THE WRIGLEYVILLE WAR
1. The Wrigleyville War
2. The Battle of Waveland
3. The Volleys of Artillery
4. Thy Kingdom Come
5. The Axis of Evil
6. The Rivermen Battle
7. The Battle Fronts
8. Three Million Washingtons
9. New Manager, Old Management
11. Two Wrongs
12. Charge of the Light Briefcase Brigade
13. Then They Would Be Giants
14. Seize the Land
15. Class Act
16. Ahoy, Pirates!
17. Total Wrigley
18. On Trial
20. The Goat
21. The Rain Dance
22. Triple Play
23. Trick or Treat?
THE WRIGLEYVILLE WAR
April 5, 2002
It should have been a grand day for a ballgame. But there were signs of trouble from the very beginning. It has snowed in Chicago every day since the official start of Spring. There was a cold chill in the air. The weather would be harsh, less than 40 degrees, for the afternoon contest at Wrigley Field.
In March, the voters of Wrigleyville, by an 80%-20% margin, defeated a Tribune sponsored measure on the procedural fate of the proposed expansion of Wrigley Field by the Cubs. The Cub management desires to take the public sidewalks and extend the bleachers with huge steel columns, like El-tracks, to increase the bleacher seating by 2,000. For those bean counters, that is 2,000 times $24 times 81, or $3,888,000. The neighbors a) did not want another 2,000 drunken idiots peeing on their lawns after games, b) did not want homeless men sleeping under the bleacher rafters like lower Wacker Drive, c) feared that their kids would be dragged into the pillar darkness by thieves, rapists and thugs, and d) did not want any more night games (since it is assumed that more night revenue is needed to pay for the expansion).
There have been skirmishes between the neighbors and Cubs in the past. Night baseball was a battle, won by the Tribune. The roof tops, once quaint tenant getaways, are now big tourist business commanding luxury box dollars, city licenses, higher property taxes, and big bleacher sections. The Trib did not sell out its sky boxes last year. It is upset that the people across the street are viewing their copyrighted product for free. It burns the Trib that they are getting no revenue from businessmen across the street.
The Tribune does not get publicly mad, it gets even. As opening day arrived, black tarp windscreens surround the bleacher fences, creating a partial obstructed view for the rooftop cafes. The backlash was swift. The alderman will introduce an ordinance to allow the roof tops to extend their bleacher height another 15 feet to get the view back. But the Trib will not stop at just a windscreen. If it cannot expand out into the street, the Cubs could go up, and enclose the park with a upper deck like the old Tiger Stadium. (There are some old dusty blueprints for this hanging around the Tower.) Hey, Ernie Harwell will be out of a broadcast gig this year. It would be a nice touch to hire him as the ballpark turns into a corporate fortress.
The Tribune has been called today arrogant and vindictive in the tarp controversy. The excuse that it is a 9-11 security measure was ripped to pieces in a matter of milliseconds.
But this is the second shot across the neighbor's bow. The Trib raised ticket prices 20% this season. The Trib formed its own neighborhood association to quote favorably in its stories on the expansion. The Cubs claimed to have lost money last season, while Forbes magazine runs the numbers and strongly disputes that statement. The extremes to which the Tower suits are acting at the beginning of the season bodes darkly for the fans and the community. This is going to be a bloody civil war. The Cubs have dug a trench, camouflaged the bunker, strung razor wire, and will begin an all-out assault at election time. The frontline will get ugly very soon.
©2002 pindermedia.com, inc.
Illustration by Ski.
THE BATTLE OF WAVELAND
April 6, 2002
The fireworks were lobbed over the wall. Back and forth the volleys went from side to side. The screams of pain could be heard both inside and outside the park.
The rooftop assassins spied over the brick wall on Waveland Avenue. They pounded their fists in rage. They hollered and hooted. The booed the Cubs bad play.
The Tribune sat in its skybox, looking smug at the first effort to hurt the rooftop landlords. But the smirks turned sour when the roofs were filled to capacity, and the bean counters said that there was probably five hundred people not buying $4.75 beers inside the ballpark.
The DMZ (Dumb Management Zone) is strictly located within the friendly fire confines of Wrigley Field. The Cubs played like fumbling managers, losing again to the lowly Pirates. But in the luxury suite command center, General McGuire kept his community soldiers firing rounds at the enemy.
We have the right to build on our property, said the first shooter. True, but the Cub expansion plan calls for the taking of the public sidewalks.
We have the right to protect our property, the Cubs game, from being stolen by those non-paying bums sitting outside the park. Well, the counter attack said, you can't steal something that is in plain sight. If the Tribune was so concerned about its top program, why does it not show all the games on its flagship station? The season road opener was on a local UHF station! The problem is that the Tribune is not concerned about losing viewership on its main sports programming; it gave that up years ago when it went into the network TV biz.
We have a right to build a bigger screen and totally block the roof top views. No one said the Tribune could not build straight up, if it got a building permit and met current zoning height restrictions. But the Tribune has no ally in King Richard II, a longtime Sox fan. The Cubs and WGN have used the View of the neighborhood as the calling card for the family friendly charm of the ball park.
But Illinois does not recognize the English common law concept of ancient lights. A person does not have a right to an unobstructed view. The rooftoppers know this. The Tribune should know this fact. So the Trib is using it has ammo against the community. But the rooftop owners are only a small sliver of the Lakeview neighborhood. The vast majority of the residents also have issue with the rooftop owners, the bar owners, and the ball park because they all cater to the drunken, heaving and public nuisance fans.
The Tribune sent a phototog to spy on the opening day roofers. It posted a picture of the roof view from the left field corner building near the firehouse. You could see the green field, but could not see the left fielder. Or any fielder for that matter.
And you cannot see the ball hawks roaming the sidewalks of Waveland Avenue. If the Tribune takes the illogic notion that it has a right to control its product in all public arenas, it will be soon before the security guards swoop down on Waveland to retrieve the $2 baseballs that the Trib purchased so Sosa could smash them to pieces. Only those who pay the admission fee should get a baseball souvenir. Hand to hand combat for remotely lost Tribune property? The lanky underemployed loner souvenir buff against the beefy, underpaid, surly security guard? That will certainly beat any seventh inning stretch.
©2002 pindermedia.com, inc.
Illustration by Ski.
THE VOLLEYS OF ARTILLERY
April 9, 2002
If there is an art to war, the canvas is territory. The first strategy in medieval warfare was to tell the town the hoard was about to sack. The march of the army onto an undefended village, or even a castle, gave the occupants great concern. If they were scared enough of the certain slaughter, they would sometimes surrender without a shot being fired.
If not, then the first order of war-business is to lob a few boulders, cannonshot or the like at the so-to-be captives. Smash a wall. Splinter a roof. Ding someone in the leg. If you are lucky, crack a skull.
The Sun-Times reported today the first casualty of the Wrigleyville War could have been a Chicago policeman. The S-T reported that the ballhawks are complaining about the bleacher screens, too. They can't see the b-p and game homeruns until after they clear the fence. It is tough to judge where a projectile will land if you can't get its bearings.
Well, according to the story, one of those baseball projectiles got its bearings and missed skulling a cop by six inches. The ballhawk predicts that by mid-June, there will be at least 20 headlines on pedestrians being hit with baseballs on Waveland and Sheffield.
If the ballhawks can see or catch the shots, the Trib has a better shot of hitting the brownstones across the street. Maybe taking out a window or two. Cause some collateral damage. Make the occupants fear for their lives. If Sammy Sosa has a Bonds-type year, maybe he can chip a hole in a building. Or better yet, knock one down.
The Trib imported lumber, bats, this season. So the plan was definitely to smash the neighbors with Titanic homers. They are even bringing back Dave Kingman this season, under the guise of singing in the seventh, but we now know he is there to shell the neighborhood during battling practice, just like in the good old days.
If enough people get hit, and enough windows get smashed, then the Trib could argue that the bleacher expansion is necessary as a matter of safety. The argument would be the Cubs need to increase the size of the ball park to keep homers from leaving it. It has a good siege notion to it. However, like in medieval times, those artillery batteries lobbed heavy stones, but they were no match for the archers sitting high atop the castle walls, whose arrows could pick them off hundreds of yards away.
THY KINGDOM COME
April 11, 2002
King Richard II made a proclamation of disgust against the Knights of the Tribune Tower. He was reacting to the Trib putting up tarps to block the view into Wrigley Field.
He buys the argument that the roof top owners are stealing the Tribune entertainment product, i.e. the viewing of a Cubs game. Richard II, a White Sox fan, jests that if that is true, then on his new Soldier Field project, he will have to put up a 1000 foot curtain so condominium owners on Lake Shore Drive cannot get a pair of binoculars and watch the Bears games for free.
He also wanted an investigation on how the fans on the rooftop could be stealing a view, if they could merely turn on a television set at home at watch the same product for free.
In the Kingdom of Chicago, public works projects are king. There is a lot of union contracts to be bid, millions in construction profits to be had, and full employment for the voting blocks the mayor needs to keep his job. The Tribune redevelopment of Wrigley is a private project, with private funds, that desires to take public property for private gain.
The bleacher expansion onto the public sidewalk is only one part of the dispute. The real crux of the Tribune ire is the redevelopment of a triangle next to the ballpark, at Waveland, Clark and Seminary, that is currently used for the players parking lot, a car wash and a small hotdog stand. The Tribune wanted to take this underdeveloped Bermuda Triangle next to its park and create a twelve month commercial center, parking lot, hall of fame and theme restaurant. The problem is that the land is basically a dormant city street, where an old streetcar line had been. It is not Tribune property, even though it is fenced in part of the land.
