Talk about making a new Chicago Cubs spring-training ballpark a daily destination: the team is pitching Arizona State University officials on sharing the team’s new Mesa ballpark in a move that could see the Sun Devils leave venerable Packard Stadium.
It’s fairly unusual for an MLB team to court a college program to share a spring-training facility, but this isn’t a normal circumstance. The Sun Devils are facing some facilities issues thanks to the success of the program: the team already draws, has the potential to draw some good crowds in the future, and in general the program is successful. In recent years renovations at Packard Stadium have focused on team-oriented facilities, like expanded clubhouses and workpout areas, and less on creature comforts for fans. While it’s a decent enough facility, it’s certainly dated and lacking many amenities (concessions are limited; club areas are nonexistent), and with the college-baseball game turning into an arms race of new facilities, ASU would make a definite splash by signing on as a tenant at the new Cubs facility.
For the Cubs, there’s a good business reason to bring in the Sun Devils: it would bring in a lot more traffic to a planned entertainment district next to the training complex. It’s proven to be fairly difficult to pitch potential hotel operators and retailers/restaurateurs on signing a 12-month lease for a complex that will be busy for only six weeks a year. Add Arizona State to the mix, and you’ve got an additional two months of foot traffic a year. (It also presumably would increase the worth of a potential naming-rights deal, though we’re guessing not by a whole lot.) That still put the complex far away from a 12-month proposal, but it’s a start. Scheduling problems could be avoided — the Pac-12 season starts in April — and moving to a Mesa ballpark is a whole lot cheaper than spending $20 million on Packard Stadium upgrades.
The offer from the Cubs: the university will keep the first $1.1 million of gate and concessions revenue before a sharing deal kicks in, according to the Arizona Republic. That would represent a doubling of the current revenues from Packard Stadium. It frees up the Packard Stadium location for new development. In addition, the new ballpark would be cobranded as a joint Cubs-ASU facility.
There is apparently no rush on a decision; both sides are talking a 2014 debut for ASU — about the time a proposed Wrigleyville West could come online.