Cubs President of Business Operations, Crane Kenney, spent time Monday morning with David Kaplan and David Haugh on The Game.
Crane Kenney was pretty open during the long interview. Kenney discussed Wrigley Field and the Cubs’ media rights. Plus he provided details on the negotiations and the contract with the rooftops that he helped write.
Wrigley Field Restoration
On is the team close to putting shovels in the ground to begin the restoration project
“No one would like to see shovels in the ground more than we would,” Kenney said. Kenney explained how the Ricketts family wants to put half a billion dollars into Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood. Kenney praised the work Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his staff has done to get the project to where it is today. Kenney made a point of the fact the city has made it clear what is permitted at Wrigley and what isn’t. “And what is permitted is signage in the outfield.” That long process ended last summer and the team knows what can get done.
The Cubs have been talking with the rooftops to find ways to both “get the revenue” the team needs “to put a winning product on the field and save the ballpark and allow them (the rooftops) to do what they need to do.” Kenney explained there “has been great spirit at the bargaining table” but it has not reached a conclusion yet.
The Cubs and the rooftop owners met three times last week and the two sides will continue to push toward a resolution. Kenney admitted he knows the process is long and said, “It began in 2004, 10 years ago.” In the summer of 2004 is when the first piece of concrete fell at Wrigley and the building commissioner said he was going to shut down Wrigley. The team installed the nets and that was the beginning of “how do we save Wrigley Field?”
The Cubs have gone through several governors, several mayors and several owners trying to sort it out as Kenney put it. David Haugh pointed out that Kenney actually said, “Seven years, two governors, two mayors, three owners, including bankruptcy, and all the other stuff.” No one saw the Tribune bankruptcy coming according to Kenney. He talked about the original plan that was discussed with Gov. Blagojevich to have the ownership of Wrigley transferred to ISPA (Illinois Sports Facilities Authority) then have ISPA renovate Wrigley but “that went by the waste side” due to the various “acts the governor had to deal with at the time.”
“So we’ve been at this awhile, we’ll get there,” Kenney said. “Much like everything for us we will get there and we will get to the right answer much like we did in Mesa.”
On if Opening Day is a realistic deadline to have the agreement with the rooftops in place
“Opening Day is a great kickoff for a lot of things,” Kenney said. “And we are sort of focused on Opening Day. Every effort augers toward that date. All of the work that is going on at Wrigley Field has to be completed by then. It would be ideal to have an answer by then, a definitive answer by then.”
The Cubs goal is to have everything wrapped up by Opening Day, but Kenney cautioned these things “are not linear” and they have “success and then setback” but that Opening Day is the goal.
On what the meetings are like with the rooftops
“There is some vitriol,” Kenney said. “There’s moments of anger and some words that aren’t really productive. But we are grinding out potential solutions so now it is very professional. There are a lot of lawyers in the room. The city is represented well by Ald. O’Connor. It is interesting. We get along on many topics. Obviously saving Wrigley Field is important to both of us. How we get there is where we differ and what we, the Cubs, are willing to give up too help them preserve their business is obviously a place we differ. But’s probably not as fun and crazy as you think it is.”
On why the fans should be focused on the upcoming season
“There is an incredible journey we are on and it is nearing a point of great excitement,” Kenney said. Kenney thinks the team has eight to ten players with extraordinary talent and ability unlike any group of talent they have ever seen in the Cubs system. Kenney gave “Jason, Jed and Theo” credit for the talent that is now in the organization.
Wrigley Field is the other reason fans “should stay engaged.” Kenney said Wrigley is much like Mesa in that Mesa was a five-year plan that began in an office when the team sat down and started discussing what they would do if they were building a new Spring Training home. Kenney is looking forward to the opening of Cubs Park on Thursday and admitted he is a little nervous about the parking and people finding their way around.
Kenney said, “Wrigley will be without question spectacular when we finish, and know it is about time to get going.”
