This afternoon, the Chicago Cubs hosted their first ever bloggers forum at the Cubs office. I was one of several fortunate bloggers invited to the office to sit down with the Cubs President of Business Operations, Crane Kenney, for an hour long Q&A session. First off I want to thank the entire Chicago Cubs organization for making all of us feel welcome, it was an amazing event. While there, we had the opportunity to look over the HUGE Wrigley Field model which has the renovations built into it. Now, a few things are missing from the model, however it was built from the original plans. The new lights, some signage and the bullpens being moved aren’t reflected on this model. The pictures at the bottom of this Q&A session will give you a great idea of what is planned.
Q&A Session with Cubs President of Business Operations, Crane Kenney:
Q: With the renovations and signage on the outfield, have there been any studies as to how the wind might affect the ball?
A: Yes, so Carl Rice was owner of the winds study that was completed last summer. They completed a mockup of this, to project the prevailing wind velocity, and what they did is make a mockup video board like this, and what it might do to the winds. It’s not just the wind coming from the east, it’s the wind coming from the west also. We shared the results with Theo when we got them, so he would know how it might affect the ball park and his decisions. There will be a very small impact on the way the ball travels. I obviously can’t tell you the outcome of that study as our opponents might use that study, however it has a very small impact on the ball. From a fans perspective also, no, you won’t notice a change in the ball park.
Q: Are the Cubs thinking about doing any Online Streaming with CBS?
A: We are really excited about the group at CBS, as it’s probably the most dominant of the radio stations here. WXRT is the number one rock station, US99 is actually the most popular country station in the US and is a CBS property, plus the Score, B96 and so forth. What’s really great about CBS Radio is it cuts across all demographics. So the advantage we have in that deal vs. WGN, which was a wonderful partner – I have nothing but good things to say about WGN – but it was one dial, one genrevs. using the entire platform of CBS stations to reach all of our fans. I know beyond using them as a platform to reach Cubs fans, and then the business we are building together out on the Plaza, CBS has incredible access to talent, music wise, and we have a great venue, they have great talent, so we are going to put those two together to create outdoor music events more in the 6,000 to 7,000 range of crowds. Music is important to us, it is not subject to revenue sharing. It has done a lot of help our bottom line and has helped Theo sign players. So anything that happens inside of Wrigley that is outside of baseball, such as concerts, football games, hockey games, none of that is subject to revenue sharing. And the same thing will be mutual in the plaza.
Q: You said that the rooftops are no longer a day to day concern. What are you doing to address that?
A: What I meant by that was for so long, for my whole life with the Cubs, there was this other person in the room. We are trying to win championships, and that’s hard enough, you’ve got to beat 29 other clubs to do it. For so long we also had this other factor that no one else in baseball had to deal with. There’s a portion of our gate walking across the street and then things we want to do inside the ballpark. I think the most unnerving thing was when we did the Budweiser Bleacher Patio h
Q: What about the legal aspect?
A: They’ve been threatening to sue us forever, they haven’t. They did sue the city, for what the city approved. I have seen 3 different complaints drafted that they keep threatening they are going to file against us for years over the contract, over the landmarking, over the change to the landmarking. They haven’t filed anything so today I’m not dealing with a lawsuit. Tomorrow might be different, and if they do, we feel really strong about the merits of our ability to defend it. We wouldn’t have done all of this had we not, but today, lawsuits aren’t an issue.
Q: There are reports that the Ricketts are in talks to buy a few of the Rooftops, can you comment on that?
A: Well, what we have said and what I can share with you is we have been in conversations with rooftops for years, that at reasonable prices, the family is a buyer. Now our view and their view of reasonable prices differ quite a bit. And I would say the views on reasonable values are starting to get much closer together, all the way to the point that there is a day where the family might own some of these, but they don’t today. As you can see from our construction project, we are moving forward. What I’ve said to others who have asked, are we trying to buy the rooftops? You know, we are reasonable people, at the right prices, anything is possible. We’re just focused on getting the bleachers opened next year, and processing this construction. I don’t really spend my time thinking about the rooftops right now.
Q: Who presented the idea for the Sunday night Game? Was it the Cubs, ESPN, or MLB?
