Could throw the future of NBC Sports Chicago into question
A report in Crain’s Chicago Business Monday suggested the Chicago White Sox may be looking to leave the South Side.
With six years left to go on their lease at Guaranteed Rate Field, the baseball team is looking at some options, including a move to the suburbs, somewhere else in the city, or perhaps even out of town to Nashville or another city. There is also news owner Jerry Reinsdorf could sell the team, fulfilling the wishes of White Sox fans whom for the last few months urging him to do just that. The White Sox may also be using this as leverage to perhaps win more upgrades at the stadium.
“We have not had any conversations about our lease situation, but with six years remaining, it is naturally nearing a time where discussions should begin to take place,” said team spokesman Scott Reifert. “The conversations would be with the city, ISFA and the state and most likely would be about vision, opportunities and the future.”
The ISFA – or Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is the entity created in 1988 to build and operate the park, as the White Sox nearly high-tailed it to St. Petersburg, Fla. to play in the Suncoast Dome (now Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays) if the team’s demands for a new publicly funded stadium weren’t met to replace Comiskey Park as the new place was built directly south of the old stadium.
Since the new Comiskey opened in 1991, at least two teams have abandoned later-built stadiums for new ones. The Atlanta Braves left Turner Field (opened in 1996) for suburban Marietta, Ga. and the Texas Rangers moved out of the Ballpark in Arlington (built in 1994) for new GlobeLife Field next door. Guaranteed Rate Field is already the ninth-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, and would move to eighth once the Oakland A’s depart Oakland-Almeda Coliseum for Las Vegas.
Since day one, the “new” Comiskey Park, later rebranded the U.S. Cellular Field and later Guaranteed Rate Field, was a flop with the public and baseball fans alike, as the ballpark’s design and look was criticized as being too generic as opposed to newer stadiums being built including the Orioles’ Camden Yards and Seattle’s T-Mobile Park. Worse, Guaranteed Rate is in a terrible location with the Dan Ryan Expressway to the east, and divides the affluent Armour Square and Bridgeport neighborhoods to the north and west, respectively and the crime-plagued Wentworth Gardens housing project immediately to the south.
This conversation was bound to come up sooner or later, as the aforementioned Rays, Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, and Baltimore Orioles – teams whose stadiums that were built or renovated after new Comiskey opened, are also looking at relocation or new stadium options. The timing is uncanny as the Chicago Bears are also looking to leave their current home, to either Arlington Heights or somewhere else in the Chicago area. The Brewers are also eyeing Nashville if they don’t get stadium upgrades.
The news come at a time when the team has suffered losses on the field, numerous PR gaffes, and low attendance in the stands – not to mention low ratings for NBC Sports Chicago, whose White Sox telecasts are ranked near the bottom of the Nielsen chart among MLB teams and finished last a few times in the last decade, most recently in 2018. A move would also deal yet another blow to Chicago’s image, already tarnished over the years by crime and mayhem – and the South Side in particular.
If the White Sox skip town or if Reinsdorf sells the team, it could impact the future of NBC Sports Chicago, who it and the Chicago Bulls each have a stake in the channel along with the Chicago Blackhawks. The contract with NBCUniversal expires next October as Reinsdorf’s media company recently took control of diginet Stadium from Sinclair. Future plans for Stadium are unknown, though speculation the channel could convert to a regional sports network. But if Reinsdorf sells and/or if the White Sox leave town, the future of Stadium and NBC Sports Chicago become more cloudier, especially at a time when the RSN business is in total freefall.
[Editor’s Note: On Tuesday evening, White Sox executives Kenny Williams and Rick Hahn were relived from their duties.]