On what it would take for Crane Kenney to call the 2014 season a success
First and foremost would be starting the Wrigley project. Then the media rights deal, both radio and TV. The question for the team is do they do a media rights deal now or wait until “all of the games are put together” after the 2019 season.
On what affect the team’s win-loss record for the upcoming season might have on sponsors
“We are not selling our won-loss record at the moment,” Kenney said. “If we were, at each trade deadline we would have cared about some of the moves that were made. We are stacking the deck for the future. This was the plan. Getting to 70 wins or 75 wins or 85 wins, there is no magic number for us on the business side. I think development of our core obviously is critical because that is the story.”
Finances, Revenue and the Expansion of Wrigley Field
On what is Crane Kenney’s top priority right now … the rooftops, Wrigley, more revenue streams?
“Our goal is to generate enough revenue that we have an advantage over our competitors,” Kenney said. “We come to work every day. In 2013 we had the fifth highest revenues in baseball. So that means there are four teams to catch. That’s the way we look at it. It is odd for other people to think about us worrying about other teams like Theo does. But we do. We look at the four teams ahead of us and we say they have an advantage we want to eliminate. So how do we catch them? It is interesting, in our league, because we share revenues as everyone knows, there is something called the FIQ, the financial information questionnaire. It comes out every year and it tells you your competitor’s revenues and expenses. Every line item. Parking, concessions, merchandise sales, tickets, media rights, radio, television, Internet, digital. Then on the expense side where they are spending their money.”
The Cubs can see what teams, like the Cardinals, are spending on the draft, player development, scouting and technology.
“When somebody gives you the road map of your competitors and it says here is where they are earning their money and here’s where they’re spending money.” Kenney said every team has to submit the FIQ to the league then the league shares it with every team.
At the very top of increasing the Cubs revenue and catching up with those other four teams is getting Wrigley Field renovated and the media rights. Those are the two things, according to Kenney, that are going to push the Cubs “over the top.”
On threating to leave Wrigley in order to begin the project the same way the team threatened to leave Mesa
Kenney pointed out that it was not as much the Cubs “scouting Florida” as it was Florida “scouting” the Cubs. Kenney visited Camelback Ranch as it was being built about five years ago while Tribune was in bankruptcy and the Cubs were being sold. Kenney visited Camelback to see what the other teams had gotten right with their new Spring Training facility. This was a year after rain altered the Cubs’ Spring Training plans and the team met with Mesa’s Mayor about what could be done to improve HoHoKam and Fitch Park. Kenney explained it became apparent to him and the group that he was with, that included Randy Bush, that the Cubs were just behind and so far behind they would not be able to “amend Fitch.” The Cubs made it known they needed a new facility and pressed the issue. After it was determined Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority (AZSTA), which was the source of funding for the other new parks, did not have the funding, Florida approached the Cubs.
The Cubs had zero interest in moving to Florida at the time. Kenney made the trip to Florida and was impressed. The team had to look at Florida’s proposal but it wasn’t the Cubs trying to find leverage in the negotiations with Mesa. “Leverage found us and we did use it,” Kenney explained. And it helped the process.
Wrigley Field is different because “it has a history of its own.” Kenney pointed out Wrigley is “an enormous asset” to the organization. Wrigley also means a lot to the family and saving Wrigley is Tom Ricketts second priority behind winning a championship.
The Cubs and the Ricketts family have made the commitment to stay in Wrigley Field.
On if the fans affection for Wrigley Field has possibly affected the negotiations with the rooftops
“I don’t know if it has helped or hurt the negotiations,” Kenney said. “The rooftop dynamic is really complex. It is not as simple as they do not want us to put signs up.” The rooftop owners want to see Wrigley Field restored and saved. But if the team can’t figure out a way to make it work and renovate Wrigley then they will have to find other options.
