Mix of savvy, cash, luck, fans helps Ricketts lift Chicago Cubs

Thu Oct 27, 2016 8:28pm EDT
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By Nick Carey

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Ever since they bid to buy the Chicago Cubs in 2009, the Ricketts family has been credited with making sound business decisions that have brought the team to the brink of its first World Series championship since 1908.

But Chicago Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts, who has led the organization since the acquisition, also has had a hearty dose of luck. He has benefited from an insanely loyal fan base that could tolerate years of poor results while the deep-pocketed Ricketts family rebuilt the entire team - a luxury that many other baseball teams might not have had.

"They (the Rickettses) have had the rare combination of having great management, great resources and great luck all coming together at the same time," said Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd, which advised Tribune Co in its sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family.

The World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, currently locked in a 1-1 tie, now moves to Chicago's Wrigley Field for three games, with the Cubs seen by many analysts as having a slight edge.

The Cubs were worth $1.2 billion in 2009, Ganis said, but with credit tight during the financial crisis, the field of bidders was limited and the Ricketts family was able to snag the team for $900 million. Real estate investor Sam Zell, who had bought Tribune Co by loading it up with debt, was motivated to sell in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to avoid a Tribune bankruptcy.

Tom Ricketts, an investment banker whose father Joe Ricketts founded TD Ameritrade Holding Corp, immediately engaged with fans after buying the team. He stated at the annual Cubs convention in January 2010 that his aim was to win a World Series.

Ricketts in 2011 hired Theo Epstein, the wunderkind who as team president of the Boston Red Sox in 2004 helped lead the team to its first World Series championship since 1918. The two announced a long-term plan to build a perennial playoff contender by unloading costly veteran contracts, rebuilding the Cubs' farm system and making a limited number of key free-agent signings. Young stars Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber have come up through the Cubs' farm system.

"Ricketts and Epstein have been transparent that it would take years to rebuild the team, and that has helped them with fans," said ESPN reporter Sarah Spain.   Continued...

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts raises the National League Championship Trophy after game six of the 2016 NLCS playoff baseball series at Wrigley Field, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., October 22, 2016. At right is President of Baseball operations Theo Epstein. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo