Rahm denies Cubs night game request, continues long-standing city feud
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has emphatically denied the Cubs’ request for more night games at Wrigley Field – continuing the decades-old hostile relationship between the team and city government.
The Chicago Cubs are hoping for more title runs over the next few seasons, and with that, more night games and revenue. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is making sure to put a stop to at least the latter.
In a response to a request from the Cubs to increase the amount of night games allowed at Wrigley Field, Emanuel said at a press conference July 26 that the Cubs would not be being a “good neighbor” to Wrigleyville residents with more night games.
Under the current city ordinance, the Cubs are capped at 47 night “events” per year – 35 games or “events”, four major concerts and eight night games scheduled by national TV. The Cubs this season scheduled 29 night games and 10 concerts, six of which replaced additional possible night games.
Emanuel says the team has to “live with the consequences” of choosing to schedule concerts instead of additional night games at the park, dismissing completely the Cubs’ plea to inch closer to the Major League Baseball league average for night games at 54 per season.
The city telling the Cubs what they can and can’t do and when they can and can’t do it is nothing new. And for the Cubs, the issue over night games has been a reoccurring one.
A city ordinance passed in 1941 allowed the Cubs to install lights if they chose to, but banned any innings from being played after 8 p.m. In 1983, then-Alderman Ed Vrdolyak, motivated by a political dispute with former Cubs parent company the Chicago Tribune, pushed through legislation in City Council to ban lights entirely at Wrigley. Vrdolyakj had the help of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan to then stall Tribune efforts in Springfield to overturn the Chicago ordinance.
Not until 1988, when Vrdolyak and Madigan’s political relationship soured, did the Chicago City Council approve lights at Wrigley Field. Since 1988, the number of night games permitted at Wrigley Field has steadily increased with City Council approval, starting 14 years ago. From 1988-2003, the Cubs were only permitted 18 night games per season, up to 22 in 2004, 26 in 2005 and 30 in 2006. Thirty was increased to 35 in an agreement reached in 2013, the current agreement in place. But each time it’s forced the Cubs to engage in negotiations with the City Council, leading to a tense relationship over time persisting to this day.
The Ricketts family, who now own the Cubs after purchasing the team in 2009, has been in a long-standing feud with aldermen led by Alderman Tom Tunney, 44th Ward, preventing the family from using their own money to renovate the ballpark and surrounding neighborhood. Tunney echoed Emanuel’s comments on not allowing the Cubs more night games.
A path that the Ricketts could take – which other professional sports owners in the city have taken – would be to play ball with Emanuel, Tunney and the rest of the city’s political class.
The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, or ISFA, exists almost solely for this. The General Assembly created the politically stacked ISFA in 1987 to provide taxpayer funding for the construction and renovation of stadiums for professional sports teams. The ISFA owns and operates Guaranteed Rate Field, formerly U.S. Cellular Field and Comiskey Park, and oversaw the renovations to Soldier Field in the early 2000s. The ISFA is still handing out taxpayer money to the Chicago Bears for that deal to the tune of $36 million in 2016.
Former ISFA Chairwoman Perri Irmer, who served from 2004-2011, claimed in a 2013 lawsuit the ISFA exists as “nothing more than a cash cow puppet for (Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry) Reinsdorf,” not to serve its intended purpose of economic development through sports stadiums. And since the ISFA was created, Reinsdorf has made large donations to powerful politicians in the city and the state, including Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and both former Gov. Pat Quinn and Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Even without providing political support, the Cubs have tried before to strengthen their relationships with the city’s most powerful. The Chicago Sun-Times reported last October, as the Cubs were en route to winning their first World Series title in 108 years, that the club was extending offers to alderman and state lawmakers from Chicago districts to purchase Cubs post-season tickets – including for the World Series – at face value. The Cubs extended the same offer to Chicago politicians during their 2015, 2008, 2007 and 2003 playoff runs. City ethics officials, however, ruled that aldermen cannot accept these ticket-purchase offers unless they perform a ceremonial duty – such as publicly welcoming the crowd, making a speech or throwing out the first pitch – at the game.
Before the ruling was made, most alderman and Emanuel said they would take the Cubs up on this offer. Maybe such offers in the future would help change Emanuel’s mind, but it’s clear for now the mayor wants to have a strong say in what the Cubs – a very profitable business – can and can’t do. It’s a similar reality that businesses across the city face – from food trucks and food carts, to ride and home sharing companies and more. The example of professional sports is a highly visible one, and a good reminder that Emanuel and the Chicago City Council often care more about control than commerce.