Cubs

Bernstein: Frustrated Cubs Finally Talking Nuclear Option

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Wrigley Field rooftops. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Wrigley Field rooftops. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Dan-Bernstein Dan Bernstein
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since...
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By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist

(CBS) What should never have been off the table in the first place has now found its way there.

It didn’t land with a demonstrative thud in front of the stubborn rooftop owners across from them, settling with more of a flutter than anything else, but it’s no less significant. Nearly five months after structural improvements to Wrigley Field were set to begin, sources tell WSCR the Cubs are finally having internal conversations about moving the team elsewhere.

To be clear: they don’t want to go anywhere and probably will not. The most likely outcome of this tiresome standoff is that the Cubs eventually forge ahead with some version of their remodeling plan for the park and the surrounding area. The team has spent considerable time and money researching their fan base — projected as far out as 20 years – and they have determined that demographic trends indicate that Clark and Addison is prime position for attracting readily-available discretionary income.

It’s a matter, now, of how they get to the point of resolution. Previously, the Cubs were dealing with three options:

1. Buy out the remainder of the contract with the handful of rooftop owners still kicking about blocked views. They can keep running their businesses, won’t have to pay the Cubs a cut and may stand to benefit from overall upgrades to the area that make them a still-attractive destination for corporate entertainment.

2. Buy the buildings themselves and go into the rooftop business. There is still some revenue to be made, and increases in real estate value might dwarf the operating profits.

3. Go to court, where legal experts consulted by WSCR say the Cubs would likely win, based on language in the contract that appears favorable to them. Their greater resources would also mean attrition is their friend, expensive as it would be, because their opponents would suffer worse bleeding from legal fees. This has been explained in fine detail to the rooftops, but they either refuse to want to believe it or are getting other advice.

So that frustration has led to this fourth scenario, in which the Cubs say, “Hell with it” and build from scratch on their own land, in full control of everything. Tom Ricketts underestimated the headaches ahead when he purchased the team, and his nature isn’t that of so many other owners in pro sports: pugnacious, competitive deal-maker. He has tried too hard to be a good neighbor and fellow fan, and all it did was put him and his team at a disadvantage.

At long last, he opened up the sliver of a chance that the Cubs could leave all the problems behind. Ricketts is at wit’s end over construction delays, and now he and the family are finally forced to consider all avenues available.

They can’t bid out these projects until the specter of injunctions or other legal interruptions is vaporized. Contractors don’t want the uncertainty, and the team is well aware of the damaging, embarrassing optics provided TV-ready by heavy machinery standing idle next to piles of steel girders and bricks.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green spoke on WSCR last weekend about this last-resort consideration, striking proper notes about their desire to improve their own home with their own money, while now describing the Rosemont-relocation proposal as “interesting.” If the soft launch of this new exploration builds to brinksmanship, don’t be surprised to hear news that the team has commissioned feasibility studies for various parcels of land, either in the city or suburbs.

This is something Ricketts never wanted to do, even if merely for the purpose of applying added leverage against a small-but-irritating opponent forced to stare into an abyss where a percentage of zero is zero. This could all be settled any moment, however, if cooler heads prevail. (Sources describe at least one of the rooftop owners as belligerent and difficult, with strange behavior that interferes with substantive negotiation. If that issue is addressed, talks could get back on track.)

It may do nothing more than alter slightly the dynamics and economics of the ultimate settlement. The entire saga has been draining on all involved and has delayed a better in-game experience for fans.

Even with a new, once-unthinkable option now in play, this looks like it will end with the Cubs cutting a check, rather than pulling up stakes.

Follow Dan on Twitter @dan_bernstein and read more of his columns here.

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