It can to the surprise of the executives, but it really should not have been so alarming. When the Tribune bought the place in 1981, the title records clearly excepted this parcel from Wrigley by noting that it was once owned by a streetcar company running a dissolved line on city streets. Normally, when a municipality has a dormant, vacated street that is not needed for a public way, it deeds the property back to adjoining property owners. But this was not done by the city.
In fact, the city may have its own plans for the space. The neighborhood businesses make more money, $20 a car, for parking rights on game days, than the average profit margin on their burgers or fries. Parking is a serious issue. And supply and demand has a hefty pricetag on parking near the ballpark. The city could easily erect the parking garage that the Trib wanted as a profit center.
It is the conflict of the ballpark inside vendors and the outside businesses. The Trib believes that Wrigley is the drawing card for the entire neighborhood, so all the patrons should eat, drink and be entertained within the walls of the park (i.e. the money should flow into the Trib coffers). The neighbors claim that they are in business 12 months of the year, and they have a better product than what is being force sold inside the monopoly walls of Wrigley. So if the Trib can expand its wares outside the brick walls of Wrigley, and into restaurant, bar and T-shirt sales mano-on-mano with the street vendors, there will be more money in the Trib piggy bank in September. It is not a matter of concessions in the diplomatic field, but concessions in the business field.
In the past, the changes to Wrigley have been made inside the ivy-covered brick walls. Inside, the owners have complete control of what happens to the charm, elegance and backdrop of their sport. (See, below, a 1938 view of Wrigley Field outfield before the last major overhaul.) Outside the vines, owners have to deal with people with a different agenda. In baseball, owners rarely play well with others.
It is about money and power. The two elements match, but at times don't work well together. It is how both sides are viewed by the general public that will decide the ultimate fate of the ballpark reconfiguration.
View of Wrigley Field, 1938
From the Chez Pablo Library Archives
THE AXIS OF EVIL
April 16, 2001
The Tribune has decided not to learn from history when it has started war on a second front.
In the past weeks, The Trib columnists have been berating the other members of the press about the coverage of the Wrigleyville War. The Trib writers have fallen into Prozac zombie lapdog mode. Their spleens bleed the company mantra that the rooftop neighbors are stealing a copyrighted product, the Cubs game. The Tribune is losing money by this theft of intellectual property. The city is being unfair about discussing with the neighborhood association on a private redevelopment plans that encroaches slightly on the public sidewalks. They feel slighted that no one quotes the neighborhood association that was organized by Trib management to balance the negative comments by long time community activists.
The Tribune then prints that the other news organizations, like the Chicago Sun-Times, who are covering this story cannot be trusted. Any Sun-Times columnist who have opined on the sorry state of the Cub PR nightmare is accused of being biased, wrong, misinformed, misleading or worse, untrustworthy. For shame.
Each Tribune article, in full and fair disclosure that ethics professors have preached in broadcast financial shows for years, has no ethical statement or disclaimer like this article is written by a writer who is being paid by the corporation who owns the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field which is the subject matter of this article. How trustworthy is a Tribune article on the subject when read by a non-sports fan about this issue?
It is not just the Sun-Times commentators. Television sportscasters and news programs have scoffed at the Tribune's stated positions. The Chicago Reader has written a perspective on the situation. Normal people talk about the constant missteps of the Cubs more than how many homers Sosa has hit. This is a snowballing story because it is a big story.
The storyline is simple. Can a large corporate bully bully its agenda through the city council without any community input? Anyone who does not preach the corporate line is a traitor, a fool, a malcontent. Which is apparently most of the city.
It is an interesting strategy to alienate the very people you want to spend $25/seat in your entertainment venue. The Tower suits must have spent thousands of overtime hours coming up with this battle plan.
The paranoia of losing the battle is getting to the Trib. Attacking the crosstown paper is a mistake. A big mistake since the Sun-Times has plenty of white space to fill with reaction stories.
The Trib burned down an ally bridge without thinking about it. The Sun-Times building is going to be a centerpiece of a massive redevelopment project. The owners have brought in Donald Trump to trump up some heavy PR for a new, large scale, multi-use, and potentially tallest building in the world, redevelopment on the river. But the S-T site has its own problems (an odd footprint), environmental concerns, and pro-active neighbors who don't like the idea of being engulfed by a huge eyesore, or blockage of a partial lake view. The Sun-Times probably would have backed the Trib in the long run, but now it has to cover its own back. The newspaper's reputation is at stake.
This town has not had an all-out newspaper war in a long time. It should provide a summer's worth of sniping, volleys and assaults.
THE RIVERMEN BATTLE
June 11, 2002
The Chicago River flows past both the Tribune Tower and the Sun-Times building. The buildings are within easy walking distance from each other. Each is within the range of an artillery cannon.
The first bloody escalation of the Wrigleyville took place between the foot soldiers of the Trib and the Sun-Times columnists.
In April, entertainment writer Roger Ebert turned into the debate of the Wrigleyville screens into a retrospective on the first lights at Wrigley debate of 1988. Ebert stated that 66 percent of the fans are against the screen but zero percent of the Trib writers are against it. He thought the Tribune coverage of the Cub issue all one-sided in favor of the parent corporation. He thought that some Trib writer would stand up to the boss like media icon Mike Royko used to when he worked at both papers.
Tribune writer Eric Zorn fired back at Ebert's assertion that the Trib writers were following the company policy in print. He stated that Royko had supported lights at Wrigley issue in his column.
Both writers were at each other's throats over the issue of what Royko's position was on lights at Wrigley. Each questioned the others integrity and corporate purse-strings influencing column writing.
Having a keen interest in the subject in 1988, I recall vividly my recollection of Royko's position on the lights issue while working for the Tribune. I coined the phrase that Royko has turned into "a lapdog for the Trib." My recollection was confirmed in the Chicago Reader, quoting an biography excerpt on Royko, that in 1984 he was against lights at Wrigley, but since he was now on the Trib payroll, he was a company man and now for lights at Wrigley.
The Tribune writers had been hawking the company line pretty hard: the Cub games are being stolen by the roof top owners; it is a matter of protecting the baseball product from misappropriation; its a security issue. But other media outlets scoff at the excuses for the screens. The volleys back and forth kept the real focus of the season, the Cubs pathetic slide down the standings, from the forefront. Until mid-May.
On May 13, 2002, Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti is in the Busch Stadium press box writing his column when the S-T beat reporter returns from the clubhouse to report that Cub pitcher Kerry Wood blew up at the state of the losing rah-rah pep talk. He assumed that Wood was referring to manager Don Baylor, who had been laid back and had been telling the press for weeks that the Cubs would play better next time, its a long season, we can come back in the next game. Listening to the actual tape, fans came to the same conclusion.
Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey ripped Mariotti's column. He said that Wood was not ripping the manager, but his team. Morrissey attacked Mariotti for not being there and taking secondhand internet information as truth. In essence, Mariotti thought, Morrissey was factual inaccurate on where he was and how he got his information; that he was being called a liar by the Tribune.
Wood began to backpedal in his statement, but that did not let up the newsprint fire. Mariotti's next two columns took shots at the Tribune.
The feud between the Trib and Sun-Times has been gathering steam for the past few years. The Trib has lost their top sports columnist, three of them, in a short time period. The section was in a disarray. The Sun-Times sports pages had more edge and columnists' name recognition and greater interest was apparent as that was the reason why many people were buying the paper in the first place.
In the black pitch news ink battles, it is clear that the barbs flew with venom across each news room and on to the sports pages. There was no decisive victor, but it is clear that the Tribune has not fared well in the forum of public opinion to date.
THE BATTLE FRONTS
August 17, 2002
The Summer of Discontent hit its boiling point Saturday afternoon, when the Cubs make a huge baserunning error just prior to a Sammy Sosa home run, took out Kerry Wood when he had a slim lead, and lost to the Diamondbacks 2-1. At the end of the game, the fans began to chant Strike! Strike! Fan discontent is only one battle front the Tribune has been fighting this year.
To say the maneuvers of the Tribune army has been sporadic and unfocused would be an understatement.
It began with the assault on the Wrigleyville neighbors by putting up a barrier screen under the guise of security. It was an attempt to attack the building owners across the street from selling rooftop skybox experiences of the ballpark that are in plain, public view. The Wrigleyville residents counterattacked the Trib plans for expanding the bleachers, taking the public sidewalks, and demand for more night games. The residents got the politicians on their side, including Mayor Daley, who last week said bluntly no to the massive gift list the Trib had wanted for Wrigley. The Trib had been using public property for decades without paying any rent. It is part of the expansion plan to make Wrigley a year round entertainment property, but the city said no, we are not giving away public land next to the field; pay us fair market rent to start.
But the Trib has been spending pennies like lifting manhole covers. The Trib will not want to pay rent for any expansion plans. The bean counters are mad that they cannot get a free ride like the White Sox at new Comiskey Park, or the super sweet Bear deal for the New Soldier Field.
An unhappy fan is a non-spending fan. An unhappy resident is a voter so the politics of the situation is the artillery on the hill bearing down on your position.
