Exposing Wrigley Field and 'Undercover Boss'

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Exposing Wrigley Field and 'Undercover Boss'

Monday, Nov. 8, 2010
9:06 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Todd Ricketts still hadn't seen the final version before it finally went to air Sunday night, after a long lead-in from NFL programming and "60 Minutes." That was a negotiating point between the Cubs and CBS.

There was Ricketts in black glasses and a full beard selling hot dogs, working grounds crew and the parking lot, and being "fired" from his job hosing down the bathrooms.

By the end, an ownership group that can be guarded with the media didn't have anything to worry about with "Undercover Boss," which amounted to a huge advertisement for Wrigley Field.

"They needed to have full editorial control," Ricketts said Sunday night at Harry Caray's in Wrigleyville, where he watched the episode with his family and Cubs executives and staffers. "Inevitably, there would be something that we wanted to change or add (or take out). And so we caved and we let it go.

"I never felt nervous that it would turn out poorly. You just want to have control over what gets exposed and CBS was like: 'This is a feel-good show. We're not out to make anybody look bad. You're the narrator. The employees are the stars. That's how it will be.'"

Actually owning the Cubs does not come with an easy-to-follow script. This season would have seemed like a reality show even without the cameras following around a member of the team's board of directors.

There was the enigmatic pitcher in anger-management counseling (Carlos Zambrano), the rookie outfielder laying in a hospital bed (Tyler Colvin), the manager going home to take care of his family (Lou Piniella) and the Hall of Famer estranged from the organization (Ryne Sandberg).

They served caviar in the clubhouse and put a yellow noodle steps away from Wrigley Field's iconic marquee. And it didn't matter -- fans wanted their picture taken next to both.

"Undercover Boss," which has profiled executives from NASCAR, Frontier Airlines, and the hotel and resort industries, stayed away from the biggest names in the organization and gave a behind-the-scenes glimpse at its workers.

It gave a brief biographical sketch of Ricketts, the youngest of the four siblings who control the team. Tom is the chairman and face of ownership. Laura is an attorney and active in Democratic politics. Pete once ran for the U.S. Senate in Nebraska on the Republican ticket.

Todd, whose investments include a chain of bike shops in the northern suburbs, admitted that his role is undefined within the organization. He used to sit out in the bleachers as a Loyola University student, and for this he moved back into a Wrigleyville apartment, like he did some 20 years ago.

The White Sox had their reality show on the MLB Network, but Ricketts indicated that the Cubs don't have any other television projects currently in development. And whatever he learned filming during those several days near the end of a disappointing season won't really influence some of the big-picture issues surrounding the stadium.

"I don't know if anything will be really dramatically changed based on the stuff we found here," Ricketts said. "It's really just getting to know the people that work at Wrigley, exposing to the country how great they are, and (getting) Cubs fans to get a good inside look at what happens at Wrigley when they're not around."

Those employees work seasonal jobs that are not glamorous on nights and weekends. Ricketts found one a paid internship in the marketing department. Another got his classes paid for, and the one who cut loose Ricketts will receive a vacation to spring training with his family.

It has been a little more than a year since the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs and Wrigley Field -- and a stake in Comcast SportsNet -- from Tribune Co. for approximately 845 million. The group has been strategic and deliberate.

In a soft economy and a difficult political climate, the Cubs campaigned hard enough to get plans for new training facilities approved by voters in Mesa, Ariz.

After a 75-87 season that could have been much worse -- and heading into Year 103 without a World Series title -- they managed to add a new, more expensive pricing tier for select home games without a backlash because their message was that overall ticket prices would essentially remain flat in 2011.

In their final analysis, the exposure from CBS, and what it could mean to the brand, outweighed the perception of what it might look like.

"We didn't jump at it right away when they came," Ricketts said. "The big hang-up we had at that moment (was) we were concerned that it might be taken negatively that the team's not performing well, but yet we're filming these TV shows around Wrigley.

"My explanation to that is: I'm not out there pitching. I'm not playing."

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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