TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Kai Ryssdal: Sadly enough, I was out at Dodger Stadium last night watching the Dodgers lose the National League title to the Philadelphia Phillies. Sad, I suppose, if you’re a fan, but nothing compared to the baseball drama going on in Chicago. The Cubs, which are now going on 101 years without a World Series title, are looking for a new owner. A sale of that size isn’t an easy thing to do in this economic climate. Mark Cuban, owner of basketball’s Dallas Mavericks, has offered $1.3 billion. He’s popular enough with fans, but he makes other owners nervous. Cuban’s tell-it-like-it-is attitude has cost him $2 million in fines to the NBA. ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski’s been covering the deal.
Gene, welcome to the program.
Gene Wojciechowski: Thank you.
Ryssdal: So, aside from his antics, who is Mark Cuban really?
Wojciechowski: Well, he is sort of a child entrepreneur. And he sort of made his bones really early in his life, he was just a clever kid who knew how to work business. And he’s a guy who sort of is a visionary, because he understands the economics of things.
Ryssdal: Now he’s in the mix to buy the Chicago Cubs. Where does that transaction stand in terms of the Cubs getting a new owner?
Wojciechowski: Well, they had hoped to have this thing wrapped up, basically by now. Or at least in the home stretch. But I don’t think they are really anywhere very close right now. They basically have made a first cut, and Cuban made sort of the varsity team of bidders. But there is still a lot of work to do, it’s still a very fluid situation. And Cuban even recently said that with the economic downturn, that he definitely wants to buy the Cubs, but I think he’s sort of hoping they put a little lower sales price on it.
Ryssdal: Is he going to be able to get a lower sales price, or is he going to have a tougher time finding financing? I mean, those two are sort of interrelated right?
Wojciechowski: Well, Sam Zell is going to try to wring as much money as he can out of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field, as he can. I think he would be very, very reluctant to lower the price on anything, including a paper clip.
Ryssdal: Baseball ownership, of course, is not the most wild and crazy collection of guys you’re ever going to meet. Cuban, I imagine, is meeting some resistance amongst the ownership?
Wojciechowski: I would guess that Mark Cuban, right now, is trying to build as many bridges of understanding and extending handshakes and sort of trying to soothe some of the feelings that he’s ruffled through the years, and try to show some of these more traditional, conservative major league baseball owners that, you know, he can play nice. Because he has to get three-quarters approval from the other owners.
Ryssdal: Once he gets past that hurdle, though, assuming he does, you mentioned he understands the economics of big league sports pretty well. Is he going to be able to make a whole lot of money off the Cubs? Does this deal make sense for him?
Wojciechowski: He understands, Wrigley, I mean, it’s been called, you know, the world’s largest beer garden, because they open up the doors, everybody comes in, they just have a great time. It’s sold out just about every game. As long as they’re competitive. So I think he would keep them competitive and I think that revenue stream would continue.
Ryssdal: Do you think Cuban being inside baseball ownership would change baseball at all?
Wojciechowski: I hope so. I think Cuban, if he played it smart, if he’s able to explain to the other owners why this would be a good idea, they would listen. Because MLB has done a lot of things in recent years that made a lot of sense. They started their MLB.com. Their MLB network is going to be firing up here in January. So they understand that there’s money to be made out there. And Cuban has a long history. He understands that part of the equation. So I think he’d be a real asset for the other owners. It’s just a matter of, are we gonna get Mark Cuban the guy whose is sort of this brat, or are we gonna get the really smart businessman who can really add value to everybody. And that’s going to be the key. Not only adding value to the Chicago Cubs, but how’s he going to add value to everybody else’s franchise.
Ryssdal: Gene Wojciechowski writes for ESPN and ESPN.com. We reached him, obviously, in Chicago. Gene, thanks a lot.
Wojciechowski: My pleasure.
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