Fans come to the $24 bleacher seats to see Sammy Sosa run out to right field and hit giant home runs. Now Sosa is unhappy. The Cubs charter plane has had two emergency landings in the last month; so he won't fly with the team anymore. It reminds one of the movie Major League, when the cheap owner put the team on a broken down DC-3 in an attempt to make the team play worse to get concessions from the city. Are the Trib generals using that old script?
But an unhappy player is not ready to deal with the new labor struggle. The players average salary has skyrocketed because of a few teams, like the Yankees, have leveraged their local cable rights to $100 million windfalls. The Trib has never broken out its baseball revenue; it is hidden in the consolidated balance sheet under entertainment. So the players want more of the hidden treasure chest, but so does Bud Selig and the small market owners. Revenue sharing (or a soft salary cap, penalizing big market teams from signing marquee players) is a sneak attack at the Trib balance sheet in the minds of the board. The Cubs need one or two marquee players to keep the fans coming to the park. They have a crop of big money pitchers in a few years eligible for the big dollar pay day.
But the biggest army moving on the Trib Tower these days is the Internal Revenue Service. It claims that the Trib owes more than $600 million in unpaid taxes from the merger-acquisition of the Times-Mirror media conglomerate. The huge tax bill will wipe out the retained earnings for the Tribune, crush the stock price, and make the Wrigleyville drama a petty nuisance.
So the Tribune Tower is under siege from various militant groups. The castlelike structure can withstand a few volleys of bad publicity. But when the hard greenbacks stop coming in, or the IRS takes a huge bite out of the financial fortress, will the corporation have to sell its troublesome asset, the Cubs, to pay the taxman and pass the problems on to a new owner?
THREE MILLION WASHINGTONS
September 30, 2002
The conflict has morassed into simultaneous Pickett charges into a legal brick wall by both sides of the conflict.
The Tribune has made the demand that the roof top owners should pay $3 million a year for the privilege of peeking over the bleacher facade to watch the Cubs contests. The Cubs and the mayor's office claim that the rooftop owners are stealing the Tribune's product. This argument is false and misleading.
The Cubs play in a public park the game of baseball. If you can view from a legally permissible position the events within your view, this is not stealing. It is not an invasion of privacy because the Cubs know they can be seen from outside the walls of Wrigley. It has been that way for decades.
The situation is like a television station broadcasting a holiday parade. The parade promoter claims that the television station is stealing its product, the parade, without paying him for the privilege of viewing it. The television station counters by saying it is viewing the event. The promoter has no copyright protection on a live event because copyright law only protects a fixed, tangible medium of expression. The legal precedent is Production Contractors, Inc. v. WGN Continental Broadcasting Co., 622 F.Supp. 1500, where the court found that a parade, the live event, in itself, was not a work of authorship entitled to copyright protection, and copyright protection could only be afforded to videotaping, or tape delays so as not to prevent the live telecast of the event by the Tribune owned television station.
The Cubs game is not a scripted work of authorship. Season after season, some may compare it to the drama of the Titanic sinking, but the only product the Tribune could claim is the actual broadcast camera work, picture editing, script, play by play production as it is fixed after the event is seen by the live viewer. The rooftop patrons are not watching the creative work of the WGN camera crew but a live event like a parade. In the above case, the rooftop owners would be in the position of the victorious WGN.
The money demand of three million Washingtons is absurd. It equates to $34 per rooftop seat per game. This is MORE than the Cubs charge for their best box seats! The Tribune is trying to extract a high premium for the worst view of the game. Does that make any common sense?
The rooftop owners countered the Tribune proposal. They would be willing to pay $1 million per year for twenty years as a marketing fee where the Tribune would promote their rooftop operations. It would not be licensing fee to view the games, but it would be a backdoor contract to keep their view from being further obstructed by any ballpark renovation.
The Tribune does not want to co-brand the rooftop business. It wants to destroy it; make it unprofitable; it is a competitor for its unsold luxury boxes.
The rooftop owners have no legal right to a view into the adjoining property. Illinois has always rejected the doctrine of ancient lights. There is no legal right to the free flow of air or light from the adjoining land, so even though construction of a building may cause injury to a neighbor by cutting off light, air, television reception, or interfering with his view, even if the structure is erected in spite. People ex rel Hoogasian v. Sears, Roebuck & Company, 52 Ill.2d 301.
So the Tribune could build a double deck on the bleachers and cut off the rooftop views. Wrigley Field could revert to the old Tiger Stadium look of the short porch upper deck. But the Tribune does not want to spend that kind of remodel money on a new deck. Its stated intention was to add to the existing bleachers by encroaching (or taking) part of the public streets to add a 1,000 sunsoaking bleacher seats.
But the neighborhood does not want el track steel I-beams on their sidewalks; a potential place for bums, robbers and unsanitary public urinals. The Tribune had already appropriated part of Seminary Street for the players parking lot. The city now wants it back in rent, and the Tower accountants are unhappy. The pressure to make nickels from pennies is at an all-time high at the Trib Tower.
The posturing is getting more intense. But neither side can deliver a knock out punch because their strongest position has no legal standing to make the other side cave. Either side can throw around millions of dollars at this stage because it is just funny Monopoly game money.
NEW MANAGER, OLD MANAGEMENT
October 11, 2002
The Bruce Kimm Dynasty is over. Over? Did it ever begin?
Since the Tribune took full possession of the potted plant called the Cubs, the managers have been fired more than Lincoln with his Union generals. Since Lee Elia in 1982, 14 men have lead the team. The field generals littering the Wrigley Battlefield: Elia, Fox, Frey, Vukovich, Michaels, Lucchesi, Zimmer, Altobelli, Essian, Lefebvre, Trebelhorn, Riggleman, Baylor and Kimm. There have been 52 managers since 1876, and only 19 teams have finished with a winning record. Since 1960, 5 of 26 managers had a .500 or better season.
For a good general to succeed in a close battle, reinforcements or a surprise calvary charge tend to turn the battle. But the Trib has flanked so much lately, it has made a full circle of futility.
The neighborhood has created a stalemate. The troops are dug in for the long haul. Mayor Daley needs more money in this deep recession or he will lay off more patronage workers. The Trib does not want to pay for Seminary Street parking. The rooftops don't want to pay license fees for something they can watch for free if they put a portable television set on their roofs.
The Trib tossed two trial balloons recently to test the front lines. First, it would not tie any community donations for crime prevention or clean-up with the settlement of the rooftop business issue. Everyone yawned in disbelief. Second, it was reported that the infamous security bleacher tarps would not be up next season. But it got no one out of the trenches jumping for joy.
To make matters worse, the Tribune got hit with a class action lawsuit. It was another flank attack to its integrity. The Trib is being sued for illegally scalping their own unsold tickets for more than face value, a violation of an Illinois statute. Now, the Tribune premium tickets were sold through a different corporation, but it appears that the Trib director of marketing is a corporate honcho and manager in the other company. It is either a subsidiary or an affiliate, according to the suit, so appearances will be stripped down to substance.
The Tribune is trying to squeeze every nickel out of the franchise. But for every attempt to squeeze a little more revenue, it keeps shooting itself in the foot with a cannonball of legal iron. So the only other way to boost the bottom line is to hire a low cost, no-name manager, and ride next season through the sunshine or field of dreams like group tour buses from Iowa.
Bud Selig, Commissar of Baseball, just finished firing his daughter as operating owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. She was replaced by Bud's attorneys. A former partner of that firm is counsel to MLB. The entire league is slowly turning into a old fashion Soviet five-year macro-economic plan. Bud is running two franchises, brow beating other owners into paying him small market competition taxes; but he can't get Fox to televise a playoff game in prime time on the normal network. Fans were lost to track down a game on Fox Family, FX or some other outlet.
Since baseball is getting very socialistic with its revenue sharing, and commissioner's office taking control of most operating aspects of the game and the teams, the Tribune should cash in on exiting Governor Ryan's trade mission to Cuba and hire an appropriate new field general for the Cubs. A real general for a change.
Fidel Castro would be an excellent choice. Spring training being moved to Havana would save the Tribune millions. The general manager would have an inside track on all the Cuban players. Fidel speaks Spanish so he will not need an interpreter on the mound when he wants to yank a sorry-armed relief pitcher. If you don't perform for him, instead of sending you to the minors, he will ship you off to a dank prison or a sugar cane collective. I bet that was not covered in the last collective bargaining agreement.
Besides, Castro runs his country on a parallel track of the Cubs. What was good in the 1950s is still fine today.
November 9, 2002
World Series Manager Dusty Baker allegedly had tax problems when he was with the Giants. The Tribune Corporation has tax problems dealing with the merger with Times-Mirror. The Cubs are trying to lure Baker to manage the ballclub. At least they have something in common.
Baker made it to the World Series.
The problem is that he LOST. To the Angels. Maybe Baker and the Cubs have more in common than just the taxman.
There is an old farmer's saying: if you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig. Cub management is trying to dress up the Cub franchise with a big money, big name, big time manager to dress up the woeful Cub franchise record. If the Cubs are willing to spend $4 million per season on an average manager, but nickel and dime their fans to death, what's wrong?
It is probably another PR cannon shot. All smoke, no substance. The Cubs will interview Dusty, then somehow refuse to get into a bidding war with Seattle. They can tell their fans, Hey, we went after a great manager, but he signed elsewhere. It is the same tag-day line the organization uses when big name free agents skip the friendly confines.
