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Sam Zell: Public Enemy Number One

Friday, Feb 29, 2008

* “Villified” might be another way of putting it. Here’s Neil Steinberg

The values that working people cling to — family, tradition, community — are just another line item on the ledger to rich folk. Sometimes, those concerns pay; sometimes, they don’t.

Why else would the Berghoff family dump its century-old name in order to jettison its union employees? Why else would the new owner of Marshall Field’s scrap it to save money on shopping bags?

And Sam Zell. This newspaper is appealing to his civic spirit, asking him not to auction off the name “Wrigley Field” to the highest bidder. Naive. That’s like urging a buzzard not to feed on the body of a poet.

* The Sun-Times is even sponsoring a song contest

Attention Cubs and Sox fans: Write a song about Sam Zell’s attempt to sell off the name of Wrigley Field, put it on video, upload it to and submit a link to your YouTube video below.

They announced this, mind you, on the front page.

I love newspaper wars.

* But it’s not all about the Sun-Times vs. Tribune fight. Fan bloggers are getting into the act. I like the title of this one: Sam Zell: The Anti-Christ, The Anti-Cub

* Bernie Lincicome writes a schmaltzy love poem to the wreck in Lakeview…

And, so, you read the story as your oatmeal grows cold, disbelieving that cruel, raw greed can replace the human heart, though you know it can because it always has.

* Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey tries to calm down the restless masses

The indignation that’s being thrown on this fire is humorous. People are getting upset that a moneymaking enterprise (Tribune Co.) is trying to make more money. And this surprises you how? Just because you’ve become emotionally attached to Wrigley Field doesn’t change the fact the building exists to extract money from your wallets and purses. That is its only purpose in life.

As far as I can tell, that’s the only mention of Zell in Mother Tribune’s august pages today.

* But Barry Rozner says everybody is missing the point

The real story is that the Cubs believe they’re closing in on a deal to sell Wrigley Field to the state. The bigger sell is the one they’re trying to make to the fans, consistently stating that by unloading the park separately they will ensure the club stays at Clark and Addison for the next 30 years.

* Thoughts on Zell? The sale to the state? The Cubs in general? Have at it.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Mr. Cub - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:09 am:

    Why get all worked up about whether Sam Zell and the Tribune Co. sell naming rights to Wrigley Field? It really doesn’t matter because, like Soldier Field, fans will call the old park whatever they want. I’d have to seriously question the sanity of the corporation that would buy naming rights to Wrigley … but I have no issue with Zell selling or someone buying. In the end, it doesn’t matter, and the reason is the charm of going to a game at Wrigley disappeared years ago, when bleacher tickets topped $50 apiece and all the twenty-somethings who have turned Lincoln Park into their beer festival took over the park … and could care less about baseball. The Wrigley experience is way over-rated as a place to watch baseball these days, so it’s hard to act like something cherished is at stake here. Let Zell sell the naming rights; all that really matters is whether this act will lift the Curse of the Billy Goat. If it does that, no one will care what they call the field. I kind of like the sound of “For Sale By Owner” Field (thanks “By Owner”).

  2. - Public Mouthpiece A - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:11 am:

    Sell the name, let them move to the suburbs. I really don’t care anymore. Just don’t let the state buy them.

  3. - He makes Ryan Look like a Saint - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:15 am:

    With the states track record of building and facilities maintenance (Stratton Office Building, Fairgrounds just to name a few). Wrigley will be crumbled in 5 years. As far as renaming it, at this point Wrigley ought to pony up and just pay for the naming rights like any other company.

  4. - Angry Chicagoan - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:24 am:

    The state and the city should have absolutely nothing to do with any Wrigley purchase. The current arrangement has proved profitable for the Cubs and for Tribune Corp. It just isn’t profitable enough for Sam Zell’s taste. As for sale to a potential owner, the Cubs and Wrigley Field should be a package deal.

    The sad thing is that in recent years the Cubs and Tribune Corp. have allowed the main stands at Wrigley to deteriorate in the same way that doomed Comiskey in the 1970s and 1980s. Now I guess they want their state bailout too. But two wrongs don’t make a right.