A: That came from the league. So what happens is, early in our schedule, you will see there are a lot of TBDs, so the league puts our schedule together, you’re going to open with the Cardinals, which originally was supposed to be that Monday, and then what happens is, after the league puts our schedule together, our national broadcast partners and the league’s partners have rights of selection over their windows, so, Fox on Saturday, ESPN on Sunday, and so forth. ESPN looked at that game and said, IF that were a Sunday, and IF that were a night game, we would select that as our Opening Night game. So they came to us and asked us if we would do that, and we said yes. But the idea really came from the league and from ESPN.
Q: How is the schedule coming along with the Renovations?
A: So when we started this, we engaged Janet Marie Smith, who had done the renovation/restoration of Fenway, to come on as an advisor. She has since gone on to a full time job with the Dodgers. Then we hired DAIQ, which did all the Fenway changes. We chose them because they had worked on some other buildings such as the Rose Bowl, which had some iconic restorations. But mostly because we wanted to see how staging the project could be improved from what they did at Fenway. And they did a really great job there, so we kind of gain from that experience. So, they laid out the grid for how we can get this project done in 5 years. What happens over those years, is some things change, like the approvals we got in the bleachersare more extensive than what we originally thought we would get. The second video board, it’s not even reflected here on this model in front of you. As you can see, this is different than what we ultimately got approved for. As to the project, we are obviously on our way. For the bleachers in left field, one of the things that was necessary was a new water main. Because we ended up paying for the sidewalk and the parking lane, we needed to have the water line under the ground upgraded and capped. That was supposed to be completed October 6th, and what the city ran into was a much more antiquated pipe system, and that still isn’t done. So that’s one issue we didn’t anticipate not being done, and they started that before our season was finished. So that’s a wrinkle. Our cold and wind we anticipated. But I think there is a chance that some of the bleachers are not open for opening night. We have a contingency plan to make sure we take care of our fans. One of the things we know about April is the average attendance is in the 30K range. So, are 5,000 fans going to be accommodated in the ballpark? We don’t want that to be the case, and we are working hard to make up that time, but, we have to have a backup plan, in the event some of the bleachers aren’t available opening night. I think the good news is, that this is a project we have well engineered. So the engineering around this isn’t hard, the water line issue is an issue, but we are building this for the next 50 years. We certainly don’t want to miss the first home stand, but if you do, you move on, and certainly the bleachers would be open right after that.
Q: So contingency plans for relocating 5,000 fans if the Bleachers aren’t open?
A: We can offer seats in the park to our season ticket holders, which are the only people who have tickets at this time. When we go on sale in March, we will need to certainly know if the bleachers will be open or not, and if we will sell tickets for the bleachers or just for other parts of the ballpark. If it’s looking like they won’t be available for that first home stand, then we will really just have to relocate our season ticket holders.
Q: What was the main reason for moving the Bullpen to under the bleachers in 2016?
A: You know, I remember talking to Kerry Wood about this. He said, well, from a player’s perspective, it’s much better to be under the bleachers, staying cool in the summer, staying focused. For our outfielders, running towards the foul lines and not worrying that there might be a chair, ball, rosin bag, a mound to run over – I still cringe every time I see a player running right at the mound, thinking does he realize he is about to hit a slope that is going to buckle his knees. From a safety perspective, it’s a no brainer. I get there is a loss for the fans in some respect, but our primary concern is the players’ safety.
Q: Will there be monitors in the new bullpen for the players?
A: Yes, both home and visitor’s dugouts will have monitors where you can see who is warming up, as well as the bullpen. This is what happens in all the other ballparks. They’ll see what’s happening in our bullpen, we’ll see what’s happening in theirs.
Q: Is there any message you would like to convey to the Cubs fans that maybe isn’t getting addressed?
A: Yes, I think Theo said it well, we want to win the division next year. You know, Joe Maddon said it, I think if there is a narrative that you guys can tell, well, it’s being told, is that, it’s time to win! It’s time to start looking at things differently on the field. We want to be competitive and we want to have young payers progress, and we want to play in October. And that is our goal.
Thank you again to the Cubs for allowing this kind of ground breaking event. It was a very informative bloggers forum and I am looking forward to more events in the future.