The rumor had it that the Cubs were going to sign Baker and then announce an increase in ticket prices. Another attempt to sugar coat bad news with good news. But the Cubs would not raise ticket prices just to pay the huge bump in salary for a Baker-like skipper. No, there are plenty of minor league managers who will bite at the chance to manage in the big league for one tenth of a Baker salary. Look for the Cubs to sign a minor leaguer or a bench coach and raise ticket prices.
Redrafting the bleacher renovations costs money. Another round of post-season filibustering has concluded with no movement from any side. The landmark commission has held off on designating Wrigley Field an historic landmark. Such a designation would mean no structural changes to the ball park, something the Trib opposes. The Trib submitted new information on how only four new rows of bleachers would not affect the overall impression of the ball yard. But community groups still oppose any expansion onto the public sidewalk.
It would seem petty for the Trib to keep pushing adding four rows of bleacher seats, maybe at best a thousand to the attendance capacity, unless one sees the Light. The Light means many things: more night games and more revenue.
Tribune wants more night games to cater to the high priced corporate suites. The Tribune needs to maximize the profits from Wrigley since the concept of Cub games as cheap programming for WGN has been lost since WGN is now part of a second tier national network.
But the real Light at the End of the Revenue Tunnel is premium prices. The Tribune, via technology enhancement of their own on-line ticket scalping and reselling tickets to their own owned ticket broker, will begin to charge whatever the market will bear for each individual seat. The Cubs will play the Yankees next season. It has been as rare as a World Series to have the two big city teams play. The Trib will sell those game tickets at premium prices-- whatever the market will bear.
The airline industry has this multi-ticket pricing on their planes. Each plane is loaded with widely varying prices per seat. If someone needs to get to Point B, charge them $1000; while the person next to Mr. Needy may only spend $500. The variable pricing, based on demand and timing, in theory, was to allow airlines to maximize the amount of revenue per trip. But they could not fill the seats regularly so empty seats were costing them money. Then travel web sites began auctioning off at deep discounts to fill the overcapacity. Even with such a pricing plans, the airlines were still losing money. The system is too complex to adequately gauge supply and demand. Then there is the little irony that passenger A will talk to passenger B and find out that he is paying double what passenger B is paying for the same class seat; it builds resentment in your client base. Patrons do not want to feel like they have been ripped off.
One airline that keeps to flat rates for all seats is Southwest. And Southwest, no frills or gimmicks, continues to make money. Passengers are loyal to Southwest. Cub fans are as loyal as fans get, but only to a point.
The Cubs $24 bleacher tickets could fetch $50 for a Yankee game, so the Cubs don't want to lose the chance to soak someone willing to pay double. A bean counter seeing another thousand seats at premium prices for the entire season sees a second mountain of greenbacks. Greenbacks to pay a big money manager like Baker, or new found revenue for the boys in the Tower? It would test the loyalty of Cub fans to the Point of No Return which is in direct conflict with management's mantra of increasing its rate of return on the Cub product.
November 25, 2002
Two wrongs do not make a Right. Except in the odd world of business fear.
The rooftop business owners have allegedly changed their bargaining position by offering to pay the Tribune $14 per seat. The Cubs want a higher license fee. However, the rooftop owners do not want it called a license fee. The reason is simple. A license fee infers that one is granted permission by the owner to view or participate in an event. A ticket into Wrigley Field is a license to enter the park to view a ballgame on a stated date. A license would be a concession to the Tribune that the roofers have wrongfully taking the Cub product or that the Trib is entitled to a fee from anyone viewing the game outside the ballpark. Further, if the Tribune gets a license fee, and the rooftop businesses need a license to view a Cub game, the Tribune could revoke the license in the future. A legal way to eliminate the skybox competition.
It would be bad precedent if the Tribune's license fee prevails over current logic. The Tribune's bargaining position has not legally changed but politically, the rumor of a deal for bleacher expansion with city hall may have caved the business owners into seeking a long term deal with the Trib than fighting it out in circuit court. The mayor and the Tower have come to some preliminary grounds on landmark preservation of Wrigley Field while allowing the Trib to expand the bleachers to add several rows of seats (which would need a easement to use the public sidewalk for structural supports and air rights over the street.)
The hardliners in the trenches would still have enough ammo to make a long, ugly, political battle. The rooftop viewers have the legal right to view into Wrigley Field without paying the Tribune a license fee. The Tribune has a right to use its property, per reasonable zoning and building requirements, to reconfigure the bleachers to obstruct any rooftop bleacher view. And the rooftop owners have no rights to air, sun or the view, would be out of luck.
So, if the rootoppers are concerned that the city will compromise the expansion request in exchange for the Tribune landmarking the ivy wall and huge outfield scoreboard, then there is no stopping the Tribune's architects from stuffing a skybox filled bleacher sombrero like the new Soldier Field. The original columns of Soldier Field are now dwarfed under the new steel and glass brim of a modern looking nightmare, single use football preserve.
The rooftoppers want any compensation to be called a marketing fee and not a license fee. It does not matter what it is called, but if they have to collect ticket prices for the Tribune, they have lost their battle and ultimate control over their long term business futures. For if they concede anything, there is no guarantee that the Tribune will not box them out of the picture in the future renovation of Wrigley Field. One must remember that the Tribune does not view itself of a custodian of a baseball landmark but as the owner of a piece of real estate that needs to make a profit.
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIEFCASE BRIGADE
December 18, 2002
The ceasefire and negotiated settlement talks lasted less than two days last month. The question of the term licensing fees killed the deal with the rooftop owners. This week the city's landmark commission decided to start their ball rolling on landmark status of Wrigley Field, which would derail any effort of the Tribune to change the appearance of the ballpark.
So the Tribune has decided to do what large corporations do often in our society today, blitzkrieg the opponent in an army of corporate litigation lawyers. The main attack is a charge into federal court. The Cubs have sued the rooftop owners alleging that the roofers have violated their copyright and are unfairly competing with the club for ticket sales for the games.
The tactic is old. Bury a small opponent in mounting legal bills with lengthy court motions, discovery, depositions and hearings. A small opponent without a deep cash reserve could collapse, quit or settle for unfavorable terms.
But the rooftop owners have millions of dollars at stake. They are organized, defiant and wealthy. They can employ enough legal firepower to counter this first Trib assault.
For the Trib continues to miss the point. This is not a legal case of misappropriation of property rights, but a political-public relations battle over property use under zoning laws that make restrictions for the public health, safety and welfare.
The Tribune's lawsuit seeks compensatory damages, the defendant's profits, and an injunction against the building owners from selling or marketing the Cubs without the team's permission. In other words, totally shut down the rooftop businesses. It is seeking to ask a judge to shut down businesses because they collaterally profit from the Wrigley Field experience.
The Tribune expects and hopes for a long, bloody battle with its neighbors, but it may be short lived. The defendants will probably seek an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit on the basis that the Tribune has no legal basis for any relief. And the precedent is clearly in favor of the rooftoppers.
In 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Second Circuit, in NBA v. Motorola, dealt with similar property issues when Motorola's partners began sending real time data on the progress of NBA games to its subscribers. The NBA claimed copyright infringement and misappropriation of its product, the basketball event. However, the federal court threw out those claims. The Court held that sporting events do not fall within the subject matter of copyright protection because they do not constitute original works of authorship. Athletic events are not copyrightable. The NBA claimed that its products, producing games for live attendance and licensing the games for broadcast, were being harmed by the paging company's real time stats of the game in progress. The Court took a cue from the NFL v. Delaware Lottery case, wherein it stated While courts have recognized one has a right to one's own harvest, this proposition has not been construed to preclude others from profiting from the demands for collateral services generated by the success of one's own business venture. It cited charter bus companies that bring fans to the game, or peanut vendors outside the stadium, that collaterally and are legally entitled to benefit from the sporting event. The Court concluded that Congress when it enacted the copyright laws intended that the underlying event is in the public domain.
For months the Tribune and its writers have been drumbeating the line that the rooftop owners have been stealing the Cub product. What is the Cub product? Sunshine and day baseball? People watching in the bleachers? The largest beer garden in the city? A professional athletic contest between lovable losers and a visiting squad? The illogic of the Cub position would be that it owns the sunshine? day baseball? people watching? selling beer? An obstructed rooftop view of a game which is in the public domain is not unfair competition with the Cubs sales of box seats, bleacher seats or luxury skyboxes. Watching a game from outside Wrigley Field is not the same as watching the game from inside.
Cubs management is upset that the rooftop owners are making money selling groups a place to party around a Cub game. Well, if ten friends get together at the Billy Goat to watch a game, and drink a few beers, is the Tribune losing a group sale? Why is not the Trib then suing the Billy Goat Tavern for allowing groups of Cub fans to party during a game? The bottom line is that the rooftops are a magnet, an excuse, a destination, for people to get together. There is little correlation between the rooftops and the Cub skyboxes. The greatest difference is that Cub skyboxes are INSIDE the park and have panoramic views of the entire field. A rooftop has a limited, voyeur OUTSIDE the park view of only part of the field.
And why stop there? Should the Tribune seek to enjoin the Sun-Times from writing about Cubs games because the S-T would be profiting off Cubs games by stealing readers from the Tribune sports page?
The Tribune cannot wrap up its Cubbies in a corporate shell. It is a matter in public domain. It can't control every single aspect of Cubdom. It can't squeeze every penny from any tangent associated with the Cubs. Management cries foul, but this is life and life is not fair.
