Lightfoot offers $250K break to the Cubs after season without fans that cost the Ricketts family $100 million
The mayor proposed delaying the team’s $250,000 payment to the Cub Fund until 2024. The fund was created in 2014 to bankroll neighborhood infrastructure improvements, including street resurfacing and lighting projects.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) are throwing a bone to the billionaire family that owns the Cubs after a 60-game season without fans in the stands at Wrigley Field that cost the team more than $100 million.
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Lightfoot introduced an ordinance that would amend the 2014 agreement with the Cubs to delay the team’s annual $250,000 payment to the Cub Fund until 2024 “due, in part, to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Cub Fund was created in 2014 to bankroll neighborhood infrastructure improvements including street resurfacing and lighting projects normally funded by $1.32 million-a-year in aldermanic menu money, Tunney said.
The 10-year agreement, originally expected to expire in 2023, called for the Cubs to pay $500,000 in each of the first five years and $250,000 in years six through 10.
Delaying the 2020 payment won’t be enough to pay for another pitcher, or even a utility player. But it’s a “small gesture” in response to the heavy losses the Ricketts family has suffered during the pandemic, the alderman said.
“I don’t question whether or not they were capable [of making the payment]. What we felt … was that the Cubs were not playing [before fans] this year and we would just postpone or defer this one year payment. They need to pay. We’re just extending the agreement one additional year,” Tunney said.
“Businesses are bleeding. … Look at everything else we’re doing to try to mitigate the business losses. This is a small gesture to let them know that we know that the season has been a financial loss. And the neighborhood has been a financial loss.”
Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the Ricketts family “appreciates the city being a partner.”
“Our goal is always to support the community and has been. But without having fans in the stadium and having no indication that we’ll be able to welcome fans next year, we’re losing upwards of $100 million this year and anticipate we’ll lose another $100 million next year,” Green said.
“Our business is based on people and gatherings. Seventy percent of our revenue comes from the gate. That’s from concessions, merchandise and parking .... Beyond just the ballpark itself, part of the revenue derived from the project also includes the hotel and the restaurants. All of which have been impacted.”
The Ricketts family suffered more than most baseball owners over the course of the 60-game season that cost all of Major League Baseball $4.5 billion.
That’s because the family’s carefully crafted business plan was blown up.
There were no fans in the stands, no concerts, no Cubs convention. The outdoor plaza known as Gallagher Way was empty.
And the Hotel Zachary and the Wrigleyville restaurants and 11 rooftops owned by the Ricketts family was operating at 25% capacity, then 40%, before being forced to stop serving indoor patrons for a second time.
“We’ve been reduced to basically our media revenues — our television and radio revenues — as well as our share of the league’s profits that are shared equally among all 30 clubs,” Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations, told the Chicago Sun-Times in late July.
“The music business has been really good to us. We had a really busy calendar with live music at Wrigley. All of that, as well, will not be enjoyed.”
At the time, Kenney said the Cubs had devised strict protocols they believed would allow up to 7,000 fans to safely attend games at Wrigley midway through the pandemic-shortened season. It called for fans in groups of two, four and six to have designated gates and staggered entry and exit windows.
But the city and state never allowed it.
On Tuesday, Tunney said he hopes coronavirus vaccines will be widely distributed enough to allow “some limited seating” at Wrigley next season.
“I don’t foresee that there’ll be full capacity crowds next year. I don’t want to opine as to what size or what percent capacity. But I hope they put together a safety plan for their fans and for the community and get baseball started on time with fans in the stadium. It’s incumbent if we’re gonna have an economy next year,” the alderman said.