The Cubs, and Wrigley Field

 

The Illinois House of Representatives stopped time on June 30th, 1989. The Chicago

White Sox had threatened to leave its Southside home if the team did not receive public

financing for a new stadium. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf signed an agreement that would move the

team to Florida if a deal with Illinois state legislature was not completed by 11:59 P.M. on June

But, on June 30th, the deadline passed without a vote on the legislation. So, Illinois

House Speaker Mike Madigan decided that whenever the vote was taken, the official

timekeeper of the House would record the time as 11:59 P.M. The vote that approved state

funding actually took place at 12:03 a.m. on July 1st, but according to official records, the

decision was reached at 11:59 P.M. on June 30th (Gonzales, 2009, pp. 63-64).

If the Illinois state legislature could stop time for the White Sox, then it should do no less

than defy the laws of finance to help the Cubs.When the Ricketts family assumed control of the

team from the Tribune Company for $845 million in 2009 (Satariano, 2015), it also acquired

Wrigley Field, the then 95-year-old ballpark. The family wanted to make significant

improvements to the iconic venue. The restoration required to modernize Wrigley Field,

however, would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Like Reinsdorf and many other sports owners, the Ricketts family pursued a

public/private partnership with the local government. If the partnership were established then

the Ricketts would have received public funding to help finance the ballpark’s reconstruction.

On November 10th, 2010, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts unveiled the Wrigley preservation plan,

which, among other provisions, asked the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority to issue $250-$300

million in bonds to finance Wrigley Field’s restoration.

Unfortunately, 2010 was not 1989 and Illinois state and local government no longer had

the resources to make such a large public sector commitment. Given that the governments of all

sizes faced massive budget deficits at the time, it was going to be difficult to receive any funding

let alone the money necessary to make the restoration needed for Wrigley Field.

The finances, however, may not have been the Ricketts’ biggest challenge in moving

forward with renovating Wrigley Field. Time felt like it stopped from the moment a fan came

near Wrigley Field in the best possible ways. Author George Will described the timeless

nostalgia of Wrigley field when he said, “The story of the ballpark is braided with the story of the

baseball team and the city. The ballpark has not been a passive ingredient in the Cubs story. It

has shaped what it has framed .” (Will, 2014, p. 13-17) The sights, sounds, and smells of Wrigley

Field reminded fans of all ages why baseball has traditionally been considered the country’s

national pastime. Whether the team won or lost, people understood they would have a unique

baseball experience at Wrigley Field that they could get from few other sports venues in the

At the same time, change at Wrigley Field was required because the ballpark was falling

apart. For example, Wrigley Field’s infrastructure had crumbled to the point that netting had to

be installed to prevent concrete chunks from falling from the upper decks (Wrigley, 2004). In

addition, the building was not providing resources that fans, sponsors, and athletes commonly

expect in a modern sports venue. For example, the Cubs lacked the outfield signage and the

number of luxury suites that were cornerstones for incremental revenue growth essential to the

success of more recently constructed ballparks. However, Wrigley field had even more

fundamental issues impacting the game day experience. These ranged from concourses that

were difficult to navigate to outdated weight rooms and training facilities to insufficient number

of elevators.

By 2013, the Ricketts family had announced that it would privately finance the

renovation of Wrigley Field and much of the area surrounding the venue (Ecker, 2014). The Cubs

now faced a challenge that has become a common issue in urban communication: how can an

organization make changes to iconic buildings that many people love and want to the stay the

same when the facilities need significant improvements? The owners of the Cubs wanted to

change the organization’s brand and use the renovation as a catalyst for a larger brand

transformation. At the same time, the Cubs needed to convince fans, media, sponsors, and

government officials the Cubs’ changes to Wrigley Field would meet these stakeholders’

expectations of what made the ballpark special to gain audience support for the massive project.

In this chapter, we use the ongoing Wrigley Field restoration to explore the theoretical

and practical implications that come from transformational communication. We start by

examining the brand, audience, and place challenges that the Cubs faced in renovating Wrigley

Field. We then demonstrate how using transformational communication paradigms and

approaches enabled the organization to secure project approval while gaining the support of

key audiences during the ongoing process.