Monday, November 22, 2010

Joe Ricketts Implies Tom is OK with Losing

Joe and Tom Ricketts obviously had no idea what they were getting themselves into based on this little video of Joe talking about Tom and the new toy that Dad bought him. (h/t Cubs Fan Report)

First off, at about the 1:46 mark, Joe poses the question to his son, "Why would I want to buy the Cubs?"  Tom reportedly answered, "I'll tell you Dad, they sell every ticket, every game, win or lose."

Now, let's put aside the fact that Tom was salivating over the idea of selling every ticket in a 41,000 seat stadium no matter what kind of team is put on the field, and focus on the fact that he was just plain wrong.

Let's look at the Attendance and Win Pct. data for the years since Tom Ricketts became such a big fan of the team that he just had to own them:

(Attendance data from Another Cubs Blog, Win pct. from

Notice that in almost every year, the attendance figure moves in the same direction as the teams' record that year.  I've highlighted the years where that rule didn't apply.  In 1983, major league baseball was recovering from the strike year of 1981 and attendance was generally up across the league, thus the jump in attendance was due to league factors and had nothing to do with Cubs fans turning out "win or lose."

1995 was the year following the strike where fans were boycotting games.  Again, this was true pretty much across baseball, so even though the Cubs would normally have had fans coming out of the woodworks for a .500 team, attendance was down.  Similarly, after Cal Ripken "saved baseball," the fans started coming back so even though the Cubs sucked again, they sw a small increase in attendance.

1999 and 2001 are the two instances where Cubs fans were turning out no matter the situation and that was the Sammy Sosa Effect.

2006 was the first year of the bleacher expansion, so raw numbers went up slightly that year, despite the season being a death march from beginning to end.

I think we can agree, that in all of the instances, there was something peculiar going on to throw the numbers off a bit, but as a general rule, when the team does well, attendance goes up.  When the Cubs suck, attendance goes down.  This took me about 20 minutes to research and put together and I don't have an $850 million investment riding on my decisions about the Cubs and their propensity to sell tickets.

So, Tom either didn't know jack-squat about the true nature of Cubs tickets and how well they sell, or he was selling his dad (who admittedly is not a sports fan at all) on the fantasy of a fool-proof product so that his dad would buy him his favorite team.

The second part of the video that worries me is around the 2:33 mark where Joe and Pete came to the conclusion that they were done messing around with Zell and his wanting to squeeze every last nickel out of the transaction, so they told Tom to tell the Trib to take it or leave it because they were done.  The Trib took it and they moved forward. 

I'm not a financial genius, but given the economy, how the current revenues in the park were pretty much maxed out, and how the minimum maintenance required to keep Wrigley viable was going nowhere but up, I thought at the time that the Ricketts paid too much for the team.  Now it seems like Tom was negotiating away and Zell knew he had a buyer that wasn't going to easily walk away, so he played hardball.  It sounds like this purchase was made more with the heart than by solid business decision making.

That makes no difference to me, but now the Ricketts are getting hammered with falling revenues, crappy facilities, and a horribly under-performing team and they are scrambling to find solutions so that they don't have to put the team right back on the market again.  Those solutions all involve getting more money from the fans and the State of Illinois and not by making the Cubs a winning team.  Imagine how badly the Ricketts would be jacking prices for a crap team if Joe hadn't slammed his foot on the brakes during the negotiations.  Would Tom have ended up paying $1 billion for the team?  It is scary to think about.

Finally, the part that is really eye-opening is around the 4:33 mark where Joe lauds his son's PR moves: "He's doing a wonderful job. He's making everybody love him and love being a fan... win or lose."  There's that win or lose mentality again. 

Can't anyone involved with the Cubs just decide that losing is for losers and approach it that way?  Why is losing even an option?  The Cubs are the only major market team in the NL Central and they act like they play in Kansas City.  There is absolutely no excuse for not dominating this division on a regular basis.  The Cubs losing the NL Central should be what is news-worthy, not when they happen to win it.

Holy crap, I just want to punch someone.  It makes me think the "It's a Way of Life" campaign was actually Tom's idea.


Post a Comment

The easiest way to comment is to choose the Name/URL option from the Comment As dropdown menu below. You do not need to put in a URL for this option to work.

Sometimes upon submitting the comment, you will get an error saying there is a problem. Submit the comment again and it should work. I am looking into correcting this glitch.