The Tribune is playing like its beloved Cubs. It already has two strikes when it is approaching the plate. One strike with the neighborhood and another strike with the city. And the Trib has yet to get a piece of any fastball thrown its way to date.
Andy McPhail said They (rooftop owners) do nothing to contribute to our efforts to put a winning team on the field. The free ride is over. First, the neighbors have no obligation to support the Cubs. Second, the Cubs rarely put a winning team on the field. Third, the Tribune has had a free ride since purchasing the club from the Wrigley estate-- a cheap programming product for its flagship superstation for decades -- an bringing in almost three million in ticket sales each season. Such ticket sales are the envy of its peers, but again, it is not enough.
THEN THEY WOULD BE GIANTS
February 18, 2003
Dusty Baker hit the Cub Convention with a smile on his face. He was out of a job in less than fifteen minutes after feuding with San Francisco ownership before and after the World Series. Now, he got a raise and the job with little downside. The Cubs have not won a World Series in nearly a century. Just getting above .500 is success in the minds of the Tribune, if Wrigley Field is filled with beer-swilling yuppies. Amazing good fortune if the Cubs get into the play-offs (that means post-season beer-swilling yuppies at higher prices). Baker cost the Cubs $14.5 million. The Cubs want to get an instant return on this good fan goodwill.
So the Tribune has imposed premium pricing for the good games. Like when the New York Yankees come to town. The last time that occurred, we think Babe Ruth was calling his center field home run shot in the World Series. So instead of rewarding fans with the Yankees as part of the season ticket package, you have to pay extra to see that series. The Tribune refuses to call it a ticket raise, or additional revenue. The Tribune refuses to acknowledge its own ticket brokering operation to further maximize ticket revenue. This is clearly the signals of a company squeezing every single dime out of the Wrigley Field experience.
Baker will run the Cubs as the Giants, it will be a long season. Baker has a short fuse with rookies and young players; he prefers veterans. He allows the players to run the clubhouse; he thinks that they are old-school professionals. Well, he is wrong. The modern athlete is not old-school; he is an instant millionaire kid who has not grown up. He is not playing for the love of the game as much as the love of the paycheck. They are spoiled, self-centered, arrogant and easily set on cruise control since they are not bound to be cut, traded or demoted to Iowa.
The Cubs have loaded the roster with off-season Baker-hires: older players that are on the decline: a 39 year old relief pitcher, a 36 year old relief pitcher, a journeyman pitcher who had an ERA higher than the S&P 500, and back-up infielders from LA who will probably impede the development of the Cubs young right side of the infield. Baker does not handle his pitching staff well, and that is where the season may fall a part quickly. The young guns (Wood, Pryor, Clement, Zambrano) will have to get deep innings early because the old men in the bullpen will be ice cold in the April-May chill of Chicago late winter. They will also have to have career starting success since the Cub lineup is weak. There is only one bat in the line-up: Sammy Sosa. After that, the lineup is a mess. No real lead-off hitter, no clutch hitting contact hitter in the second slot, no clean up hitter, no RBI man in the fifth hole, and the bottom of the lineup is weak hitting strike-out prone position players.
The management was accused again in the press recently that the Tribune is more concerned with the dispute with the rooftop owners than fielding a competitive team. There was no blockbuster free agent signing or trade during the hot stove league. In fact, the White Sox pulled off the Big Deal in getting 20 game winner Bartolo Colon for little in exchange. The Sox are allegedly hamstrung with a small market mentality in managing its baseball operations (sweetheart public lease deals aside). However, it appears that the Cubs are using the same small market business plan (exchange salary for salary, don't add to payroll, increase ticket prices, squeeze dimes from the fans).
The only thing the marketing department can pump up is that Baker was the Giant manager who lead the team to the World Series. But are fans so gullible not to remember that his team LOST that Series when it should have won it? And that they lost the prize to the Bad News Angels, another media-owned team that has been for sale for more than a year?
SEIZE THE LAND
April 4, 2003
The foundation for America's wealth is under our collective feet. Land. It is the most valuable form of property because each piece is unique and finite. In feudal Europe, average peasants could not own the land in their agricultural based society. They could possibly rent a section at extremely high rates plus a cut of the crop yield. The land was the source of substance . . . food, power, territory and defense. A man was king in castle, if his castle was big enough, strong enough and located in a defensible place.
The progress in land ownership evolved slowly. The concept of livery of seizen was the means of transferring land from one person to another. It was a basic tenement of the worth of the property and personal preservation. A person would gather up the neighbors, and plop a clod of sod into the new owner's hand in order to transfer his stake in the land. It is yours now, it is up to you defend it. It was a literal statement because any lord, noble, greedy knight, or Viking horde could come along and take it from you.
Today, one can be assaulted by bands of lawyers, accountants, and consultants in a blizzard of paper cuts, twisted logic and rolling dice in the court system. It is very rare that one can have total control in his own hands.
Until Mayor Daley snapped this week. He had an out-of-the mind press conference after the middle of the night stormtrooping construction gangs with police escort seized Meigs Field, the lakefront airport. The runways were torn up, the access road blocked, and 16 private aircraft captured.
Now, the Meigs Field operation has been a thorn in the Mayor's side for years. He wanted it closed, and fought with Republican governors to shut it down. He wants to make the island into a park. He wants to spend money to plant things that will be whipped by the lake waves, unobstructed winter winds, and blistering sunny summers. No matter that the city is on the verge of budgetary crisis, and Meigs actually generates revenue, and business (especially for those conventioneers the Mayor covens) who like to fly into Chicago's little airport gem. The excuse that this was in response to 9-11, a security threat, was universally dismissed and dissed. This was an arrogant power play. Today, a local judge enjoined the mayor from doing anymore damage to the property until a pilot's group can argue its case for keeping the airport open.
It is also interesting that this week the Tribune waved a white flag in the landmark battle with the city over Wrigley Field. At committee hearings, the Trib bemoaned the fact that any landmark status would interfere with the economic viability of the ball club. Bud Sealegs Selig came to town and announced that granting Wrigley landmark status would cause the demise of the team. It was the classic Vietnam era argument that we had to burn down the village to save it. The Tribune management hinted that interference with their expansion plans could cause them to rethink keeping the Cubs at Wrigley. This excuse was roundly dismissed and dissed. The Trib was throwing its editorial weight around with an idle threat to leave the one baseball gold mine still operating in the country. Who else can guarantee nearly 3 million turnstyle visitors a year, with or without a good team playing on the field?
So after Mayor Daley blitzkrieged Meigs Field, the Tribune conceded in city council committee hearings that landmarking or preserving certain elements of the park, like the ivy and scoreboard, and facade, would be okay. But the Cubs brass still are hinting that blockage of expansion plans by the neighborhood could lead to drastic changes. It may just be posturing to cut the final expansion deal, but who knows if the Tribune has not already put feelers out on selling the team, or buying options for land near a railroad line in the western suburbs with blueprints to build a new, luxury box stuffed, retro ball yard. Remember, the mayor is still has legal title to Seminary Street, which runs down the middle of the Cubs players parking lot. And the Mayor has bulldozers on beck and call. One wonders if the mayor, a Sox fan, would some day pull the trigger and reclaim Seminary like he did Meigs. An event like that could really push the Tribune to the edge.
May 15, 2003
When Bill Veeck owned the Chicago White Sox, he had a simple philosophy. The baseball game was the most important thing, the stunts were secondary to the main event. He felt that he needed to reach out to all baseball fans, young, old, employed, retired, because baseball fans have no economic status. He may have had giveaways, discount coupons from vendors, but he never reduced ticket prices from face value. So he had good seats at good prices, and fair seats at fair prices. His fans knew the seating scales and the logic behind the price difference in box seats and upper deck reserved. They knew Veeck would treat everyone the same once they entered the ballyard. That built loyalty. He believed if you discounted the ticket price, you intentionally devalued your product in the minds of the fans.
The Tribune has tacked across the centerline of the owner-fan highway. Instead of maintaining a real value on their ticket pricing, the Tribune has set out to three-tier pricing tickets (higher face value for better games, like the rare series with the Yankees this summer). But charging $45 for a $30 seat is not enough premium mark-up. The Trib created its own ticket broker to scalp those $45 tickets for $1500!
There are two immediate problems with this scheme. One, in Illinois, the Ticket Scalping Act prohibits a promoter from selling tickets above the face value of the ticket. The Tribune claims its brokerage unit is a separate legal corporation, and it is selling the tickets. But does not the unit's income get put into the consolidated financial statements in Trib Tower? The matter is in the circuit court. The Tribune lost its argument to deny the plaintiffs class action status. The Trib said its brokerage service only sold approximately 4,000 tickets last season, a small fractional percentile of available seats of more than 3 million. No harm, no foul. But class action status hurts since it allows the plaintiffs' lawyers to ask for attorneys fees as part of an award. The statutory penalty calculates to approximately $400,000 if plaintiffs prevail. It seems like an insignificant sum to a billion dollar corporation.
But the second problem is outside the courtroom, and rarely discussed in public. Bud Selig is too busy faxing angry memos to owners who refuse to pay heed to his minority interviewing procedures to notice what the Tribune's ticket scalping would do to baseball (owners). The teams split the ticket gate on per game basis. If the Tribune is taking a $45 ticket but really selling it for $1500, the Cubs owner is pocketing $1455 outside the gate revenue pool. The Yankees would not share in the extra $1455. Is that fair to George Steinbrenner, who has overspent by millions to bring in the vaulted Yanks to Chicago, so the Trib can profit from pin-stripe status of Yanks? I thought Selig was all for revenue sharing. This plan seems to be an avenue to short-change the visiting team from the real gate receipts. The other baseball owners should be madder than those plaintiffs.
