Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Move From Wrigley? Not a Chance.

The Chicago Cubs are a team of tradition. A mostly losing tradition, to be sure, but one that has been passed down from generation to generation to the point that it really is something special. Grandfathers can take their grandchildren to games, getting off the CTA or taking some other form of public transit, and land smack dab in the same Chicago neighborhood where they first saw the Cubs play when they were kids. These wise elders can sit in the famed bleachers and spin yarns to their progeny about the days of Tinker to Evers to Chance, or the heel clicking, let's-play-two 1960's era Cubs teams. They can recount years and years of horrendous teams and mounting losses, but the experience, the camaraderie, and atmosphere, and the location has all been the same. It's created a community amidst the Friendly Confines that brings together Cubs fans of all ages and locations. At this point, it's become a point - a practical pilgrimage - for every type of fan, from the diehards to those looking to soak up the Chicago sun and have a good time, to make at least one trip to Wrigley.

The fact that Wrigley is such a destination for an old fashioned fun time, even if the losses are even more frequent than the post-game stumbles down Clark, has become a source of derision for the club and its fans who view the park as a beacon of pride. That is why, no matter which way you look at it, any idea of moving the Cubs out of the city and into a vacant acreage in Rosemont is preposterous and stupid.

Moving the team from Wrigley is a concept that isn't new to the Cubs. Previous regimes have used the threat to move the lucrative club out of the city to a milieu of willing takers to leverage the City of Chicago into going along with renovations to the aging landmark. Current owner Tom Ricketts hasn't stooped to that level because he knows that it isn't feasible - Wrigley is the primary backbone of the Cubs' business model. There's a reason that Ricketts has and continues to buy up property around the stadium; there is zero chance he moves the team.

And why would he? The Cubs, known across baseball as the Lovable Losers, still rank in the upper tier of attendance every single year. And that's with a small park to begin with! Wrigley Field is a shrine to baseball fans and over the years has cultivated that sort of community and atmosphere that makes a day at the park about more than just the game. You can go to Wrigley, see the Cubs get blasted by the 3rd inning, and still have a great time. The Cubs bank on the random population of fans who constitute their huge attendance numbers; a random assortment that wouldn't ever march all the way out to Rosemont even if the blue line does run that direction. All of the charm of Wrigley would evaporate as the Cubs would essentially become just yet another modern sports franchise who lost touch with the very thing that made the team and stadium special to begin with. I just can't imagine the influx of crowded, libation-enjoying, blue line trains that bring fans to Wrigley now would do the same headed out of the city. You have a beautiful park in a fun neighborhood a mile from Lake Michigan. It doesn't get much better than that.

The Cubs wouldn't leave this game day atmosphere
The Cubs will get their approval from the city to move forward, and then we won't have to hear anymore of this nonsense. The next part, besides embarking on major renovations for the aging park, is to complete the major renovations on the program. Ricketts has sought to model the Cubs after another franchise in a big market that used to be the other lovable loser: the Boston Red Sox. Known for years for the Curse of the Bambino, the Red Sox banked on their ballpark to draw fans even in losing seasons.

The Red Sox marketing team recognized that one of the biggest draws of baseball is nostalgia. Going to a baseball game, our American Sport, is nostalgic in and of itself, but when you capitalize by marketing that game from a team that plays in a century old stadium, it draws the fans in droves. Buying a ticket to a game at one of these stadiums is about more than just watching baseball - you're taking a step backwards into time, when things were more simple. In this way, every game at Wrigley or Fenway Park plays to the child in each fan.

Of course, Boston did the smart thing and not only expanded their game day experience to include the entire area around the park, but improved the team on a consistent basis. The Cubs already have an infamous pre and post game atmosphere around Wrigley, with bars and restaurants lining for blocks in separate directions around the park that make for an incredible game day experience. And now, down to even stealing the man who broke the Curse of the Bambino, the Cubs are trying to rebuild their team as well.

The bottom line here is that the Cubs would be foolish to ever consider leaving Wrigley Field. They have generations of fans willingly bringing new generations of fans to the park every game. The franchise has to be in the upper echelon in generating new fans that way. Wrigley provides the Cubs one of baseball's strongest marketing draws, and the atmosphere in and around the ballpark before, during, and after the game is already outstanding. The Cubs know this; there's a reason Tom Ricketts is willing to pay for the renovations himself if the city approves it. He knows what a goldmine he has sitting beneath him. If he can get that secured, and put a consistent team on the field, silly ideas like moving the Cubs out of Wrigley will - thankfully - finally find their rightful place in the dustbin of history.