This afternoon, Tom Ricketts was formally announced as the new owner of the Chicago Cubs, 942 days after Sam Zell said he would be selling the club. We sat down with Ricketts and talked to him about the future of owning the Cubs.
Darren: How does it feel to finally own this team?
Ricketts: It has been a long road. We hired our advisors over three years ago. The good news is that this process has actually been very steady. Despite everything that was happening on the outside, we did not allow any of that noise affect our bid and we kept plugging away. I think it helped that this was a family bid and not a consortium bid.
Darren: What's the future of the executive team at the Cubs under your new management?
Ricketts: (Cubs chairman) Crane Kenney has done a good job with bringing the team into this century. (General manager) Jim Hendry is also staying on. I was disappointed in 2009, but Jim led the team to three playoff appearances in seven years. That's a whole lot better than three playoff appearances in 57 years. Jim is committed to putting the best team on the field. And finally, Lou Piniella is the best in the game and he'll be here with us as well.
Darren: What type of owner will you be?
Ricketts: Our ownership model is to not be the kind of owner calling the shots from the dugout. One or more of us will be in the stands for every game so that we can stay connected with our customers and fans. We'll also be watching the on-the-field product and hold people accountable so that we can get to a World Series.
Darren: What's your commitment to payroll?
Ricketts: Right now it's the third highest in the league, so it wasn't as if this team was ever denied financial resources. It's not how much you spend, it's what you get for it and we didn't get our money's worth. We will spend money, but try to make sure that money allows us to become a contender. We're a family owner instead of a corporate owner. That allows us to focus on winning the World Series a little more because we can reinvest our profits. There's no quarterly dividend for investors to gripe about.
Darren: You agreed to pay $845 million for this team. How do you feel about that price?
Ricketts: We are comfortable with the price. It's a good investment. But you also have to understand that investing in a sports franchise is a labor of love.
Darren: We know that Wrigley Field is the smallest park in the league. What are you thinking of from a revenue standpoint?
Ricketts: Everything is on the table to restore and improve Wrigley Field. We'll have engineers and architects go throughout the stadium and walk around and study how the fan today goes to our game. There is a long-term revenue opportunity with a stadium improvement we can make on the west side to build an addition that will relieve some of the congestion.
Darren: It has always been said that since the mid 1980s, the Cubs are almost recession proof. True?
Ricketts: We have the best fans in baseball. They've been loyal through all the ups and downs and we're pretty much sold out before the season starts. We have 22,000 season ticket holders and 109,000 people waiting for those people to drop off. We're not going to take what we have for granted. We have to maintain that gameday vibe that makes fans want to come every day. We had 33,000 people sitting in the seats in the first week of October, when we were way out of it, with a Bears game going on at the same time.
Darren: You were at a lot of games this year. Do you have any idea where you'll be sitting next year?
Ricketts: I was at about 30 games this year and most of the time I was just walking around. I'm a fan, so I'll be everywhere and I'll be at every home game. I can't wait for Opening Day and I just know we're going to win a World Series one of these days. There is no curse. We just have to get the right team on the field and we'll get there.
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