Remember, it is the Tribune who has accused the rooftop owners of stealing their product, the game, with seats generating revenue outside Wrigley. One could argue with the brokerage scalping scheme, the Tribune is hoarding the revenue generated from seats inside Wrigley to the detriment of the visiting ball clubs.
June 20, 2003
Memorial Day, 2003. Holiday. Big crowds. Perfect blue sky. Lowly, weak sister small market team in town. People should have been hanging off the roofs, upper deck, ramps, and skyboxes at Wrigley.
But half of the rooftop bleachers were empty.
One would have expected that a holiday would hold the last long weekend day's attention of the masses, especially when Kerry Wood was the Cub starter. It appeared that the rooftop operators might have taken the weekend off. Walk away from a bonzai cash weekend??
The box seats were empty in spots, but the were already sold. The final in house attendance was announced at more than 40,000. That means the ramps, fences, aisles and walkways were standing room only. A season record crowd for the Tribune mothership.
But the talk in the box seats was about seating for the Yankee-Cub series. The New York Yanks had not been to Wrigley since the 1938 World Series. The Cubs have never beaten the Bronx bombers. Ever. So the chatter during this Pirate contest from the great eye-level box seats were about the location of the rooftop party seats for that series. Wood was firing a one-hitter on a crystal clear afternoon, but the topic of conversation was who was going to the Yankee series.
Bill Veeck when he owned the Indians and White Sox used to say that an American League ballclub could survive a season with the revenue generated from the Yankee series. The rest of the home series were gravy by comparison to the meat of the draw the New Yorkers had through the historic mystic of the team of lasting superstars: Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle. The New Yorkers were always treated like barnstorming wizards since the turn of the last century. With an owner who spends money like a drunken sailor, but expects to win every year, this is a totally different organization than most of the hinterland teams. The contrast in organizational might is to a lesser extent with the media-monied Cubs verus the lowly, small market Pirates.
Dusty Baker takes out Wood, and the Cubs collapse. The team gives up eight runs late in the game, and it is over. The dark cloud over Wrigley's clear blue sky is the continuing problem that the team consistently loses to teams that they should be able to beat.
The Yankee series was everything the hype said it would be. The climax was the Kerry Wood-Roger Clemens pitching duel. The Cubs won the series, and by doing so, took a historic monkey off their back. The Cubs won the first two games in their history against the New Yorkers. And it gave them the confidence that they can compete with the elite clubs between the chalk lines. Veeck would have been overwhelmed by the such a mega turnstyle count, even though the paid attendance inside the ball park was less than the Memorial Day announced crowd.
The Trib's ticket brokerage was scalping box tickets for $1500; little takers at that price. The street price for good seats at game time was as low as $150. A sports talk show host enquired to how the Cubs book their profit when they sell to themselves tickets, some that get returned from their own broker for resale day-of game. Sounds like a round-trip transaction from last year's financial pages.
But the money counters would not be that focused at the gate. No, the eye on the corporate prize was being decided in Washington, D.C. The Federal Communications Commission relaxed the cross media ownership rules. The biggest benefactor for allowing a company to own television, radio and newspapers in one market is the Trib. Under the old rules, it would have had to divest itself of some media properties in Los Angeles that it acquired in the Chandler estate deal. Under the new rules, the Trib gets to keep the second largest TV market, the number one paper in town, and gets free reign to add more media properties. Ahoy, the Pirates have really set sail.
July 30, 2003
The Tribune is running a reader contest these days. It is called Total Wrigley. The lucky winner will have an opportunity to take batting practice, sit in the dugout, get a tour of the facility, and have a unique fan access to the ballpark. The entry blank is contained in the newspaper. The Trib is leveraging its popular ballpark to sell more papers.
Last evening, the Tribune's new advice columnist, Amy Dickinson, was introduced as the Harry Carey 7th inning stretch singer. She gave herself a free promotional plug of her new advice column, then went on the butcher Take me out to the Ball Game. Root root root for the home team (instead of the Cubbies?) Did she even know who was playing?
She went into the WGN TV booth to again promote her new Tribune column to a national audience. During these cross-media Trib outlets, she admitted that it was her first visit to Wrigley. And that she had eaten two hot sausages. Huh, asked sports radio talkers today. We call them hot dogs or polish, not hot sausages. Where was she coming from? (The answer: DC/The Washington Post).
It had the smell of force feeding the viewer with fish-wrapped Tribune fodder. The tangled web of cross media ownership, and the ownership of the team, the venue and the event, came into full metal solicitation on national television. It was an embarrassment. It seemed forced. It was forced. Forced cross-marketing synergy that consultants have been selling for years.
The Tribune broadcasters went overboard in their praise of the stranger, the new employee at the Tower. If the keeper of the news loses all objectively covering a simple event like a Cubs game intermission, what does that say about covering other events, like the news of the day. If one claims that this little promotional event was a mere diversion from the action, captive selling of an-in house product is an unwanted intrusion into the sportscast.
It will not stop. It is free. It is cheap to slot more Tribune talent into other programs to promote other Tribune media properties. Wrigley Field may turn into the background stage for sending up more Tribune cross-promotions. It is undisputed that the public loves Wrigley Field. If they like Wrigley, they may like this other Tribune property or person. So the logic goes in this new era of Total Wrigley.
August 15, 2003
A bench trial began in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois this week. The Plaintiffs representing baseball fans are suing the Chicago Tribune and a ticket brokering service called Wrigley Field Premium Tickets, Inc. The lawsuit has been pending less than a year. It alleges that that Wrigley Field Premium Tickets violates Illinois anti-ticket scalping laws because it receives tickets directly from the Chicago Cubs that are not available to the public at face value and that it is wholly owned and/or controlled by the Cubs and its parent corporation.
In October, 2002 the Chicago Tribune wrote that the Plaintiffs were the involved in the rooftop owners dispute over the proposed expansion of Wrigley Field. Plaintiffs attorneys denied any connection between the two issues. The article reported that Cubs officials set up this service by pulling the clubs VIP tickets which are not regularly available to the public, and selling them at a markup like any other ticket broker.
The law prohibits an event promoter from selling tickets over face value for their own event. The Cubs said that Premium is a separate corporation, so the Cubs are not the ones who are marking up the ticket prices.
Not much more has been written on the subject by the Tribune. The newspaper coverage has been centered at the Chicago Sun-Times, and columnist Greg Couch. In April, 2003, he reported that the fans were angry with the concept of waiting in the harsh winter cold to get tickets at face value, only to be told the games they wanted were sold out. However, it was not true since the Cubs withhold blocks of tickets for the club's own use, and for the past few seasons, sending them to their ticket brokering company. In May, 2003, he reported that another victim of this ticket-scheme would be the other owners of major league baseball clubs, who are supposed to share ticket revenue. He also wrote that there was no clear explanation of where Premium was receiving their tickets, from what mysterious pool of held-back game tickets. Season ticket holders used to have the option to buy unused tickets at face value, so apparently, those tickets are no longer offered to them, but instead to Premium, who could resell them to the season ticket holder for a large premium.
Baseball Prospectus on May 22, 2003 recapped the folly in the Cubs position on the ticket brokerage business plan. The Cubs stated that Premium is good competition to the other ticket brokers. It is giving the fans lower prices for premium games. However, if Premium does not sell its ticket supply, those tickets are not sold by the broker for any price (or less on game day at a loss), they are returned to the Cubs to resell or use so those tickets never get to street sales. An independent ticket broker buys tickets at face value from the club. Then that broker is at risk to resell those tickets for more than face value. If not, then the broker eats the price of the ticket against how much he can sell it for to customers. An independent ticket broker needs to carefully gauge supply and demand in order to make a reasonable profit in the actual marketplace. Premium has none of those concerns, because the club takes the tickets back so there is no marketplace loss for the in-house ticket service.
The Cubs/Premium's defense is that Premium is a separate corporation from the baseball team. A corporate charter is like a birth certificate. It creates a new legal entity. But it has to have parents in order to be created. Those incorporators, initial shareholders, directors and officers run, manage and control this new legal entity. This parent-child relationship is akin to a normal parent-child relationship if the real parent is another corporation. Until the child is fully developed and independent (emancipate), the parent nutures its child. If the same persons are officers, directors, owners of both corporations, then one can argue that there is only one in the same business enterprise. If a person acts as a single business enterprise, it can be considered a single business enterprise.
It has lead others to scratch their heads in wonder. A columnist for the Ohio Beacon Journal in July, 2003 could not fathom that the Tribune/Cubs/Premium would be losing money scalping tickets to Cubs games. A projected million dollar a season revenue for Premium is generating a loss?
That would lead to two simple questions. First, what are the large expenses that would eat a million or so dollars a season in running ticket brokerage business? Second, if it is truly running a loss, then why would the Cubs continue to run such an enterprise?
