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The [Thursday] Papers

Normally I would be up for a good newspaper campaign inveighing against the misdeeds an ogreous rich guy and his unfeeling company were planning against the good people of our fair city.

But the Sun-Times's campaign against Sam Zell's plan to sell Wrigley Field to the state has been transparent and sophomoric. After all, I haven't seen the paper put its editorial giving out its phone number and asking Barack Obama to give them a call and 'fess up to Tony Rezko on front page; it wasn't even the lead editorial of the day. I haven't seen an Obama-Rezko video contest like the one the paper is running for Zell and the Cubs.

That said, the Sun-Times hits a home run today. It's "Home Field Disadvantage" editorial is the best-written (and presumably, edited), most well-reasoned argument I've seen coming out its pages in . . . well, at least in a long time. Did they bring in a stunt board for this one?

"Last we checked, Wrigley Field was not a homeless shelter," the paper says. "It was not a day care center or a factory about to decamp for China. Last we checked, Wrigley Field was among the most successful ballparks in America, sure to remain home to the flailing Chicago Cubs - under any and all owners - for decades to come.

"There is, then, not a single good reason the State of Illinois should buy Wrigley Field, a scheme now roaring forward that would put our tax money at risk, to ensure the ballpark's survival. Beautiful as it is, Wrigley Field is not some architectural damsel in need of being 'saved.' Only Sam Zell and his Tribune Co., owners of the ballpark, stand to gain. And in an economic downturn, only the taxpayers stand to lose."

Bravo.

"This is no time for the people of Illinois to help Sam Zell pad the value of his assets by buying his ballpark."

To the paper's credit, it does not merely make this assertion, but supports it.

My only fear is that this will be an instance of singular smarts. The paper's otherwise embarrassing efforts to stir up a war with Tribune stinks of a desperate marketing ploy of a newspaper careening toward bankruptcy that damages the credibility of its reporting and commentary. When the editorial board tells us that "In subsequent editorials in the days ahead, we'll look at this issue and others in greater detail," I can only take that as a warning and shudder.

It's hard to forget that the paper's editorial board once promised to assign extra reporters to cover the Todd Stroger administration to protect the integrity of its weird and calculating endorsement. Or that it did an about-face in 24 hours and declared itself the "progressive conscience of the city" after years as the paleo-conservative conscience of the city. Or that it was just last week that it endorsed Jim Oberweis for Congress.

But I'm a Cubs fan. Maybe this year is the year.

Trib Tattlers
Meanwhile, it's not as if the Tribune is taking a pass on the various threads of the Wrigley Field story. Today, for example, the paper offers up an analysis by Blair Kamin - who has already written a piece called "Why Wrigley Field's Landmark Status Should Be Preserved" - of what the ballpark's landmark designation does and does not allow in terms of physical changes and improvements.

Tribune Company and its potential Wrigley Field buyer, the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, are asking for a relaxation of landmark rules so it can embark on a massive rehab. (Shudders, again.)

Kamin persuasively reports that such a relaxation isn't necessary - unless (my words, not his) they really want to wreck the joint.

"It's kind of a lame argument that they're making for their relaxation of the designation," Planning Department spokesman Pete Scales tells Kamin.

The Tribune also reports in a separate article that "The Chicago Cubs are closer to a partial stadium-naming-rights deal with one or more major corporations, though the historic Wrigley Field moniker is expected to remain in some fashion, sources close to the situation said Wednesday."

So let me get this straight. Sam Zell is proposing that he would sell naming rights to Wrigley Field for hundreds of millions of dollars. Then he would sell the ballpark to the state for hundreds of millions of dollars. Then the Cubs would put a surcharge on already-rising ticket prices to help pay for renovations, along with a portion of the naming rights money and 30-year tax-exempt bonds. Then Zell would sell the team for hundreds of millions of dollars and the new owner wouldn't get the ballpark or the naming rights.

Meanwhile, Zell bought Tribune Company for $8.2 billion but only put in $350 million of his own money, yet has an option that will give him 40 percent of the company at a discount should the company rebound sufficiently. If not, the risk falls on the Employees Stock Option Plan he created "using a provision that was stuck into a minimum-wage-increase bill in 1996 at the behest of the owner of a small Minnesota company who wanted to sell a stake to his workers."

Under this structure, Tribune Company no longer has to pay corporate income taxes.

But if the Wrigley deal goes through, a portion of your tax bill will go to Zell.

And that is why he is the richest man in Chicago. Evilly so.

There Once Was A Man . . .
Sam Zell limericks.

Wrigley Wiggly
"The chairman of Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. failed to put the kibosh on speculation that his business might buy naming rights to Wrigley Field," the Sun-Times also reports today.

But William Wrigley Jr. "noted that the Cubs had been owned by the Wrigley family and not the company."

Wrigley Field has never really been a corporate name, and the company has accrued little value from it.

"[T]he company tends to put marketing dollars behind brands and not the corporation's name," the Sun-Times notes.

Brand Stands
"Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. will overhaul the packaging and flavor of its ubiquitous stick gums, including Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, Big Red and Extra brands, as part of an effort to revive sagging U.S. sales," the Sun-Times reports separately today.

"The confectioner announced the makeover Wednesday during its annual shareholders meeting in Chicago, saying the change would help boost the gum's profile among store shoppers.

"On Wednesday, Chicago-based Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. announced new packaging for its line of stick gums, including Doublemint, Juicy Fruit, Big Red, Winterfresh and Spearmint.

'''This cool new pack will make these brands more contemporary and give them a better presence on the shelf,' President and Chief Executive Bill Perez said."

Isn't it kind of, oh, funny (or something) that wealthy corporate executives make their bones on how packs of gum look?

The Beachwood Tip Line: Double your pleasure.



Permalink

Posted on March 13, 2008


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