06.05.11

Say It Ain’t So, Joad: The Wrigleyvillebillies Can’t Pay Off the Farm

Posted in Baseball, Money, The Marketplace at 11:25 pm by

(Pictured: The Ricketts family on Sunday, watching the Cubs lose in St. Louis, 3-2.)

I expect this will sound familiar. An over-valued property is sold to a family who can’t afford it. They drown in debt. The value of the property drops as assets have to be sold off and it goes underwater, meaning the family has a debt worth more than the property. Finally, the Wall Street geniuses who designed the deal come up with a brilliant plan – let the public pay it off.

In this case, the property in question is the Chicago Cubs, which the Ricketts family bought for $845 million – minus the $700 million they said they could come up with at the time.  Well, like any number of American families in 2009, they hit an unexpected financial bump when NY Attorney General Cuomo insisted they pay a $456 mil penalty fee for fraud. I know! Who hasn’t dipped into the till for $450 million when times get tough? I won’t lie to you, I sure have.

The Sun-Times ran a weakly sourced story on the Joad Ricketts family debt woes yesterday. Weak, since they claim they talked to “a source with first-hand knowledge of the Cubs’ purchase deal and debt structure,” a source so close to the books that The Sun-Times can with pinpoint dollar accuracy report that “unless their improved farm system takes an even more dramatic upturn in the next few months, that $400-million debt — give or take $100 million – could turn into a real problem with the bigger authorities. The fans.”

Not sure what’s less accurate here, needing a $100 million margin of error to report on the Ricketts’ debt or assuming that current fan lack of attendance will determine anything at Wrigley. Attendance dropped off last year and the Ricketts still put forth the platformed ticket pricing, public financing plans, and the expected payroll beat down and exodus of talent. Given their criminal track record, scamming business practices, and miserable on-field product – why are these people not given a time-frame to fix this or move on? Given that the Ricketts family can no longer pay off this team like actual fat cats, and if the public has to pay it off for them through price gouging and public financing – why shouldn’t the public own the team? I’ll be the first to say, I don’t know the community economics of such a deal a lá Green Bay and the Packers. But by 2012, we’ll be looking at a publicly funded debt refinancing for busted Wall Streeters from which the public will never profit. Sound familiar?

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