One of the oldest axioms in life is “follow the money”, whether this applies to a business, a crime or just looking for a better opportunity, there’s no simpler motivation than the power of the almighty dollar. Baseball is no exception to this rule either. How many times have fans seen athletes depart their beloved hometown team via free agency to cash a paycheck? A-Rod did it in Texas; Johnny Damon went from carmine to bomber with the addition of a few zeros, heck soccer icon David Beckham went to Los Angeles for money!
Baseball has a problem and anyone with any business sense can smell it a mile away – what happens if you’re main source of revenue begins to dry up? Attendance is down across all of the majors and the important line item that a team’s ownership looks at is “no shows”. To quote the business of baseball savant Steve Stone “Today’s no shows are tomorrow’s lost sales.” This leads to a snowball effect that leads to a team losing its premium on advertising revenue then having to cut payroll, leading to lower quality players, most likely leading to a consistent losing basis, otherwise called a death-spiral.
While the modern ballpark caters to both the family and the lifelong baseball fan, there’s something that many ballparks don’t offer after the nine innings are complete. What Boston has done to accommodate the Red Sox and how the Tribune rebuilt “Wrigleyville” are great stepping stones, but they’re not big enough in my opinion. The goal for a team looking at building a new ballpark should include an island. The ballpark should be an economic park or district onto itself. I firmly believe that baseball teams will develop stadiums and cultivate businesses in an area onto themselves.
Imagine a baseball team’s home park with easy access to an interstate highway and subsequent airport, surrounded by a couple hotels, shops, and restaurants. Now imagine that the either (A) owns the land the businesses are developed on, or (B) has ownership interest in the businesses that operate. That is a direct and constant stream of revenue during the season.
The trick is to make the area appealing during the fall and winter months while the baseball season is away, and that remains the wild card. Boston and the north side of Chicago don’t have too many issues keeping their areas relevant considering they’re amidst of higher density residential neighborhoods. While I can only speak on the Chicago businesses, the Cubs would love to get more revenue from those periphery businesses rather than just the merchandise licensing fees.
The Cubs also are at a disadvantage when it comes to the “Roof-Top” seats. Since Wrigley is in the middle of a residential neighborhood, surrounding residents turned entrepreneurial and decided to put grandstands on top of their buildings’ roofs and sell tickets to see the game. I don’t feel bad for the Cub’s organization at all, if they want to protect their product, build a higher fence so no one can see inside, too bad the community and alderman have created a bureaucratic log jam making changes difficult to the area.