On if the baseball operations department will be given the additional revenue it needs when the team is ready to contend
“The plan is to flex our muscle when the time is right,” Kenney said. “The plan has always been that we have to get a system that works, I mean a player development system that works before you start spending. And I think Theo’s challenge, which was quite a challenge, was to take a system that was ranked 26th when he got here and move it as quickly as you can up the ladder.”
Kenney praised the baseball side for building up the talent in the system in a short time.
On why the Cubs are “afraid” of getting sued and not going ahead with the restoration project
“It is not we’re afraid of the suit itself, on the merits we feel very good,” Kenney said. “It’s the legal system and the delays that could occur.” The team is trying to do everything it can to keep it out of the courts. The restoration project is scheduled to take five off-seasons (26 weeks between the end of a season and the start of the next) right now and if the courts shut the project down in the middle of it then team is in trouble. The Cubs have not decided if they will push on yet or not without an agreement in place with the rooftops.
On being part of the contract with the rooftop owners
Following the success of 2003 and after the rooftops made a lot of money, Kenney explained “out of nowhere” they were told Wrigley was going to be landmarked. Wrigley would be frozen and the bleachers would never have any additions to them. Kenney said the team was “shocked” and they fought and opposed it. Kenney brought in Janet Marie Smith, who was doing the renovations for Fenway Park at the time, in to testify. Kenney tried to keep Wrigley from being “put in a time capsule” because ballparks have to evolve. The purpose of the landmark, according to Kenney was obvious, the rooftops did not want seats added to the bleachers. And the team lost by a vote of 50-0 and Wrigley was landmarked.
The team had a plan on file at the time to add more seats to the bleachers and to play more night games. Then the team could have only 18 night games. The team “made peace” with the rooftops so they could add 1,800 seats and increase the night games from 18 to 30. Kenney discussed the verbiage in the contract that David Kaplan somehow got a hold of. Kaplan was quick to point out he did not get a copy from the team or the rooftops.
“The contract very clearly says that if the city ever permits you to add seats or lights or signs to the outfield in an expansion then it is permitted,” Kenney said. The verbiage was added in just in case a different mayor came along and released the team from the landmark.
Kenney pointed out that the team is cited by MLB every year due to the poor lighting in the outfield. The team is adding lighting and changing Wrigley’s footprint … which makes it an expansion whether the rooftops agree or not. “When you push out your walls 18-20 feet, we picked up an acre of land, adding seats, lights and signs. It’s an expansion,” Kenney said. “And it was contemplated in the contract and gives us a green light to go forward.”
On whether or not Crane Kenney is involved in baseball decisions and the public perception that he is
Kenney said he is a fan of the game and has his opinions about the players but will not share them publicly. He has to watch the team because that is his business. Kenney pointed out the baseball decisions are made by Theo and Jed “and everything rolls up to Tom Ricketts and his family” and Kenney works for Tom. Kenney explained that he “has enough on his plate” with Wrigley and the media rights to stay out of the baseball side. On if the public perception bothers him, Kenney responded, “It is amusing. It is usually not fact based. So that gets a little bit annoying but beyond that we have other problems to worry about.”
On what Kenney thinks Tom Ricketts has learned since becoming the owner of the Cubs
Kenney thinks the losing has been hard on Ricketts. “I don’t care who you are and what your expectations are. We live out there. We are there 14-15 hours a day. Losing is awful and that can ware on anyone.” Ricketts has shown the patience and ability to ignore what is being said about him and the team and stick to the plan.
Kenney, Epstein and Ricketts meet for an hour once a week (Friday) and go over everything within the organization.
On what the team’s timeline is to have the television and radio deals done
Radio is easier according to Kenney because all of the radio rights belong to the Cubs. Television is more complicated. Kenney compared the TV rights to a “jigsaw puzzle” because of the games being available on the different Medias. Kenney is hopeful the team has an answer by Opening Day about the radio partnership.
The league average for night games right now is 54, the Cubs are allowed to schedule 43. The team would like a more consistent start time for the players at Wrigley Field and would “love to get to 54 night games” but that is not going to happen according to Kenney.