Now, the Major League Players Association have always alleged that major league baseball owners have two sets of books. One for the labor-collective bargaining contract sessions. One for their tax-accountants and the IRS. When major media companies like the Tribune began to acquire teams, there was an immediate concern that the baseball operations would not fully report the revenue, especially local media rights, to the players. In a tangled web of corporations, sub-corporations, divisions hiring other divisions for services, affiliated business contracts, a troop of accountants can hide revenue or increase the paper trail of expenses to generate losses or increase revenue or decrease expenses depending upon what the client wants the end result to be told to the public. The great accounting scandals of the last few years center around the reliability of accounting statements and the basic truth: how much money did you really earn from your business operations?
Massaging the books. We have all heard that term of art employed by businessmen. CEOs for the past decade were so concerned about meeting stock analyst estimated quarterly earnings that there was a growing explosion of single-item recognition to meet their numbers.
Credibility. That is the crux of the issue. A Cubs vice president testifies that he may be an officer of Premium. There is testimony that Premium is a separate business, but it hires the Tribune accounting department to do its bookkeeping, that it rents space from the Tribune, and the Cubs told their ticket manager to sell certain tickets directly to Premium. That when all those internal Tribune charges are taken into account, Premium is running at a loss. But that loss apparently is consolidated into the final Tribune balance sheet along with the baseball team.
Even if the Cubs-Tribune prevail on the legal technicality that Premium is a separate legal entity, that it has met the legal requirements of being a legal corporation, this trial is not over.
Because the other baseball owners will be livid by the prospect that the Cubs have been shorting the other clubs from their revenue sharing from ticket sales. In the other owners minds, whether the game tickets are sold by the box office or Premium, the money is banked in a Tribune account. Follow the money trail, that was another term of art employed by the journalist community to find the truth behind the storyline. It will be employed by MLB to determine how much money Bud Selig's poor-mouth, small market teams are due. It will employed by the big market teams like the Yankees, who pay a luxury payroll tax, but should also should share in the actual revenues all clubs make on the game.
SEPTEMBER 5, 2003
The dog days of August are over for Chicago Baseball purists. For the first time since 1907, both the Cubs and the White Sox were together this close to first place in their respective league/divisions.
1907? For North Siders, there is still a twinkle in their eye when harking back to 1907. Managed by Frank Chance, the team first baseman, this team had the legendary Tinker to Evers to Chance doubleplay combination. The Cubs record that season was 107-45, first in the National League. The club leader in home runs that season was Johnny Evers and outfielder Frank Schulte, who each hit a whopping two (2) round trippers! Like today's club, it was pitching that dominated the season. The team ERA was 1.73. Orval Overall (23 wins), Mordecai Brown (20), Carl Lundgren (18) and Ed Reulbach (17) were the top starters, and Jack Pfiester lead the team with an ERA of 1.15 to go along with his 14 wins.
The White Sox finished third, with a record of 87-64. The Sox pitching staff was not as deep as the Cubs, but they had three tremendous starters: Doc White (27 wins) Ed Walsh (24 wins), and Frank Smith (23 wins).
The Sox did outdraw the Cubs that season in attendance, 666,307 to 422,550. The Cubs were playing in the West Side Park II also known as the West Side Grounds. It had a capacity of 16,000. The field dimensions were left field (340 ft) center field (560 ft) and right field (316 ft). Fans stood/sat in the outfield grass in lieu of physical bleachers back then.
With success, and popularity, meant a move to bigger quarters. Wrigley Field was opened in 1914 as Weeghman Park, for the Federal League Chicago Whales, who played in the confines from 1914-1915. When the Cubs first occupied the park, its capacity was expanded to 18,000. The Frank Chance Plaque was dedicated in 1938 with a handshake between the formerly feuding Joe Tinker and Johnny Evers.
It would seem that in baseball, old wounds heal slowly. During this summer, the pounding side issues that could side track the actual baseball games (the scalping ticket suit, the rooftop feud, the Trib IRS audit, the Wrigley Field expansion, neighborhood night game problems, and the Sosa corked bat) remain open and bleeding.
The new alderman has been working the sidelines trying to get the Cubs 12 additional night games in exchange for an undisclosed amount of money to fund the neighbors complaints about night games (security, vandalism, public urination, etc.) The more things come to the forefront, the more they stay the same.
One can recall 1907 in terms of Cub baseball nirvana. In retrospect, 1907 was an interesting year for America. Things we take for granted were big news. In May, a Bubonic plague outbreak begins in San Francisco, California. In July, Korea becomes a protectorate of Japan and Sir Robert Baden-Powell founds the Boy Scouts movement. On July 8, Florenz Ziegfeld stages the first "Ziegfeld Follies" in New York city. New York saw the first taxicabs in service. On November 16th, Oklahoma is admitted as the 46th US state. On the technology frontier, Lee DeForest develops the triode thermionic amplifier which leads to the development of electronics. The Autochrome Lumi¸re is the first color photography process marketed. The business world was rocked with Panic of 1907. Banker J. P. Morgan intervenes in the crisis, importing $100 million in gold, to bolster U. S. currency. A new immigration law excludes Japanese workers. Frank Lloyd Wright continues his unique prairie style architecture with the completion the Robie House near Chicago. Also, Illinois passes a local option law, which lead to jurisdictional conflicts over the matter of legal spirits. Since some consider Wrigley Field as the largest outdoor bar during games, the link between the 1907 Cubs and local liquor law conflicts of the past is ironic. The struggle between the club selling beer to thousands of patrons and the neighbors outside the ballpark who fear about the drunken behavior of the fans after the game is a classic conflict between competing interests.
But the Cubs competitive edge, within a whisper of first place in September, draws people more toward the old comparisons to the early 1900 winners, than the current problems surrounding the Game.
September 23, 2003
On this date in 1908, the Sporting News called it the Number One Greatest Moment in Baseball History. According to The Baseball Library, the Giants and the Cubs were locked in an historic battle in the Polo Grounds. The aces of the pitching staffs, Christy Matthewson for the Giants and Three Finger Brown for the Cubs were in a grand duel. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Giants had runners on third and first with two outs. Al Bridwell singles to center, and the runner from third scores. The fans rush the field. However, the Giant on first base, a 19-year kid starting for the first time that season, Fred Merkle, ran halfway to second base then turned and headed for the clubhouse in centerfield. However, Cub Johnny Evers got the baseball and touched second base for a force out. At this point, the events begin to get confusing. Evers claims the force-out negates the run. Matthewson according to Merkle in a rare interview about the play, stated that they went to the umpire and asked him if there was any trouble with the score on the play and they were told no. However, either on the field or after the game, the first base umpire, Hank O'Day rules the run does not count and because of fans overrunning the field, the game ends in a 1-1 tie.
It would not have mattered but for the fact that the Giants and Cubs ended the season in a tie for first place. The baseball directors order that the game be replayed on October 8, 2003. The Giants players balk at the replay, considering that they won the game. However, their owner does not go to bat for them. So they have to replay the game, and the Cubs win the contest and the pennant. The Cubs then go on to win the World Series.
Giant fans, manager John McGraw and players cursed the outcome of the season for decades. Merkle's Boner play was his lasting, haunting legacy. He was the Goat responsible for losing the season on one bonehead play. Merkle never played on a team that won the World Series. He refused all interviews on the play.
But the Cubs having won when they lost created a paradox in their team history as well. Since 1908, the club has not won another World Series.
The best chance to regain the championship came in 1945 against the Detroit Tigers, the club they beat 4 games to one in the 1908 contest. By all accounts, the Cubs should have won the series. There was a fateful decision by management which created the Cubs own lasting, haunting legacy.
William Billy Sianis owned a restaurant near the old Chicago Stadium. He was a baseball fan. He bought box seats for the big game. He decided to bring his pet goat with him. Cub management said the goat smelled, and refused his entry into the World Series game at Wrigley Field.
Again, at this point in the fable, the facts have been reported differently by various sources. Upset, Sianis went outside Wrigley, by one account, raised his arms above his head and shouted that the Cubs would never win a championship. (So far, this proclamation has rung true.) The Tigers then went on to win three of the next four games to claim the championship.
The myth of the Billy Goat curse or hex as the locals used to call it has many layers. What was the actual curse has been debated. Was it that Sianis wanted the Cubs to lose just the 1945 Series? Was it to lose as long as Phillip K. Wrigley owned the club? Was it to lose as long as his pet goat lived? Or was it to lose as long as he was alive? Or was it to lose as long as the Cubs played in Wrigley Field? Or was it a curse that the Cubs would never win-- FOREVER!? (From history's timeline, it appears the latter may be supported by circumstantial evidence.)
Now, there have been attempts to lift the curse by Sianis' nephew, Sam. In 1984, he paraded his goat around the Wrigley outfield. In 1994, manager Tom Treblehorn chanted with players to rid the curse and save his job. It did not work. Sam was called back in that year to repeat the curse lifting. No World Series materialized.
Curses are curses if they are believed to explain current events. Some people fear messing with the unknown powers of spirituality. Some people embrace the ill fates like a security blanket. Curses are true if they are believed; and goats are true if seen. The Cubs have many a play-off goat, most memorable the ground ball through Leon Durham's legs giving the San Diego Padres the pennant.
Who will be this season's Goat?
It is probably an unfair question considering that the Cubs have six games left, and hold a slim one-game lead over the Houston Astros. But some fans have taken it upon themselves to balance the cosmic scales. Three Cub fans flew to Houston this week and bought four tickets for the first game of a set with the Giants. They then went to a farm and bought a goat. They bought the goat to the game (they had a seat for it), but the Astros refused to let them in with their bleeting goat. At that point, one of the fans curses the Astros in the same vain as the Billy Goat curse. Result? Houston loses that game. Houston then loses the second game of the series and the Cubs regain sole possession of first place.
