A League of Her Own

Wrigley Renovation Is Music To My Ears, But Ricketts Hitting All The Wrong Notes With Fans

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 I've been on board with a full-on renovation of Wrigley Field (and when I say 'full-on,' I mean knocking down everything but the ivy, the marquee, and the scoreboard and starting over.) I hadn't been all that fired up about a Fenway-esque renovation until I got the chance to check out Target Field this Spring and came home 5 different shades of green with envy.

So I was exicted to see today that the Ricketts and I seem to be ont he same page on this issue:

The owner of the Chicago Cubs is asking the state to help finance more than $200 million in renovations at Wrigley Field that will ensure the team stays at the historic ballpark for the next 35 years.

The Ricketts family, which purchased the team last year from Tribune Co. in a deal valued at $845 million, has pledged that the project will not be financed by new taxes or an increase in existing taxes.

The family's plan calls for the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns U.S. Cellular Field, to float up to $300 million in bonds. The bonds will be paid over 35 years through amusement taxes that Wrigley Field customers already pay.

While Illinois taxpayers are going to be understandly hesitant to embrace state money going to renovate an already wildly-popular stadium while dealing with an $11 billion budget deficit, the bottom line is that Wrigley Field and the Cubs bring in enormous amounts of money to local businesses every year. Bars, restaurants, hotels, convenience stores, and local merchants all benefit from Wrigley Field. The more Cubs fans are in the area, the more money local merchants make. The more money they make, the higher the taxes they pay. The more taxes Illinois collects, the better it is for everyone in the state.

And lest you're one of the "purists" who doesn't want a hair on Wrigley's head touched or altered in any way, do yourself a favor and take a trip up to Target Field in Minneapolis. It will cure you of the Wrigley-is-perfect-the-way-it-is-itis right quick. Beautiful wide concourses, stairs and ramps that don't force you to take your life in your hands every time you go up or down, two different light rail lines that drop fans off within feet of their seats, an unbelievable variety of restaurants and bars. . .  and that's before I even start talking about the intimacy of the setting and the beauty of the field.  

The bottom line is that we're watching baseball in a stadium that was built 96 years ago. The concrete is crumbling. The bathrooms are damn near unbearable. Both our players and opposing players would give their best lefty's right arm for nicer locker rooms, clubhouses, and batting cages at Wrigley.

Wrigley is 100 years old. And it shows.

I don't want to knock down Wrigley. I don't want to see the Cubs move to Schaumburg. I love Wrigley. I love that it's the central hub of a neighborhood, rather than being located off some highway exit ramp in Palatine or Arlington Heights. If the Cubs are able to renovate Wrigley and bring it up to speed with more modern facilities, I'm all for it. I go to Wrigley to watch baseball, not to walk back in history to a time when people's knees didn't smash up against the cupholders in front of them. 

Having said that, the Ricketts Family is sorely in need of some good PR advice. While we all understand that the Cubs need to bring in some revenue from other sources, the family is rubbing many long-time fans with wrong way. While feel-good ceremonies, statues, and noodle art are all well and good, what the fans really want is a winning team.

When the Ricketts began their tenure at Clark and Addison, the fans understood that they were walking into somewhat of a mess and were willing to give them some time to try to pull the organization together. However, the honeymoon is rapidly ending. This week alone, I've received more emails, direct messages, and posts from fans upset with the Ricketts than I did all of last season.

The bloom really seemed to go flying off the rose on the day Lou announced his retirement. In a press conference too reminiscent of the ones that take place at Halas Hall for most fans' liking, Tom Ricketts annouced that Jim Hendry would continue as the Cubs' GM "going forward" and would lead the search for a new manager.  It's probably an understatement to say that Hendry has worn out his welcome with fans. Not only is he known for hamstringing the club with huge contracts to bad players (see, e.g. Samardzija, Jeff; Fukudome, Kosuke), dressing down media members who disagree with him, and barely being able to conceal his contempt at having to interact with the fans at Cubs Con, but Hendry's handling of the Ryne Sandberg unpleasantness and allegations that he only promotes his inner circle have many fans clamoring for his firing. 

Next came a string of on and off-the-field celebrations as disgusted fans stoppped attending games at the end of the 2010 season. Though Cubs fans are known for their eagerness to embrace warm and fuzzies and being easily distracted by shiny objects, the barely-concealed attempts to distract the fanbase from the terrible product on the field was too transparent even for them.

But what really seemed to send people over the edge was Todd Ricketts' less-than-flattering appearance on "Undercover Boss" last Sunday. Here's what I learned about "Undercover Boss:" it's fun to watch a corporate muckety-muck look like a complete idiot unless you care deeply about the organization he's in charge of running. Rather than laughing-off Todd's inability to sell hot dogs or inexplicable promotion of a grounds crew member to the front office, it seems that many fans watched in horror, realizing that one of their hopes for pulling the Cubs out of abyss can't park cars in a straight line.

