Yesterday, my wife and I and a friend took a bus tour offered by the Chicago History Museum titled Fields of Dreams … and Nightmares, which offered a unique look at the city’s baseball history. Hosted by renowned Chicago historian Richard Lindberg, the tour bus stopped at Wrigley Field and we got a behind-the-scenes tour of U.S. Cellular Field, but it also took us to places where the game was once played but hasn’t for a century or more. For a baseball nut like myself, it was a real treat.
What fascinated me, though, was the brand contrast between the two teams. The Cubs’ brand is predicated on tradition and the experience of a game at Wrigley Field, while the Sox brand is more gritty and blue collar, seeming to revel in the fact that it is the second of the two teams in town, so it has to fight harder for relevance.
None of that was a revelation to me, but here’s the key insight – winning actually matters to the Sox brand, whereas it doesn’t to the Cubs.
Here’s what I mean. The Cubs rely on Wrigley Field and Wrigleyville as a place to see and be seen to drive attendance, thererfore making victories a secondary consideration. The Sox, on the other hand, have none of that – while the ballpark opened in 1991, and is very nice, Richard told our tour group that the local neighborhood is adamantly against a Wrigleyville-like atmosphere, i.e., bars, restaurants and night life, due to the congestion, noise, etc. That seems a little myopic considering the loss of potential revenue.
So which brand strategy has been more successful? Consider the following first.
Since 1991, the Sox have had 13 seasons of a record of .500 or better, four playoff appearances, two league championship series and one World Series victory, in 2005. They’re currently in second place in their division with a 37-34 record. In that same timeframe, the Cubs have had nine .500 or better seasons, four playoff appearances, and one league championship series, in 2003. This season, with a 24-47 mark, they are dead last in their division and may turn out to be the worst team in franchise history – no small feat for a club that’s been around since 1876.
But here’s what blew me away: Since 1991, the Cubs have had 19 years of at least 2 million in attendance, including 3 million each of the last eight years. In that same timeframe, the Sox have had 10 years of 2 million in attendance, and have never drawn 3 million.
From a pure brand standpoint, the Cubs appear to have far and away the better strategy because they’ve built and leveraged a promise of a great experience at 1060 W. Addison, and the attendance numbers bear that out. The Cubs also seem steadfast in their commitment to that strategy, since discussions are in the works for a Wrigley Field renovation.
Does that make sense, though? I’ve toured Wrigley Field, and though it has charm both inside and out, it’s an early 20th century bandbox with literally none of the amenities that today’s top free agents both expect and demand. Thus, those players go elsewhere, hindering the opportunity to win something meaningful, like a World Series. This creates a "We hope" versus a "We will" outlook, as I’ve mentioned previously.
In other words, can the Cubs’ brand strategy work long-term without championships? And for that matter, can the Sox’, in light of the fact that they pretty much have to win consistently to maintain both their brand perception and recognition.
What do you think? Will the brand strategies for these teams work long-term? Post your comments below.
(Image credit to http://nicolejosh.com.)