Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2010
By Patrick Mooney
The Bears havent played at Wrigley Field since 1970, and the stadium hasnt hosted a college football game in 72 years. Northwestern and Illinois havent even practiced there yet, and already youre wondering: Whats next?
That depends on how Saturday plays out, and the financing the Cubs ultimately structure around their long-range vision for a ballpark that is nearly a century old.
The Cubs have been lobbying the commissioners office for the All-Star Game, something team president Crane Kenney called a massive undertaking that our facility today probably isnt suited for.
Some 400 million later the proposed combination of state-issued bonds and private investment by the Ricketts family Wrigley Field could be hosting that game and aggressively bidding for larger events.
The Cubs already draw three million fans a year. Realistically they cant sell more tickets or significantly raise prices.
Chairman Tom Ricketts essentially acknowledged as much while trying to defend his plan to renovate Wrigley Field. He projects that the teams annual amusement-tax contributions around 16 million wont increase beyond inflation without major upgrades.
As Ricketts explained: Were getting to the point: How much more ticket-price power do we have in a ballpark without the kind of amenities that so many modern ballparks have?
So the Cubs are looking for ways to make money without totally changing the stadiums feel or alienating their fan base while easing political and neighborhood concerns. Chief sales and marketing officer Wally Hayward said the team is still exploring just how many non-baseball events Wrigley Field can hold each year.
Were limited because of the beautiful space that we have here and the ivy and the rooftops on putting traditional signage in like other stadiums, Hayward said. We dont want to do that. Were not taking the ivy down, so its critical to generate new revenue by bringing incremental events to Wrigley.
Kenney said concerts require so much advance work that the team needs to be on an extended road trip. When the Dave Matthews Band performed two nights at Wrigley Field in the middle of September, the Cubs went 12 days between home games, their longest stretch all season.
Cubs executives are open to the idea of more football, as well as soccer at Wrigley Field.
On Saturday Army and Notre Dame will play the first football game at the new Yankee Stadium, which will also stage the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 30.
The Big Ten, which is headquartered in Chicago, seems like a natural partner if Wrigley Field ever hosted a bowl. After Saturday, Northwestern will evaluate whether its worth moving another home game from Evanston.
We really wanted to do this, Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. We havent come to the end to really assess what we felt the things we liked, the things we didnt like. So to call it an annual event I would say is premature. We want to see what this looks like and how it goes.
This is an experiment on several levels. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Sheffield Avenue will be shut down between Addison Street and Waveland Avenue. There will be live music, multiple television screens to watch college football and several areas to eat and drink.
Thats replicating how the Boston Red Sox use Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park and previewing what the Cubs want to do with the Triangle development next to a remodeled Wrigley Field.
Sooner or later, youll likely see these street festivals before Cubs games.
Lets take one step at a time. This is a great test for us to really create a fanfest out on Sheffield, said Hayward, a Northwestern graduate. Ideally, it all goes well and the neighbors and community like it. We would love to try to do it around some of our marquee Cubs games in 2011.
Its also an opportunity for Cubs management to connect with corporate sponsors.
Workers on Wednesday morning put up more green Allstate panels in front of the outfield wall covered in brown ivy. Valspar had already been used to paint the marquee purple. Thats the backdropadvertisement when ESPNs College GameDay is shot Saturday from the McDonalds parking lot.
All this will make certain Cubs fans uneasy, especially in the year of the Toyota sign, BP Cup and yellow noodle. Maybe some things are sacred, but with a Taco Bell down the street, Wrigleyvilles not exactly Vatican City.
In the end, the Cubs want to make Wrigley Field a year-round destination, and they say these revenues go toward baseball operations.
Thats why ownership made the calculation to feature board member Todd Ricketts on Undercover Boss. The chance to reach all those families thinking about a summer vacation outweighed the potential to look silly.
With that CBS reality show and some 150 media credentials issued for Saturdays Northwestern-Illinois game the Cubs are guaranteed to stay in the headlines.
Weve been busy. Its been a good offseason, Hayward said. The Cubs and Wrigley are an entertainment brand, not just about sports. Its really a lifestyle and entertainment brand. And we can keep the excitement going 365 days out of the year beyond Cubs baseball.
Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.