It didn't help, of course, that three days after the feel good, kumbaya "Undercover Boss" finale, where in Todd Ricketts proclaimed Cubs' employees "a family" and vowed to improve their work days, the Cubs fired 4 long-time employees and announced that they are out-sourcing in-house publications to a firm in . .  gah . . .  Cincinnati.

I know that the Ricketts siblings lived in and around Wrigley Field during their college years. If I'm correct, that would put them in and around Wrigley Field in the late 80s and early 90s. Not exactly the best years for the Cubs, and definitely a time in which going to the ballpark and having many beers was much more enjoyable than the team the Cubs were putting on the field.

But 2003 heralded a new attitude and new breed of fan. If the Ricketts believe that Cubs fans care more about fun at the ole ballpark than winning, they're in for a rude awakening. Cubs fans have already begun complaining, en masse, that the family seems more focused on the area in and around the ballpark than the team on the field. This may or may not be true, but the Ricketts certainly aren't doing anything to disspell that notion.

Look, I've never heard a fan say "We pay the highest ticket prices in baseball to sit in the oldest stadium," I've probably heard hundreds of fans say "We pay the highest prices in baseball to watch the worst product on the field." Given the choice, fans would much rather have a winning team than a beautiful ballpark with a forest of bronze statues outside. It's probably fair to say that we'd sit in a pile of rotting goat innards to watch the Cubs win a World Series.

For whatever reason, the Ricketts don't seem to "get" that saying "we want to win" while only talking about what new revenue opportunity awaits is rubbing hoardes of fans the wrong way, especially if the revenue is being used to update a ballpark they can't afford tickets to, anyway.

Like Wrigley, the mantra coming out of 1060 W. Addison is in desperate need of renovation. In addition to embracing social media and communicating more with the fans about on-field issues, the family needs to understand that all fans want to hear about right now is what this organization is doing to win ballgames. That's it. No more about honoring ex-players, no more statues, no more ads and jumbotrons and corporate boxes. Just tell us how we are going to turn this ship around.

If the Ricketts family doesn't figure this out, they're going to end up with a very beautiful, but very empty, stadium. 

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15 Comments

Bex said:

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GOSPEL.

keywestcubfan said:

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Best thing I've ever seen you write Julie. Love the forest of bronze statues imagery.
And yes, I would gladly sit in a pile of rotting goat innards to watch the Cubs win a World Series.
All hail the leader!

JulieDiCaro said:

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thanks for liking my manifesto. I'm going to take a news station hostage later and make them read it on the air.

keywestcubfan said:

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well, you're not the unibomber. However, you seem to have channeled the thoughts of real Cub fans. Congrats. Maybe you can take a porkchop hostage at Ditkas's restaurant just for fun.
Don't give it back till the Ricketts come to their senses!

JulieDiCaro said:

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heh--thanks.

Joe Hass said:

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Indeed, when I read the PR about the publications department outsourcing, I wondered how many jobs were going to be cut. It struck me just as badly as the Heat layoffs of their entire sales organization: just spectacularly tone-deaf.

The more I think about it, the entire 2010 season just had the whiff of desperation, and now I fear it's going to stink up the entire joint.

JulieDiCaro said:

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2010 just felt wrong from the beginning. It felt like 2009 never ended. . . just took a break for the winter. I'm very afraid 2011 is going to feel the same way.

Edelweiss said:

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Since all that money is being spent to renovate Wrigley Field, at the taxpayers' expense, why not have something for the players, like a Perpetual Flame, where players could light farts without endangering the fingers of team-mates?

Cubs Psychologist said:

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Great post, Julie!! What do we need to do to get you your own column?? This needs to happen. I wish you could write for our local paper. I really need to plan a trip to Target Field.

flyball said:

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my only problem is your interpretation of the renovation at Fenway, the old concourses haven't seen a mop in 48 years, let alone a renovation, I actually like how they did the renovation, they took the knothole idea and built a bar on the outside, tell me how that isn't genius

JulieDiCaro said:

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ha--i haven't actually been INSIDE the new Fenway, so I stand corrected. I agree-- knothole bar is brilliance.

Doc said:

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There are two really big differences between the Fenway renovations the the Wrigley renovations...

First, with Fenway, one of the primary goals was to increase the seating capacity of the park. The second was for the Red Sox to expand the ballpark by purchasing the building that were literally right next to the ballpark and integrate those buildings into the park.

A lot of work was done to the upper deck (if you can call it that) at Fenway, but my understanding is that the concourses under the stand and the lower deck, outside of some cosmetic changes, was left alone.

Of course, I haven't been to the park since any of those renovations started.

I believe the Cubs are intending to gut large portions of the the park (incrementally), and outside of building the triangle building, don't intend to expand the park.

Daniel Scogin said:

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Shear Brilliance!!! Thank you!

Daniel Scogin said:

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I meant sheer! oops

tomas21 said:

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Well said Julie. The Ricketts suck so far.

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