Winning the World Series Top Priority for Cubs Owner

Published on October 29, 2010

Tom Ricketts, AB ’87, MBA ’93, told a packed room of students that winning the World Series and preserving Wrigley Field were his top priorities as new owner of the Chicago Cubs.

Ricketts’s keynote presentation was part of the daylong Media Entertainment & Sports Fall Conference, which gave students an opportunity to hear from top executives in media and entertainment. Sponsored by the Chicago Booth Media, Entertainment & Sports Group, the conference on October 29 at Harper Center also featured such speakers as Leo Burnett president Patrick Venetucci, ’05.

“In baseball, more than any other sport, it’s organization that wins the championship,” said Ricketts, who owns the team with his family and is also chairman and CEO of Chicago-based Incapital LLC, a global investment bank he co-founded in 2000.

“Organizations need to be well run so that you’re drafting the right players, that you’re coaching them the right way, and you’re giving them great facilities. That’s how you win on the baseball field.”

Modernizing antiquated training facilities was one of the first issues he had to tackle as a new owner. The Cubs are eager to build a new stadium and practice complex in Mesa, Arizona. Dubbed “Wrigleyville West,” the new complex, coupled with amenities, could turn the Cubs spring training home into a “daylong family destination” for Chicago fans and attract the team’s strong national following, said Ricketts, the father of five children.

The new owners also have improved the weight room at Wrigley and plan to modernize facilities in the Dominican Republic to better support the young athletes there, he said. “The island is baseball crazy, and there are a lot of very talented players coming from the Dominican Republic,” he said. “Our facilities down there have fallen behind what other teams have and are not up to standards.”

Ricketts said the franchise’s previous owner, the Tribune Corporation, “wasn’t willing to allocate more resources” to the team. “They decided to put their dollars elsewhere. Had they focused solely on the opportunities of the Wrigley neighborhood, the team could’ve done a lot better in the last couple of years.”

On the business side of baseball, Ricketts told students there are basically three revenue streams. “Half the revenue pile is from tickets sold; 20 percent is local broadcast rights with WGN and Comcast, and just behind that is corporate sponsorship—signs on the field.”

He said the Cubs have little room to grow revenue in the short-term, but that will change in the future when media contracts are renegotiated. “In an economy like this, you can’t raise ticket prices. As for the media, we’re locked into long-term contracts for now. And as far as corporate sponsorships, at Wrigley it’s very difficult. We not only have limited billboard space and no Jumbotron, we also have ivy, and I don’t want to spray ‘Budweiser’ on the wall in weed killer.”

Ricketts said another family priority is preserving and improving 100-year-old Wrigley Field, which he described as “an unique aspect of the Cubs.” He acknowledged that continual upkeep is and will be expensive. “Every year, we have to replace concrete and infrastructure. It’s a challenge that will never go away. Wrigley Field is part of the broader Cubs picture that’s probably more important for us than any other baseball organization.”

He added that at one point the Tribune Corporation was talking to Illinois state officials about tearing down the park and rebuilding it. “Why would you tear it down and build a replica of it? We respect the history, the culture, and the tradition.”

Ricketts said his biggest surprise in becoming the owner of the Cubs is how “public” his words have become. “It’s a little like being a politician,” he said. “I have to be very thoughtful about what I say, whereas before I could be more candid and not every word was analyzed.”

— Mary Paleologos

Read what Leo Burnett’s Patrick Venetucci said at the conference about fusing creativity and technology in the digital marketplace.