ESPN’s Rick Reilly wrote a column this week about the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field that harked back to a post I wrote about a year and a half ago about the Cubs brand.
In his column, Reilly basically says the Cubs can’t win at Wrigley Field, and it’s costing the team as much as $73 million per year to play there. You’ll have to read the column to understand how his math works out, but it makes sense. He’s particularly hard on the businesses around the ballpark that are capitalizing on the Cubs brand and at the same time holding them hostage. I was astounded to read that the Cubs get just 17% of proceeds from the rooftop owners around the park, who also aren’t keen on the team adding a modern video scoreboard, because, well, their customers won’t be able to see the game. Really?
Reilly also has plenty of choice words about the stadium itself: "Imagine the players they don’t get — because of their weird start times, their rotting training facilities, their wimpy weight room, their nonexistent in-game batting cage, their backachingly small clubhouse and their 104-year ringless streak."
I’ve toured Wrigley Field, and everything he says is true. The clubhouse, for example, is completely inadequate for the needs (and expectations!) of today’s players. See the photo above from my tour.
Reilly says Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is willing spend $300 million in renovating the ballpark that was built in 1914, along with another $200 million for a hotel and fitness club nearby.
That’s a LOT of money. But is it well spent, and will it build the Cubs brand? Doubtful.
To me, winning is the ultimate brand builder for any sports franchise, plain and simple. And I mean winning championships, not just being a consistent playoff team.
The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and haven’t been to one since 1945. In fact, they’re known as the Loveable Losers. Is that really the brand perception you want for your team?
Some may say the Cubs are more about the entire experience, which includes Wrigley Field – the ivy, the manual scoreboard, the bricks, etc. True, but sports is a business today, bottom line, and like any business, a sports franchise has to do everything it can to maximize its opportunity to win titles, and that’s both on and off the field. Wrigley Field doesn’t let the Cubs do that; I’m sorry, but it’s true.
Being a champion is the kind of brand perception that builds on itself over time; look at the New York Yankees, or in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers. Those teams, and their fans, expect to win championships. And you know what? They don’t win them every year, but they do win them.
I was driving around today and saw a Cubs billboard that shouted: "Not if. When." Literally my initial thought: "Never?" Here’s more about the team’s 2013 marketing campaign and that slogan.
"It’s simple, Chicago. You can either have your creaky, quaint, vine-covered crypt, or you can win. But you can’t have both," Reilly said.