A die-hard Sox fan who is also the City Council’s most powerful alderman on Wednesday urged the world champion Cubs not to create their own regional sports network with fees so high they would “leave fans behind.”
The resolution introduced by Ald. Edward Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, is proof positive of how popular the Cubs have become. Burke is a South Sider who seldom, if ever, sets foot in Wrigley Field.
Now, Burke is positioning himself as the champion for Cubs fans by sticking his nose into the private business of the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the Cubs.
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At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Burke introduced a resolution aimed at pressuring the Cubs not to follow the lead of the Dodgers and Yankees by creating their own regional sports network. That could happen after the 2019 season, when agreements for local television rights are due to expire.
The resolution notes that, if the Cubs have a “similar experience to what happened” to the Dodgers, “half of all Cubs fans would be unable to watch any games.” That’s because they could not afford the “costly premium package” including a Cubs channel that approached $6 a month in New York and Los Angeles.
Burke openly acknowledged that the City Council has no legal authority to compel the Cubs to renew their contract with Comcast SportsNet.
But by publicly championing the issue, he hopes to pressure the Cubs to proceed with caution and in the best interests of die-hard fans.
“Fans here in Chicago would like to have the opportunity to watch the Cubs. And many of ’em don’t have that opportunity and can’t afford to go to the games because they can’t afford the ticket prices . . . since they’ve also increased their ticket prices,” he said.
Burke reminded team officials that the City Council approved the Cubs’ plan to put up two video scoreboards, four other outfield signs, extend the Wrigley footprint onto public streets and sidewalks without compensating Chicago taxpayers, and play more night games.
Aldermen also approved the Cubs’ ambitious plan to renovate Wrigley Field and develop the land around Wrigley Field with a hotel, an office building and open-air plaza with even more signage.
“I hope that they take note of the fact that they’ve had a lot of support from the members of the City Council. And they should keep the plight of the working women and men of Chicago who are fans [in mind] as they go ahead with this plan that’s gonna make it tougher for fans watch the Cubs,” Burke said.
“They, I’m sure, are gonna be coming back here in the future [for approvals], and it’s something to be considered,” he added.
In an emailed statement, Cubs spokesman Julian Green wrote: “Once again we are reminded it has never been harder to spend private money in the city of Chicago. The team has been creating hundreds of jobs, generating taxes for the city and revenue streams to support our own nearly $800 million investment and our championship organization. Frankly, it’s unfathomable to be threatened with suggestions that the city would deprive us of rights other teams enjoy and in so doing limit our ability to support ourselves.”
Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), whose ward includes Wrigley Field, did not sign on to Burke’s resolution.
“I saw the headline of the resolution and decided I needed to stay as far away from it as possible,” Tunney said Wednesday.
“We all read the papers. And the value of the TV rights is huge. I’d love to keep WGN. I grew up with it. But, the only thing constant in life is change. And if they try to monetize and do real well, that was part of the deal. They knew that going in. Whenever this contract ends, they’re gonna put it out to bid and try to maximize their asset.”
Ald. Pat O’Connor (40th), Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, defended Burke’s right to get involved in the private business affairs of the Ricketts family.
O’Connor noted that cable television has been a “council subject matter” since the 1970’s and if Burke “wants to revisit something there, he’s entitled.”
“Perhaps he wants to remind them that the Hawks resurgence and their popularity — the timing of that — was conspicuously done at the same time that [owner] Rocky Wirtz put `em back on local television,” O’Connor said.
Referring to the Cubs, O’Connor said, “Maybe what Burke is doing is just trying to save them from themselves.”