Why Losing Is Not So Lovable
To understand why making changes to Wrigley Field would generate such a heated
reaction, one first has to examine the ballpark’s impact on the team’s brand. The organization
had come to be defined as a perennial loser but not always in a bad way. The Cubs last advanced
to the World Series in 1945, when the team lost to the Detroit Tigers. From 1946-2013, the Cubs
have lost 693 more games than the team has won and has never had a winning percentage
over .500 in any decade during that time period (Will, 2014, p.13) Yet, people loved the Cubs
whether the team won or lost. For example, the Cubs attracted over three million fans per
season from 2004-2011 (Cubs, N.D). Wrigley Field was one of the biggest reasons why this was
The Loveable Loser Brand
The term “brand” can mean many different things to a variety of people in an industry.
We use the definition of brand developed by Professor Scott Galloway of New York University’s
Stern School of Business, which states that it is the “clearly defined set of attributes that
facilitates decision-making and unifies an organization’s thinking process. Brands breed a culture
that understands and lives [these attributes]. Brands establish a point of difference (competitive
advantage).” (Galloway, 2010)
An important step in defining an organization’s brand is developing a brand audit.
According to Galloway, each brand consists of a brand essence, core identity, and extended
identity. We will apply this brand framework to the Cubs, but not exactly in the way that
Galloway originally intended.
Brand essence is defined as the word or phrase that encapsulates the most critical
components of a company’s soul and how audiences connect to a brand on a core emotional
level (Galloway, 2010). For the Cubs, the team’s brand essence encapsulated who the team was
but not necessarily who the team wanted to be. For the last forty or so years, the team’s brand
essence has been the “loveable losers”. Fans, media, and sponsors loved engaging with the Cubs regardless of the team’s on field performance largely because of the experience of being at Wrigley Field.
The brand essence had been established when Philip K. (P.K.) Wrigley took control of
the Cubs after the death of his father in 1932. Philip stated that “The club and the park stand as
memorials to my father.” He promised to never sell the team “as long as the chewing gum
business remains profitable enough to retain it.” While P.K. preferred the Cubs to be successful,
he stated, “Our idea in advertising the game, and the fun, and the healthfulness of it, the
sunshine and the relaxation, is to get the public to see ball games, win or lose." (Steele, N.D.) He
envisioned a park within a park, where families could come and enjoy baseball in the sunshine
amidst a pastoral atmosphere. He called it “Beautiful Wrigley Field”, and he ordered the
gardeners from his Wisconsin vacation home to plant Boston ivy and bittersweet along the
outfield wall and Chinese elms in the centerfield bleachers in 1938. The same ivy still grows
today and has become an iconic feature of Wrigley Field.
P.K. Wrigley’s focus on making the team a good business led to perhaps one of the most
important innovations that still impacts the sports industry today. Wrigley was one of the first
owners to recognize the importance of television broadcasts of baseball games. In 1946, the
Cubs signed a deal with WGN-TV and station began to broadcast all of the Cubs home games in
1948. At the time, many of the other MLB owners were afraid that these types of deals would
cannibalize ticket and stadium revenue. Instead, revenue and interest in the Cubs grew rapidly
with Wrigley Field as the star. The team created intimate, daily connections with new fans that
loved seeing the team play at Wrigley Field. As WGN-TV grew into the “super-station” with
games broadcast nationally, anyone in the United States who had cable could watch the games,
see beautiful Wrigley Field from their living rooms each afternoon, and become Cubs fans.
These types of agreements also made it easier for the Cubs to achieve economic
profitability and stability without winning. The Cubs focus on creating steady revenue streams
enabled the team to not be as worried about the performance. The idea of being loveable even
while losing, established by P.K. Wrigley in the 1930s, would remain the foundation of the Cubs
identity until 2009.
Core Identity refers to the timeless and most important elements of brand identity.
(Galloway, 2010). This is much more tangible than the brand essence, and these attributes that
define the brand to different audiences.
The most timeless elements of the Cubs brand are defined by what happened at Wrigley
Field. Fans flocked to Wrigley Field as much because they had a consistently satisfying game day
experience as because they wanted to see their team win. As they approached the ballpark, fans
felt they were returning to what they imagined baseball to be. They could see the iconic red
Marquee welcoming them to a ballpark filled with the dazzling greens of the hand-operated
green scoreboard and the ivy covering the outfield walls. They could smell the Chicago-style hot
dog filled with onions, relish, mustard, celery salt, peppers and full pickle permeating through
the concourse. They could taste the cold beer helping to cool them off on a warm and humid
sunny day. They cheered when the fans threw a baseball back onto the field after the opposing
team’s player hit a homerun. And the best part was that they knew that their parents,
grandparents, sons, daughters, and friends all had the same gratifying experience at the
Little of this game day experience actually had to do with the outcome of the game itself.
What happened on the field often did not matter as much as what was happening in and around
the ballpark. Even though the team won 10 pennants and two world championships, the team
had more losing seasons then winning seasons. Yet, Cubs attendance remained the most
consistent regardless of the team’s on-field performance. In fact, Wrigley Field gate revenue
actually increased slightly in a year when the team lost more games than it did in an average
year. (Moskowitz, 2011, p. 247 – 252). Wrigley Field embodied everything good and bad that has
to do with being the “loveable losers.” The Cubs extended identity helped build on this
foundation set by the ballpark.
