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The Tribune didn't just repeat the Cubs' argument for a big video screen in the outfield of Wrigley Field; the front-page Sunday story, "Video screen may be financial hit for Cubs," seemed to believe it.
"While the Rickets family . . . is embroiled with neighboring rooftop owners and the city in a political battle over a proposed $300 million renovation of Wrigley," said the story by Robert Channick and Gregory Karp, "all sides seem to understand that the team must add an oversized television to a designated Chicago landmark and baseball shrine.
"Economics demand it."
Wrigley is the only major-league park without such a screen, the Tribune report continued. Julian Green, a Cubs spokesman, told the paper, "This is about winning, bringing our fans a world championship. The revenue that we can generate from signs, the Jumbotron [now a generic term for these huge screens], and some of the other features that we're trying to do in the stadium, this helps put money back onto the field."
Green went on, "We start at a competitive disadvantage every season when you look at other ball clubs who are able to provide a higher level of amenities, as well as being able to generate revenue."
How much revenue? How big a disadvantage? The Trib reported that according to "industry sources," the big screen "could generate several million dollars a year, perhaps as much as $5 million."
Here's the thing. According to this chart, Cubs' revenues last year totaled $274 million, second highest in the National League and fourth highest in the majors. The Cubs took in $12 million more in revenues than the San Francisco Giants, who have won two of the last three World Series, and $35 million more than the Saint Louis Cardinals, who have won 11 championships during the years the Cubs were winning none.
But another $5 million a year will make all the difference!
Cubs' revenues last year exceeded revenues of the Oakland A's by $101 million and the Tampa Bay Rays by $107 million. Yet the A's won 94 games and the Rays 90 while the Cubs were losing 101 games.
It may be worth mentioning that Oakland has by far the smallest video screen in the big leagues; it's a mere 727 square feet. The Cardinals' is 1,664 square feet and the Rays' 2,240 square feet. According to the Tribune, the Cubs want to install a 5,000-square-foot screen—more than twice the size of the present scoreboard—in left field. Is this competitive baseball we're talking about or some digital variant of penis envy?
"Think of the ballpark video screen as an outdoor TV station," the Tribune advises. "Teams mix replays, statistics, commercials, and entertainment such as trivia questions, noise meter graphics or character races on the screen before, during and after games."
In other words, these screens are a wonderful source of nonstop distraction from the game itself. And while the media belabor the question of whether the Cubs have a legal right to obscure the view into Wrigley from neighboring rooftops, they ignore the fact that this huge screen would obscure the view out of Wrigley from the paid seats. This view of the city beyond the bleachers has always been one of the most charming elements of the Wrigley experience, but charm clearly has no place in the Rickettses' calculations.
It would be nice, though, if the Tribune kept it in mind.
News reports Sunday night indicated the Ricketts are likely to get their way on the video screen (and much else). I can only hope the logic demonstrated in Sunday's Tribune story was not the logic at work when the city decided to give the Ricketts what they wanted.
The biggest video screen in the major leagues—by far—is the 11,425-square-foot monster in Seattle. By coincidence, my wife and I were taking the el downtown late Saturday afternoon, and on the Fullerton platform we ran into a young guy from Seattle who was spending the weekend in Chicago and had decided to take in a Cubs game. What a wonderful place Wrigley Field is, he said, sporting the Cubs cap he'd bought as a souvenir. We've got this huge barn in Seattle where everyone's a mile from the field.
After singing Wrigley's praises did he add, "But where's the Jumbotron?" No, he didn't.