    We now know beyond a doubt that the Cubs are more valuable to a prospective owner with the stadium. But Zell things he can get the most money for himself by selling piecemeal. Answer — only if the state prove themselves to be total mugs by falling for it.

  5. - Don Kosin - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:32 am:

    No worries - I applaud Sam Zell for his willingness to witness his Faith even in the midst of such persecution.

    I’ll be sure to pray for him.

  6. - Wumpus - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:36 am:

    Wrigley Field is a dump and the Cubs have been terrible for the past 100 years. They have been better of late and hopefully, they will compete this season too. He was hired to make money. For what its worth, tear down the dump, Wrigley Field and move forward. Build a new one and call it Macy Field…or Marshall Fields’ Field

  7. - Snidely Whiplash - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:37 am:

    I don’t like it either, but the fact remains that it’s private property, and who in his right mind would turn down $400 million? If you gave practically any one of these complainers $10,000 and asked them to spend a few days blogging in favor of selling the naming rights, I doubt there’d be many refusing.

    If the City owned the Cubs, people would really have a right to complain. Zell is obviously looking beyond the big picture. He doesn’t want to keep the team, so to him, a backlash by fans means nothing. He will sell the team after the naming rights deal is done, his buyer will be innocent of the “crime,” and people will flock back to the team and it’s new owner, who they’ll see as “saving them” from Zell.

    MLB should really make a 10 year commitment to keeping and running the team in a competitive fashion part of its franchise requirements. Some people want to “flip” MLB franchises the way they would “flip” real estate. Short term great for them, long term bad for the teams and their fans.

    Don’t blame Zell, blame MLB.

  8. - wordslinger - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:38 am:

    The Wrigley experience has deteriorated, sadly. Obviously, I’m in a minority — they’ve already sold 2.7 million tickets for the upcoming season.

    I can’t figure out the state’s interest in this deal. The Cubs fleeing Wrigley is silly. I suspect that it’s in the interest of Gov. Thompson (for future law business) and Gov. Blago (make nice with the new Trib Comp. owner).

    As for Zell, he maximizes profit. Might as well ask cats not to eat birds. It’s his nature.

  9. - tubbfan - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:40 am:

    I’m a Cub fan. I have no affinity for Wrigley Field. The future of the Cubs isn’t in Wrigleyville, unless someone buys property around the field for parking and stadium expansions. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. The stadium will eventually fall down without a large infusion of cash (which Zell isn’t willing to do on his own).

    Sam Zell is not a baseball man - he’s a real estate mogul/media empire owner. I have no problem letting him do whatever the hell he wants with the various components in his portfolio. He’s treating the Cubs like anything else he owns and he doesn’t need (or want) anyone telling him otherwise. His intention all along was to sell the Cubs to pay down Tribune debt. Why should anyone expect him to act differently or not seek to maximize his return?

  10. - Ghost - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 9:47 am:

    I am only concerned with the State purchase. it provides no advantage for the State or the City. Why is the state, behind in its bills, running in the red, and facing a fiscal crisis wasting money on property management deals to expand the wealth of its wealthy citizens? Lost taxes, repayment of bonds, we are creating more debt for future citizens to pay off, and get no real value in return.

    The very fact that Zell wants to unload this turkey on the State shows that its a Turkey to begin with. Jim Ryan once blocked Goerge Ryan from buying buildings in sweet heart deals for the wealthy, lets hope Lisa Madigan steps in to stop these shananigans.

  11. - zatoichi - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 10:01 am:

    I spent many a happy afternoon in left field cheap seats when Banks and Brickhouse ruled. Went several times during the Harry years. Have not been back since. No desire to see overpriced players pick up $10,000 each for an afternoon’s work while drinking $7 beer after a $50 entrance fee. I’ll stay local. My interests have changed and baseball is simply not a part of it. Now if Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men show up nearby I am there. Other than that let Zell do as he likes. He will anyway. It is his toy to play with, but that does not mean you have to join him. The state should stay out of this.

