such as Thomas Tunney are gumming it all up. Tunney wants more parking, more cops 

What business is it of the city that the city not be turned into a fucking mess after a business does a huge construction project to expand their operation?  The nerve!

and to extend the sleazy rooftops deal, 


all of which he doesn't want to pay for.

Why the fuck should he, or more accurately, should the city?  Make a good argument, Rick.

"You're talking about one of the richest families in America," Tunney told reporters the other day.


Not at this rate.

Do you have douchechills yet?

Epstein really didn't want any part of this column, but he did email to say, "We're focused on doing everything we can with what we have available to us now to make the baseball operation as healthy and successful as possible."

Too bad there's so little available.

Oh my God.  Oh my God oh my God oh my God oh my God

It's simple, Chicago. You can either have your creaky, quaint, vine-covered crypt, or you can win. But you can't have both.

Let's recap: first of all, the Cubs, like every single other MLB team, are not hurting for money and will not be anytime soon.  Second of all, the team is about to get a gigantic TV contract that will gives it more revenue than it'll know what to do with.  Third of all, Wrigley has one unfixable revenue problem (concessions line lengths), several revenue problems that are difficult but not overly burdensome and could be fixed with some clever negotiating (number of night games, amount of advertising in the stadium, rooftop deal), and several revenue problems that the team simply has chosen not to fix because they like the history of the stadium (no fancy scoreboard, no naming rights).  Together, those problems are probably 1% of the reason the Cubs suck and have sucked for some time.  The other 99% is attributable to incompetence, something that Epstein might be able to do something about, but that Ricketts seems to be contributing to.  Fourth of all, anytime the Cubs want to build a new stadium, they'd have financiers lined up around the block, and said new stadium would undoubtedly be one of the best revenue generators in sports, but it won't happen because Ricketts himself doesn't want to do it.

For those reasons, dear reader, you should feel sorry for the Cubs.

Do the math. You're used to it.

Is that supposed to be a taunt?  Is there a reference to Chicagoans being good at math that I'm not getting, other than the fact that everyone knows it's been 100+ years since the Cubs won a World Series, which, let's face it, doesn't really involve much math?

Rick Reilly is the worst sportswriter on the planet.


Anonymous said...

Totally not the point, but this was my favorite line in the column: The Red Sox finally stopped treating their little neighborhood park like it was a Faberge egg. They started putting up signs everywhere at Fenway, maxed out revenue anywhere they could, and won two of the past 9 World Series. You hear Boston fans complaining?

I hear Boston fans complaining all the fucking time -- like more than any other fanbase other than, maybe, the Yankees.

Larry B said...

Excellent point.

j-dub said...

I just love how in his grand total, Rick counts both the revenue "lost" in not having a 50/50 split with the rooftop owners ($8 mil) and the revenue lost from not having billboards which would obstruct the view of these same rooftops ($30 mil). Having billboards would lead to $0 in rooftop revenue. You can't add the two of those together, it's one or the other.

I know you touched on that point but it's just so, so bad

Snarf said...

Do the math. You're used to it.

Is that supposed to be a taunt? Is there a reference to Chicagoans being good at math that I'm not getting, other than the fact that everyone knows it's been 100+ years since the Cubs won a World Series, which, let's face it, doesn't really involve much math?

I believe that he was referring to this part of the column:

God forbid they'd want to put up a decent video replay board, which is ad gold for most teams and, by the way, a place where Cubs fans could actually tell the score of the game without having to do the inning-by-inning math themselves, as they do now on the old hand-lettered relic in center. ($7 million? Total so far: $67 million.)

Bad joke either way, just thought that I'd clear that up.

Anonymous said...

An alderman wants to hire more cops? Run him out of office!

Alex said...

Shit. Decrepit? My buddy and I are planning to drive to Chicago from Montreal and one of the attractions we plan to hit up is Wrigley. Making me nervous about whether it's worth buying tickets on Stubhub to go to Wrigley and watch the wretched Cubs. Yes. We plan to get wasted. Aliteration aside...

Larry B said...

It is totally worth it to go once. That way, the next time some dipshit tries to tell you about how Wrigley is the greatest structure on Earth, you can tell them you know from first hand experience that it's a dirty, run down piece of shit with horrid sightlines. Historic and all, to be sure! But also a piece of shit. I say this not just as a Cubs/Reilly hater--you should look into getting tickets to a rooftop. For most places they are expensive (the one time I went, it cost me $80) but all inclusive with food and beer. You get the views and the atmosphere without actually having to be inside the stadium.