PITTSBURGH – As the Cubs prepared for their season opener in Pittsburgh early Monday, team president Theo Epstein kept one eye on happenings back home related to an even more pressing issue: the April 1 deadline ownership set for getting a deal in place with city and neighborhood officials to lift restrictions in and around the ballpark they say is needed to start $300 million in Wrigley Field renovations on time.
As counterintuitive as it may seem for a big-market franchise like the Cubs, the baseball operations people are well aware that their ability to spend and compete long-term under Ricketts family ownership relies on the family being able to increase its already sizeable revenues.
“I think it’s fundamentally important to get us to the next level as an organization,” Epstein said before Monday’s game. “We have a baseball plan, and we have a business plan, and they’re timed to sync up with one another.
“They’re interdependent, and if we don’t get our Wrigley renovation done in a timely manner and done the right way, then we can’t accomplish our business objectives, and that will certainly get in the way of us ultimately accomplishing our baseball objectives.”
Though the Cubs are the most profitable team in Major League Baseball, they also carry the most debt, both in terms of sheer dollars and as a percentage of franchise value, according to a recent Forbes report.
It puts the Cubs in violation of MLB’s debt service rules. But more important to the operation of the team and the product on the field, it has negatively impacted the team’s ability to spend on baseball operations, as outlined in a lengthy Sun-Times report Monday.
That’s a reality that doesn’t have as much bearing on the baseball operations during these relatively stages of an organizational rebuilding process, but will almost certainly impact the ability to underwrite a playoff run when the process reaches that stage, if financial conditions linger.
The club seeks permission from the city to close Sheffield Avenue for game-day economic activity, and to ease restrictions and circumvent a contract with rooftop owners to allow additional, large advertising signs and video boards in the ballpark.
The club said it needed to have the concessions by Opening Day to have time to start the first part of the five-year renovation process in the fall.
Chairman Tom Ricketts said in March that if the club can’t get its concessions in time, the family will not begin the process on its own.
“They’re working hard on it as we speak,” Epstein said.