The Chicago Cubs moving out of the city seems unlikely. But, that hasn’t stopped several Chicago suburbs from suggesting they would be willing to work out a deal with the Cubs to build a new stadium:
What the soliciting suburbs believe — and sources close to the Cubs confirm — is that the siblings of Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts are souring on Chicago and growing increasingly concerned the deal will be modified in a way that denies the team the revenue it needs to renovate Wrigley without a public subsidy…
“If this deal looks like it’s going down in flames or not getting done in a reasonable time, Tom will invest in ‘Plan B’ locations. He’d still work with the mayor on a city site. But, maybe not in Wrigleyville. I know people don’t believe it. But, it’s true,” the Cubs source said…
Aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel privately dismissed this week’s public solicitation from DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin as a Cubs-orchestrated negotiating ploy.
“This is all manufactured to gain leverage,” said a top mayoral aide, who asked to remain anonymous.
Last month, Ricketts threatened to move his team out of Wrigley and Chicago if he doesn’t get the outfield signs he needs to bankroll a $300 million stadium renovation without a public subsidy.
This comes after the announcement this week that DuPage County has two potential sites for the Cubs. But, little extra information about these plans were provided.
But, I think a more interesting take is the regional nature of sports teams and stadiums. Sports teams these days are really regional entities, particularly considering that more people live in the suburbs than central cities. It is unusual to have a team like the Cubs so closely tied to a specific neighborhood. Additionally, cities often see sports stadiums as economic engines, even though research suggests spending lots of taxpayer dollars on stadiums doesn’t pay off for communities. On one hand, it is not all that different than fighting over big box stores or corporate headquarters because of the supposed economic benefits. Yet, on the other hand it is a constant status symbol. Could the city of Chicago really afford in terms of prestige to lose the Cubs? I don’t think so. Would a suburb get a big status boost from hosting the Cubs? Possibly. If a suburb was able to woo the Cubs, I imagine they would trumpet this fact and try to build around it for decades.
This has happened before in Chicago. When the Chicago Bears were looking for a new stadium from the 1970s to the early 1990s, several suburbs were involved. The Bears ended up getting a decent enough deal from the city to stay. (Maybe they should have pushed harder. They have the smallest NFL stadium in terms of seats and with it also being an open-air facility, this limits its Super Bowl possibilities in the future. Also, the facility is still owned by the Chicago Park District and this has led to issues over the years.) Again, it is hard to imagine the Chicago Bears, a historic NFL franchise, playing out in the suburbs next to a major highway. What would have been a boon for a suburb would have been a big perceived loss for Chicago.
In the end, these sorts of negotiations can pit cities against suburbs in similar ways to fighting over business opportunities. But, rather than arguing about just money, sports teams are viewed as public goods that belong to a region. Perhaps the worst possible outcome is for the region to lose a team to another region altogether. The second worst outcome might be for the big city to lose the stadium to an upstart suburb.