In an announcement that a Chicago Cubs official said took the team by surprise, the Cubs and Arizona State University baseball officials have agreed to disagree.
Talks between ASU and Cubs officials over the possibility of the Sun Devil baseball program playing its home games at the Cubs’ forthcoming spring training facility at Mesa’s Riverview Park at the start of the 2014 season — talks that have been ongoing for more than a year — have ended, according to an ASU spokesman in the athletics office.
Thomas Lenneberg, an assistant media relations director for ASU’s baseball team, told the Tribune on Thursday the talks are “pretty much over,” with not much possibility of ASU returning to the table.
Julian Green, vice president of communications and community affairs for the Chicago Cubs, said that the Cubs were just as surprised as Mesa city officials to see that ASU decided to end the talks as they had stopped in July and that ASU was seeking to use the baseball facility for events other than baseball, something the Cubs did not want to allow.
In the November 2010 general election, Mesa voters approved Proposition 420, allowing the city to spend up to $99 million for a new spring training facility along Dobson Road near Loop 202 to replace 35-year-old Hohokam Stadium.
Numerous Cubs and Mesa city officials were on hand for the groundbreaking of the new facility in July. However, ASU was noticeably absent, raising concerns that the deal was on shaky ground. Green said that talks between the Cubs and ASU actually had stopped about that time.
If ASU would have inked a deal to move out of 38-year-old Packard Stadium at Rural Road and Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, the initial start-up cost for the Sun Devils to play at the new facility would have cost ASU $2 million, according to Lenneberg.
Green said the $2 million cost was for ASU to build out their locker room and for a practice field, which the Sun Devils were seeking. The Sun Devils would receive almost $1.1 million every year before the Cubs received a dime in revenue, in addition to playing in a rent-free stadium, according to Green.
“When you factor the people of Mesa are paying for a $100 million stadium, that’s a small amount to pay when you don’t have to build your own stadium and stand to triple your revenues,” Green said.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said on Thursday that he had told Cubs co-owner Tom Ricketts and ASU President Michael Crow that he “no longer would mediate” the talks, but agreed with Green that the deal would have been a great one for ASU, the Cubs and the city.
With ASU having to share some of the “wear-and-tear” costs of the new stadium in future years, Smith said, “It was an incredibly great financial deal for ASU. But, when you’re spinning your wheels and it’s evident that a deal is not going to get completed, why continue? If somehow, both sides change their minds and continue talks, we’d be interested.”
Lenneberg also cited the Cubs’ management change in its director of baseball operations from Crane Kinney to Theo Epstein as one of the reasons for the months-long talks coming to an end.
The statement on the athletics link of ASU’s website said:
“After many months of negotiation, ASU regrets that the effort to have the ASU baseball team play in the new Cubs stadium in Mesa has failed. The university approached the talks enthusiastically and readily accepted the deal as originally outlined. But as the new Cubs management changed the original deal points and added new issues to the negotiation, the new terms became far too costly to the university, imposed too many restrictions on ASU’s use of the facility and exposed the university to too great a level of financial liability for the entire complex. We wish to thank the City of Mesa, in particular, Mayor Scott Smith and his staff for the enormous effort the city made to bring the two sides together. We also want to assure ASU baseball fans that the university will immediately start pursuing other stadium options.”
Green said ASU broke off discussions with the Cubs in July, but decided to make it known that it would not continue to pursue a deal with playing at what would have been a “rent-free” facility in which ASU would have made $1 million before the Cubs made anything.
“For the past several months, we publicly said we wanted to do a deal that benefitted both parties,” Green added. “For ASU to say we acted in bad faith is baseless. You try to find some common ground. Sometimes it happens quickly, other times it takes time. Our first priority was building a world-class facility that the Cubs could use year-round.”
“The remaining issues with ASU could’ve been resolved, but to suggest that we did not want to get the deal done is baseless,” Green said. “We could not compromise our baseball operations to meet their demands.”
Lenneberg said ASU is seeking to grow its program to keep up with collegiate baseball powerhouses such as Lousiana State University and South Carolina. ASU also was seeking to reach independent financial sustainability away from being a part of the athletic fund’s budget and planning to continue as a winning program, Lenneberg said.
Lenneberg said he believed that ASU could not have moved forward with its goals had it ultimately decided to enter into an agreement with the Cubs.
One thing that the Cubs and ASU did seem to agree on, however, was that talks between the Cubs and ASU would not resume.
“I think ASU made it perfectly clear that playing in the new facility was not the direction they wanted to go,” Green said. “We’re disappointed at ASU’s decision not to pursue the deal, but we look forward to working with Mesa.”
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