  12. - Been There - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 10:28 am:

    Zell reminds me of the two Eddies when they bought the White Sox. Good businessmen trying to bring their accuem to a hobby. Threatened to move the team, marketed to the wrong area, etc. To them good business meant the team and fans would be better off. NOT. It wasn’t until Reinsdorf realized that running a baseball team is not like running a business. You don’t do it to make money. You can still be smart and run a good organization but unlike other businesses, the bottom line cannot be the be all and end all. Once Reinsdorg and Einhorn learned that their other shareholders were in it for the fun of owning the Sox, and they started to make winning the be all and end all, did they actually end up with a succesful ballclub and ballpark. And some of the fans (myself included) have actually learned to like the guy.

  13. - HappyToaster - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 10:45 am:

    That site is high investment low return. Aging structure in need of replacement that lacks modern revenue generators like parking, skyboxes and night games.

    If public funding is to be used I’d much prefer something like Toyota Park. A post industrial wasteland pad large enough for parking and comprehensive retail development.

    I doubt Cub fans will want to “save” Wrigley if they have to bear the full cost. The rub is there are much better options for a publicly financed stadium deal.

  14. - HappyToaster - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 10:56 am:

    I just read the Lincicome piece. It’s embarrassing. It’s not the twenty-something crowd running up the prices and ruining the ambiance. It’s fifty-sixty somethings overpaying for Boomer nostalgia.

  15. - No Peotone Airport - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 11:55 am:

    The Cubs are a cash cow and Sam Zell is a billionaire and nobody has a problem with that on its face.

    That the State would offer to partner with Zell to help him maximize his return on the sale of the Cubs and Wrigley Field, however, is lunacy.

    It was reassuring to read in Capitol Fax:

    “‘Over my dead body,’ declared one powerful Democratic state Senator this week when asked whether the state purchase would be approved. His sentiments were echoed throughout the Capitol.”

    Here’s hoping. I’ll have to write my Senator and encourage them to keep their heels dug in on this one.

  16. - A Citizen - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 12:05 pm:

    I don’t understand all the hubbub about this. My god, this isn’t the Cardinals!

  17. - Truthful James - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 12:09 pm:

    Ah, yes. Going to a Cubs game is like going to a tavern with a cover charge and no instant replay.

    The Corporations buy season tickets (and deduct the expense. nThey have a beer vendors festival every day and charge quite a lot for a product you only rent for awhile. Long ago it used to be a baby sitter — the summer place where the kids would come down from the suburbs on the El. Long ago there used to be ladies days — had to be to fill the park — and the dames learned to love the game.

    “But that was long ago and now I find my consolation in the Stardust of a song” — Hoagy Carmichael.

    Let’s not get “overZellous” about this. It is his to sell and if he can con the Sports Authority into buying the park, good for him, he made his nut into selling real estate at a profit.

    Of course, there is money to be coined here if the building goes public. Fat cat lawyers and v=banker will get their cuts. The new owner will loower his bid if he can never move, but Sam knows that. He has two assets — ball yard and ball team and he as to figure out how to maximize A + B not just maximize A or B. That is, as I said, his business.

  18. - The Doc - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 12:25 pm:

    The name of the ballpark at Clark & Addison is of secondary importance. This is a shrewd move by Zell, distracting the public from the real deal - sale to the state. It’s more intangible than the name on the facade, and the uproar about corporate sponshorship detracts from the larger issue - a state that has record past due bills is mulling over the purchase of a non-core asset. Brilliant.

  19. - jerry 101 - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 12:39 pm:

    zell is just doing what comes natural. he’s a vulture.

    he’s stripping the corpse of the the Tribune Company dry.

    He’ll suck every penny possible out of the Tribune company before selling off its few remaining assets in a big fire sale.

    In 5 years, the Trib will be dead, and in 10 it will be a distant memory.

  20. - Captain America - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 1:14 pm:

    Please sell the Cubs Zell. And the state should just say no to acquiring Wrigley field.

  21. - Shelbyville - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 1:40 pm:

    I am a 3rd generation CUB fan. Do I like Wrigley? Sure. But, is it more important than most topics of interest? No.

    The citizens of Chicago, are still mad about the changing of names of a department store, for goodness sakes.

  22. - Norman - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 2:06 pm:

    White Sox and Cardinals fans are the ones who need to take a deep breath here. They won it all respectively in 2005 and 2006 and yet they can’t seem to not focus on the Cubs. Move on already.

    Renaming the field won’t change the the atmosphere of the ballpark….you put the Cubs at US Cellular and their attendance would dwindle after a couple of losing seasons.

  23. - Redbyrd - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 2:42 pm:

    Funny in St. Louis AB sold the team and then paid for naming rights for the new stadium ….sports fans it can be done.

    As for Wrigley, my guess Blaggoofy tries to keep the deal alive so JRT gets the ink and gives him a discount at the WS criminal defense check out line.

  24. - Legal Eagle - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 3:19 pm:

    Who cares what formal name the owners put on the ballpark? People can still just call it “Wrigley Field”, as most Sox fans still cal it “Comiskey Park”. If Zell can make $400 million from it, and it buys a World Series championship, I think most Cub fans would take the trade-off!

  25. - Truthful James - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 3:22 pm:

    L. Eagle

    If Mr Zell makes $400M from the sale of the Cubs, he is not going to put money into the Cubs and the people who do buy in will lack $400M to spend to improve the team,

  26. - A Citizen - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 4:53 pm:

    If the State buys it then the name should be Governors’ Park. They can then hold outdoor legislative gridlock sessions and break ties on the sports field. Or maybe Blood and Guts Stadium?

  27. - viejo cuervo - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 4:53 pm:

    When a professional sports participant again earns less than say a brain surgeon or rocket scientist and the price of a ticket to an event stays under twenty bucks, I may decide to again be interested in professional sports.

  28. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Feb 29, 08 @ 5:32 pm:

    Maybe Zell could sell it to his fellow zillionaires over at the Carlyle Group. Then they could keep filling the place up with picketing SEIU members. They could borrow some of the purchase money back from their ace “placement agent” Bob Kjellander, who thinks 6% is a “great amount of profit” on an unsecured loan.

  29. - Bob Daraio - Wednesday, Mar 5, 08 @ 11:12 am:

    Stop Slamming Sam

    I keep running across article after article slamming Sam Zell for putting the naming rights of Wrigley Field up for sale. So I cobbled together some thoughts from various sources on this subject.

    On one hand, Chicago mayor Richard Daley declared in December 2001 that a renovated Soldier Field would never be called anything else. Just last week, Yankees president Randy Levine vowed the same.

    “The Yankee Stadium name is sacred,'’ he said about the new ballpark scheduled to open next year. “Yankee Stadium is the cathedral of baseball and would be unseemly for a naming rights deal.'’

    On the other hand, Historically, Wrigley Field is a commercial promotion after all. Originally named Weeghman Park, chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. took over control of the club in 1927 and couldn’t resist the commercial tie-in for his business.

    The NFL’s Buffalo Bills took $1.5 million from Rich Foods back in 1973 to put their company’s name on their stadium for 25 years.

    Today, the N.Y. Mets will get $20 million a year for 20 years to call their new ballpark Citi Field.

    There are more than 60 major league stadiums wearing the names of companies who ponied up a collective $3.4 billion for naming rights.

    According to Jim Litke, a national sports columnist for The Associated Press, the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston has had 34 different names since plans were announced to replace the original Garden some 15 years ago, in part because the naming-rights were auctioned off daily for a while on eBay.

    Jim points out that for two days, in fact, the official name of the joint was “Yankees Suck Center,'’ which, if nothing else, is easy to remember.

    So cut Sam some slack here, at least he hasn’t changed the name to “Zell Stadium”. Then to watch the Cubs you’d have to just go to Zell.

    Perhaps we should look past small picture minutia like the Wrigley Field naming-rights debacle and focus on important issues like whether or not we’ll still have jobs at Tribune in six months.

    What do you guys think?

    All the best,

    Bob D

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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