Cubs haven't struck deal, study Wrigley naming rights issue

Updated: March 3, 2008, 6:56 PM ET
Associated Press

CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field is a shrine of sorts, a top Chicago tourist attraction and haven for baseball fans who revel in its throwback ivy-covered walls while partying and rooting for their Cubbies.

There have been changes over the years, some that initially made purists cringe: lights in 1988, advertising on the walls, new bleachers, and this past offseason a makeover of the playing surface.

But here's one possible alteration that really has Chicago buzzing during one of the city's longest and coldest winters: Would Wrigley be the same with another name?

Billionaire Sam Zell has taken over the Tribune Company and is expected to sell the Cubs. And Wrigley, too, most likely in a separate transaction or in a purchase by the Illinois Sports Facility Authority.

But what really has some people angry is that Zell is considering selling the naming rights to the second-oldest ball park in the majors, dating back to 1914. The park was named Wrigley Field in 1926 for club owner William Wrigley.

"We're sensitive and I would think we would get some credit to the way we've run the ball park since the Tribune has owned. We haven't ruined the ball park," said Crane Kenney, the Tribune Co. executive in charge of the Cubs.

Kenney and Cubs legend Ernie Banks appeared at the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Monday to promote a new seat auction partnership between the team and the CBOE.

"I remember when lights were introduced and a number of people who said, 'Nothing will be the same, the park will be ruined and the atmosphere is going to change.' And it hasn't," Kenney added.

Zell stirred up the fans and media last week during an interview with CNBC. He made it clear who's the boss and has stressed the way he runs his business is, well, his business.

"Excuse me for being sarcastic. But the idea of a debate occurring over what I should do with my asset leaves me somewhat questioning the integrity of the debate," he said.

Reports say there are about a half dozen groups who could be potential purchasers of the team.

"There's a lot of people who would like to buy the Cubs and would like to buy the Cubs under their terms and conditions and, unfortunately, have to deal with me," Zell said.

Kenney said Zell has been stressing that all potential revenue streams be investigated.

"Naming rights has gotten a lot of attention lately, and I think Sam, as he is at the Tribune generally, is stirring the pot and asking people to reevaluate the way we do business and rethink everything we do throughout the organization," Kenney said.

"His charge to me as the person in charge of the Cubs was, 'Have I thought of everything, are we looking at every opportunity?' ... The answer is we are looking at naming rights. That's about as far as it goes. We're looking at it. I think people jumped on Sam's comments as if something was imminent. There are no imminent transactions."

Hall of Famer Banks made the rounds of the trade board Monday. He rang the opening bell and then paraded through some of the congested pits where some of the monitors flashed his career highlights instead of market data. He shook hands, signed whatever items traders could produce and posed for pictures.

Mr. Cub was asked how he would feel if the park where he made his name and hit his 500th home run in 1970 got a new name.

He handled it diplomatically.

"Every time I went to Wrigley Field, I didn't think about the park, the name of the park, just playing the game, going on that field," Banks said.

"It didn't matter to me. That was not a big thing thinking about the name of the park, it's just the park itself. ... It's a very, very special place to me and most of the people I've played with and against."

Kenney said the stadium issues must be resolved before the team can be sold, a transaction that could finally take place by the end of the year. The Tribune bought the team in 1981.

Whether Wrigley Field is called something else when the new owners take over is not a sure thing.

"I think people had the cart a little ahead of the horse when they assumed that something was going to happen right away," Kenney said. "There is no update. In fact, there is really not a transaction anytime imminent."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE