After years of delays, anticipation, and rumors, the Tribune Company finally sold the Chicago Cubs yesterday. Well, not exactly. As would befit an agonizingly protracted process that had both Mark Cuban and Alex Rodriguez as rumored potential suitors, the Cubs merely announced that they had an “exclusive” bidder at $900 million. Other people can bid — the team would like to get the price up to $1 billion — but Tom Ricketts (the creator of TD Ameritrade, who used to live across the street from Wrigley Field) is probably going to buy the team.
Even highly successful teams like the Cubs, who are going for as much as $100 million less than some initially estimated, are feeling the effects of the downturn. Their current owner, the Tribune Company, recently filed for bankruptcy, and the team is suing Under Armour, the sporting-goods company that sullied the famous outfield ivy with its logo, for dropping out of their contract early. Generally speaking, they’re losing sponsors. Should the Yankees expect similar trouble? Both teams are dominant franchises with high national profiles and younger-brother teams with loyal, but fewer, fans. The Cubs have fewer seats to fill than the Yankees, but both teams are international icons that anchor television stations and share a burning desire to win a World Series. The Yankees payroll is down from last year, but generally they aren’t feeling it. Sponsors are happy, skyboxes are (mostly) sold out, and enthusiasm for the new stadium is high. (Signing three of baseball’s top free agents always helps.) But this is just the first season of the new arena, and the Yankees are no more immune from a possible financial battering than anyone else. Let’s hope they’re setting aside some of that cash they’re currently raking in for a rainy day.