Extended identity “encapsulates the Elements that provide texture and completeness"
(Galloway 2010) of the brand through tangible items. The most common elements of the
extended identity include:
• Brand as person – Which specific players, managers, owners, fans, etc. showcase
• Brand as symbol – How do the logos, photographs, artwork, banners, and images
• Brand as product – How do the organization’s core service offerings encapsulate
• Brand as organization – How the organization’s leadership, culture, and
convey the brand’s core identity.
what the brand stands for to different audiences.
employees match with the brand.
Examining the extended identity shows just how entrenched the loveable loser brand
was to the Cubs when the Ricketts family assumed control of the team. When the Wrigley family
sold the Cubs to Tribune Company in 1981 for $20.5 million, the Tribune Company largely
followed the same approach that the Wrigley family employed. While the Tribune Company
preferred that the team perform well, the company was happier that the team delivered a
consistent profit to the company’s bottom line while it owned the team through the 2009
season. Babcock (2014) contended that the “Tribune Company, recognized the game it was in—
entertainment—and relentlessly promoted the pleasures of visiting Wrigley.” (Babcock, 2014)
The clearest example of the “loveable loser” extended identity, however, is seen
through the brand as people. Great players and managers who win championships often define
the success of a sports organization. The New York Yankees, for example, have Monument Park
in the outfield of Yankee Stadium celebrating Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, Mickey
Mantle, and more.
The Cubs do have many great players in the organization’s history. This includes Mr. Cub
Ernie Banks as well Hall of Famers Hack Wilson, Billy Williams, and Ryne Sandberg. Ron Santo
made the All-Star team in nine seasons during his long Cubs career and later become a popular
radio play-by-play analyst for the team. However, the Cub’s brand has largely been defined by people who had no influence on
the team’s on field performance at Wrigley Field. Arguably the most famous embodiments of
the Cubs brand were announcers Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray. Brickhouse was the first
broadcaster for WGN when the station first began fully televising the team’s home games in
1948 (Castle, N.D.). Williams articulated what made Brickhouse so popular with fans when he
stated, “You could tell in his voice. He was a Cub fan and he rooted for the Cubs.” (Castle, N.D.)
Brickhouse was so important to the Cubs that the outfield field foul poles at the ballpark are
adorned with “Hey Hey.” Caray made singing during the seventh inning stretch an institution
and was known for colorful calls after having at least one or two beverages during the game.
What made Caray an institution, however, was his passion for the Cubs and his commentary as
the team struggled. While they loved the Cubs, audiences across the country often watched on
WGN TV because they loved Caray just as much. Caray become such a Cubs icon that the
organization commissioned a statue outside of Wrigley Field in his honor. Many Cubs’ fans are more famous than its players. This includes movie
stars such as Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Jeff Garlin, and Vince Vaughn and politicians such as Hillary
Clinton and former President Ronald Reagan.
The Cubs’ brand essence, core identity, and extended identity all demonstrate how the
franchise has historically built its brand around being a loveable loser. Unlike the Wrigleys and
Tribune, the Ricketts family did not want to employ this approach when it assumed control of
the team. The family decided to make a change and develop a new brand focused on winning.
Renovating Wrigley Field would be at the center of this brand transformation.
Transforming into a Winner
Rein, et al. (2015) argue that winning should not define an organization’s identity. The
strongest sports brands are often those that are not always defined by competitive success
because winning is often a variable that is very difficult to control. For example, the Chicago
Bears have the highest winning percentage in National Football League (NFL) history. Yet, the
team has only won 57% of its games (Rein, 2015). In addition, winning is becoming something
more difficult to define. Even teams that have won on the field have lost off the field. The
Scottish Premier League’s Glasgow Rangers won its record 54th title after the 2011-12 season,
and then declared bankruptcy later in 2012 (Rein, 2015).
The question then becomes why should the Cubs change the loveable loser brand in the
first place? From the moment the Ricketts family assumed control of the team in 2009, it was
determined to change its culture and change it quickly. As Tom Ricketts stated, “The ‘lovable
losers’ hits a raw nerve for everybody in the family.” Co-owner Laura Ricketts contended,
“When we took over ownership of the Cubs, it was ‘If we ever win a World Series. Now the
whole ... culture of the organization has changed to ... ‘when.’ The Cubs are coming back.” (Rackl,
The timing of the brand transformation made sense. Starting this process when new
ownership takes over occurs frequently with sports organizations and other businesses. With
regard to the Cubs and the Ricketts, however, the essential insight is that the Cubs
transformation did not require a complete overhaul. Fans, media, and audiences still wanted the
team and the experience to be “loveable”. The team just did not need to be defined as “losers.”
While seemingly contradictory, this idea is actually complementary to the approach that Rein, et
al. previously articulated about winning. Just as focusing solely on winning should not define an
organization’s brand, losing should not either. Or as Cohen says “Losing some of the time makes
you want to win; losing all of the time makes you a loser.” (Cohen, 2012) Instead, the Cubs
needed to create a brand that enabled them to be successful on the field while continuing to be
a loveable franchise.
To complete this type of change, the Cubs would need to change its core identity.
There was no more highly visible element of the brand than Wrigley Field, and it would be the
centerpiece of the team’s brand transformation. The first step the team needed to undertake
was to understand and navigate audience expectations and associations with the ballpark.