This last week of the season will be a refreshing change from the diversions of the game: the Trib ticket scalp scandal; the Sosa corked bat incident; the rooftop owners feud; the politics of the neighborhood residents objecting to more night games; or the Cubs expansion plans. The fans will be solely focused on the games and the standings.
The Cub fans can rejoice in the accomplishments of the Season. Like a Christmas wish list, things have been falling in place. This team has played through and won two play-off type series so far this season: the home set with New York Yankees that brought national media circus attention to the young players; and the taking of the 5 game set with the dreaded rivals, the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cub Express going through the Cardinals this season was like the Michael Jordan Bulls finally getting over the hump and beating the rival Detroit Pistons in the playoffs.
The second rival in the City is the Cub fandom's loathing of the South Siders, the White Sox. They got some gratitude this week when the Sox skidded out of the Central Division race to the Minnesota Twins. Nothing gets a Bleacher Bum more stoked than misery or bad news for the Sox.
Which leads us to nail-biting time on the North Side. The Cubs have not been this close in a long time. The young arms of the starting pitchers have other teams worried in a short playoff series. However, as good as Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano have been, the bullpen is still suspect. That is why the starters and manager Dusty Baker have been riding the starters into the late innings. That could come back and haunt the Cubs in the post-season (tired arms).
There are two real possibilities of who will be the Goat when the 2003 Season ends. If the Cubs manage to get into the World Series, the fans will fall to the ground in a fetal position and drool with excitement.
But the real Goat will probably be the Tribune. For this season has elevated the expectations of Cub fans higher than the Wrigley scoreboard. The true fans may no longer tolerate the lovable loser image. So that profitable Trib marketing zenith may have been approached by the success of this season's team; the franchise may now be in a slow descent from the Top unless the Tribune changes its corporate money-pinching ways and spend like the Yankees to create and foster a dynasty. The Cub fans, like a spurned lover, will forgive so long as the chocolates hold out, but when they are gone, the meanness will return. And Cub fans are battle tested in the trenches; they have spent generations taking grief from Sox fans and Cardinal fans.
THE RAIN DANCE
September 27, 2003
The final three game series for the Cubs division crown was supposed to start on Friday. But, it rained. To the dismay of 40,000 ticketholders, the 2:20 p.m. game was called after a two hour rain delay. As the fans were leaving Wrigley, they were told that there were no rainchecks for this season. Some fans were outraged. Why not do a Bostonian day night doubleheader? Some fans came from out-of-state to view a game that was meaningful, one that star Pitcher Mark Prior was to start. I don't want to see a game next season, one fan cursed, I came to see a pennant game.
The Cubs players were not too happy with the situation. A doubleheader usually means a split with the opponent. With only a slim half-game lead over the Astros, every game counts. It also screws up the play-off pitching rotation, with Prior losing a day of rest by now starting on Saturday.
The Cub-Tribune explanation was firing arrows at the neighborhood residents and City Hall. Andy McPhail claimed that the Cubs hands were tied. Even though he was sympathetic with the upset fans, he said the Cubs had run out of their allotment of night games (18) so they could not schedule a day night doubleheader for Saturday. (Does that mean that the Cubs will have no post-season night games at Wrigley? (With a national television contract at stake, that argument seemed hallow to a fan.) He also explained that it would be too hard for the Cubs to organize a day night doubleheader. He said he would have to hire extra ticket takers, and another crew of vendors. Huh? He just had a day night doubleheader on September 2nd. The ticket takers could stay on for an extra three hours at minimum wage, right? Or is paying someone an extra twenty bucks for Saturday working a few extra hours going to break the Tribune piggy bank? The vendors are on commission, too. They would gladly work a second game to a sell-out crowd. When the CLTV-Trib cable channel asked McPhail questions, they did not follow-up with any tough stabs at him after he said We are getting more hurt than anyone.
The management backlash to the PR nightmare may be caused, in part, to the fact that the Tribune, the newspaper, has been running stories on political corruption. Government contractors getting sweetheart deals from city hall. On Friday, a family that the mayor knows allegedly took in hundreds of millions of dollars of city contracts that were supposed to go to minority owned firms. A Tribune staffer groaned that the newspaper articles that show the machine politics will make it almost impossible for the Cubs to get their Wrigley Field expansion plans or more night games approved by the city council or mayor's office.
That is part of the dance to avoid the rain drops. The Tribune runs a newspaper that is supposed to report objectively about the events that newsworthy in the city. However, they own a baseball team that is given kid-glove treatment and positive PR spin.
The Tribune should run hard-hitting investigative journalism against political corruption. And if the politicians try to be petty about the intrusions into their power domain, then the Tribune has the right to make that an issue as well.
But their broadcasters and reporters should not sugarcoat the company-line explanations about the cancellation of Friday's game. The team that you are covering is not getting an objective report to the fans, or public. If this happened on the South Side, and the White Sox and Jerry Reinsdorf had done the same thing, would one not believe the story would have been covered differently from the Tower?
October 9, 2003
Something odd is happening. Where else could an umpire crew make four judgment errors on one play, and the cursed Cubs still win the game?
During the Atlanta series, with a runner on first and second, Gary Sheffield slices a hard liner into centerfield. Kenny Lofton of the Cubs charges in and slides at the ball. He gets his glove under the ball. The second base umpire calls a trap eventhough the replay clearly shows a catch. However, the call is late. Sheffield rounds first base and passes Marcus Giles who was the runner on first base who held on the play. Under the rules, once Sheffield past Giles, Sheffield was automatically out. Lofton tosses the ball to second, and the ump calls a force out as the runner on second base scores. The Cubs tag the remaining runners or bases. Giles is waving his arms in the middle of the bases in disgust; Lofton is on the infield grass and explodes when he is told there was no catch. The when fury of arguments end, Sheffield is at first (even though he passed Giles on the base path)and the Braves have scored one run (who should have been called out at second after Lofton caught the ball). The play yields only one out; in reality it was a wild triple play! Lofton caught the liner, doubled off the runner at second for the third out after Sheffield ran past Giles at first for the second out. In a close game, a play like that brings on the ultimate dread. But the Cubs overcame that adverse play to beat the Braves to win the series.
Upon the return to Chicago, a garbage haulers strike is beginning. Twenty metric tons of trash is being piled up in the metro area each day.
Mayor Daley is paranoid about his city's national image. The national media would be descending upon his city. He did not want a reporter to stand in front of a mountain of rotting trash and rats proclaiming after a Cub loss, The Cubs stunk tonight. So the pro-union mayor has his city crews pick up the garbage around Wrigleyville as a matter of public health. Suburbanites are knee high and dry, but the center of attention would be sparkling clean.
As the pennant series begins, Wrigley Field tickets are hard to find. So hard, in fact, that the Tribune's own in-house ticket broker has no tickets to sell. However, before the playoffs began, it was reported that the Cubs were giving two tickets to each playoff game to each city alderman. The hottest ticket in town given to politicans? The same representatives who will decide pending issues before the city council like additional night games at Wrigley or park bleacher expansion? (After the second game of the Marlins series, the Wrigleyville alderman believes the city and the Cubs are very close to an arrangement for additional night games next season.)
So the Cubs got their own version of a triple play: national media attention; clean-up during a garbage strike; and the city council ready to agree to more night games.
TRICK OR TREAT?
November 2, 2003
The most popular costume for Halloween this past weekend was the Cub cap, walkman, green turtleneck and Renegade sweatshirt. Yes, in Chicago the Fan who took the foul ball away from Moises Alou in Game 6 was The costume for 2003.
The sweet season turned very sour after that play. Many Cub fans are blinded by the bitterness of alleged fan interference costing them a World Series. (A fan next to the criticized fan reported that they were looking up for the foul ball when it was hit; that they never even saw Alou attempt to make to make the catch.) But Cub fans are still focused on the fan that cost them their lifetime chance at a post-season heavenly series.
During this distraction, Cub management has made a proposal to the city. The Cubs, who drew just under 3 million patrons last season, want to increase night games by 12. The club proposes to phase in 12 night games in exchange for phasing out 12 2:20 p.m. starts which create traffic snarls during rush hour. It appears that the Cubs want more night games because it is there targeted demographic is high perk, high income business owners who buy blocks of box seats and skyboxes. The Cubs also propose to increase garbage collection around the park area, contribute to traffic studies, and create a million dollar neighborhood fund. It is unclear who would control the fund or what its purposes would be under the Cub plan. The new local alderman apparently thinks that this was a good step by the ballclub by addressing, at least halfway, neighborhood concerns.
As the playoffs showed on national television, Clark and Addison became a magnet for non-baseball fans to converge during the frenzy of the Cub nation advancing in the playoffs. The city wants to have any event sponsor to now pay for all added security and police assigned to the event. (The cynic will ask does not our taxes already pay for the salaries of these patrolmen to begin with?) But it shows where two sides of the neighborhood debate stand: the city is looking for money and the Cubs want more night games by spending some money. But if 2:20 p.m. games are already sold out, where is the proposed increased revenue for the Cubs? Unless the rumored re-ticketing prices by the Trib dramatically increase, or the Cubs go to premium ticket prices for night games, the economics appear to be minimal.
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