It was September 4, 2005. Jimmy Buffett played the first of two shows at Wrigley Field, in Chicago. Wrigley had been used as a home field for other sports teams besides the Cubs. The Chicago Bears of the NFL and the Chicago Sting of the North American Soccer League had played their games there. This was something different. It was the start of using the iconic ballpark as a money making operation. It was the start of the Whorification of Wrigley Field.
Even though Buffett's first two concerts brought in revenue of more than $8 million, Cubs management wasn't quite sold on the idea. Cubs President Andy McPhail told the Chicago Tribune,"It's not our core business. If we do it again, it will have to be the right performer under the right circumstances."
McPhail was worried about a lot of different issues. The condition of the field, relationships with the neighborhood, traffic and noise were among his worries. It took almost two years for the next concert at Wrigley Field. By the time The Police took the stage on July 5, 2007, McPhail was no longer in the organization and a new era of had begun at the friendly confines. An era where money is king.
I go back a lot further with Wrigley than Andy McFail. My first time there was in 1960. On a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon there were only about 15,000 fans attending the game. Plenty of seats for anyone who wanted to show up, even at the last minute. We were in the bleachers and they were half empty. Lots of room to stretch out, be comfortable and grab some sun. That was the norm for those days. Wrigley Field was a quaint little place to watch baseball. Most major league teams had stadiums; We had a ballpark.
It stayed that way, too. Even when the parks of the early years of baseball were torn down to make way for multi-purpose stadiums, Wrigley Field stayed the same. You always heard Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse say, If you're in the neighborhood, come on by. Plenty of seats available...and there were.
The first big change came on August 8, 1988. The first night game. Even though it was rained out, it became the start of a new era of baseball at Wrigley. The Cubs were the last major league team to play home night games. It was long overdue. The team needed it to save the players strength during a hot summer, to draw fans that were unable to attend day games because they worked and to make money to become competitive. Although it was necessary, it was a sign of things to come.
The Cubs had an agreement with the neighborhood and the city for eighteen night games a season. It didn't take long for them to push for more. In 2017, there can be up to 43 night games...and they want more. That doesn't include the ten concerts scheduled for this summer.
Good old Wrigley Field isn't so quaint anymore. The landmark green scoreboard in centerfield is now dwarfed by the two message boards in left and right field. The bleachers themselves have been enlarged. More seats equals more money and they're always full. The bullpens, which were located on the field for decades, have been moved to under the bleachers to add more seats...which again means more money. And that's just the inside of the park.
Outside the park is the new plaza. It's a lovely space. You can sit outside on the lawn and watch the game on a big screen monitor. They also have farmer's markets and movies there, when the Cubs are on the road. There's restaurants, shopping for Cubs paraphernalia, and even a Starbucks. It does add to the experience for the fans while adding to the Cubs bottom line. It's a win/win thing but you can guess who is the biggest winner in this.
Next year, there will be a new hotel across from Wrigley. Out of town fans can stay there to make their commute to the games easier. Hotel Zachary will have a couple of nice restaurants and all the amenities you want in a boutique hotel. There will even be a McDonald's. Can you say Cha-Ching!!
Back to the concerts....What started as a one off thing in 2005 has become ten shows in 2017. By the end of the summer, there will have been forty-two total concerts held at Wrigley. Among the performers this year will be Tom Petty, James Taylor, Dead & Co. and Lady Gaga. Past concerts have featured Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Billy Joel, Billy Joel and more Billy Joel.
I mentioned Billy Joel three times because tonight he'll be performing at Wrigley again. It's the fourth year in a row and his sixth total appearance there. Why? It's not as if he has anything new to offer from his past appearances. There won't be any new music. He hasn't put out a new album since 1993...TWENTY-FOUR YEARS!!
Billy Joel is at Wrigley Field tonight because of one thing...his concert will sell out. That's why the Cubs keep scheduling him and why he keeps coming back. Money for Billy and money for Cubs.
I'm sure it'll be a good show. The people attending will love it. He'll sing all of his greatest hits....the songs you heard last year, and the year before, and the year before that. I think it's kind of bland but Billy and the Cubs try to give the people what they want...to keep them coming back.
When you bring the same performer back again and again, you can't even pretend it's about the music. It's all about the money. I wonder if Billy Joel, when he played the piano for the first time, when he played for tips in a small club, dreamed he would symbolize the Whorification of Wrigley Field?
Related Post: Billy Joel plays Wrigley Field....again
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