Expect The Expected

Audience expectations are critical any time an organization is going through a brand

transformation. However, sports organizations face a unique dilemma compared to other

industries and businesses in this regard. Most sports organizations are privately owned entities.

For most businesses with this ownership structure, the business can make decisions to renovate

a venue whenever it perceives it makes the most sense to take on these changes without any

regard for outside sentiment.

Most sports teams, however, are also thought of as a public good. This means sports

fans believe that they deserve a say in how their favorite sports teams and athletes are

managed. The teams or athletes often define countries, regions, states, counties, cities, and

towns where sports audiences live.

Wrigley Field is a clear example of this point. Chicago is home to some of the most

famous buildings in the world, including the Willis Tower and the Hancock Building. Yet, Wrigley

Field is arguably the most famous building in Chicago. It is often widely considered one of the

most popular tourist attractions in Illinois after Navy Pier and Millennium Park. It is also a venue

wholly owned by the Chicago Cubs and the Ricketts family.

Given this dynamic, the Cubs organization cannot operate like any other privately

owned business. It must do more to fully understand audience expectations and employ a

transformational communication strategy that takes these issues into account. What are the

expectations that Cubs audiences have? There are two critical challenges the team needed to

address in its communication with audience members.

Wrigley Has Been The Same Since It Opened

As we have stated in this chapter, fans, media, sponsors, and politicians love Wrigley

Field because it is perceived to have changed very little over the course of its history. Some of

the criticism the Cubs current plan has faced is rooted in the fact that the restoration could

fundamentally alter what makes the ballpark so special.

The reality is that Wrigley Field has undergone extensive changes throughout the course

of its history. When the ballpark was built in 1914, it was a 14,000-seat venue with a single deck

named Weeghman Park. Weeghman Park had no Ivy, no Marquee, no lights, and a completely

different scoreboard. In fact, the Cubs did not actually play at the ballpark when it first opened.

The Chicago Federals (later known as the Chicago Whales) played at Weeghman Park for two

years before the Cubs’ first game in 1916 (Wrigley, N.D.)

In addition, many of the “timeless” elements of Wrigley Field have actually been added

over time. These include (Yellon, 2013):

• 1920 – Weeghman Park is renamed to Cubs Park. It would be another 12 years before

the ballpark acquired the title of Wrigley Field.

• 1923 – The team increased seating by 12,000 seats to 30,000. This included moving the

center section of ballpark from behind home plate back closer to the intersection of

Clark St. and Addison St to accommodate the new seating capacity.

• 1926 – Cubs Park name is changed to Wrigley Field to honor William Wrigley, Jr.’s

ongoing tenure as the majority owner.

• 1934 – The team adds a red Marquee that faces the intersection of Addison and Clark.

The Marquee broadcasts information to fans outside the ballpark about game times,

starting pitchers, and team information.

• 1937 – The famed outfield bleachers are added to the ballpark. The bleachers replace

the old seats to expand capacity. In addition, the team constructs its legendary hand-
operated green scoreboard that is still used today. In addition, P.K. Wrigley, orders the

planting of bittersweet and ivy vines that have become synonymous with Wrigley Field.

The team paints the marquee blue, which has remained to this day.

• 1941 – A new organ is added to play all music throughout the game including player

introductions, breaks between innings, and “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

• 1952 – The centerfield bleachers are closed to provide hitters with a “Batter’s Eye,” a

better background to see the ball. Cubs fans used to wear white shirts to confuse

opposing batters and put jackets on when the team were up to bat to make it harder for

batters to see pitches.

• 1968 – The entire lower bowl was completed rebuilt with new concrete and capacity

actually was lowered by 5,000 fans in this section.

• 1988 – Floodlights are added and Wrigley Field hosts its first night game. The first night

game had to be played twice. A downpour causes the first game versus the Philadelphia

Phillies to be rained out. The game was postponed and the first official night game

occurred the next day against the New York Mets.

• 1989 – The Cubs have the first private boxes installed in the ballpark with the press box

moved behind home plate. The current press box includes the television broadcast area

where celebrities come to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh

inning stretch.

• 2005 – The bleachers are expanded and the team adds a new restaurant during the

expansion.

• 2012 – The team constructs the Budweiser Patio in right field and installs a new LED

scoreboard to display videos, statistics, and dynamic corporate signage.

Wrigley Field is also not the first historic ballpark to undergo extensive changes. Fenway

Park, the Rose Bowl, and Notre Dame Stadium are all historic venues that have similar

importance to their communities as Wrigley Field. Each of these venues has also undergone

significant restoration over the past twenty years. This demonstrates that renovating timeless

stadiums actually happens more frequently than many people may expect.

To effectively gain audience support, the Cubs needed to communicate with its core

audiences in an attempt to understand the dynamic nature of Wrigley Field and historic

ballparks more broadly. Rather than remaining the same, Wrigley Field has a long history of

change. The current restoration needed to be part of the larger narrative of how Wrigley Field

has been improved with the addition of new items that enhance the ballpark experience.

Sports Team & Owners Always Get What They Want

Another issue facing the Cubs prior to the renovation of Wrigley Field is the perception

that sports teams and owners are in full control of restoration, often times at the public expense

in a literal and metaphorical context. In many cases, the public pays for the construction or

renovation of new sports venues. From 1990 to 2010, over 260 venues were constructed using

public/private partnerships as their largest source of financing capital. This included two-thirds

of the teams in the MLB, NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS playing in new or reconstructed venues that

used this approach (Rein, 2015, pp. 127-128). The Cubs’ National League Central rivals all play in

publicly financed stadiums constructed after the year 2000.

The main reason that countries, states, regions, and cities have agreed to this financing

structure is that these new stadiums are supposed to grow the local economy through new

spending, construction, taxes, and jobs. Not only are these benefits often unrealized, but also

governments are often left worse off than when the projects were started. For example,

Hamilton County in Ohio spent an estimated $540 million to help with the construction of new

stadiums for the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds. The debt payments for these venues now account

for 16.4% of the county’s entire budget while also causing cuts in education and school services

(Rein, 2015, pp. 127-128).

In addition to public financing, sports organizations have made changes to venues that

modify or eliminate historic elements of stadiums or local neighborhoods that audiences love in

an attempt to maximize the team’s revenues. The Cubs organization faced this issue with

regards to the rooftops surrounding the venue. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, owners of

townhouses whose roofs provided views of Wrigley Field and later began selling seats to watch

games. In 2004, after the Cubs sued these rooftop owners, the Cubs and rooftop owners

negotiated an agreement that provided 17% of revenue to the team in exchange for allowing

the rooftops to sell tickets to watch Cubs games and ballpark events from the rooftops (Kaplan,

2014).

As part of the Wrigley Field restoration, the Cubs planned to add more outfield signage

and videoboards to increase sponsor revenue. The rooftops that many Cubs fans patronized

would potentially no longer have the same views of the field. In the meantime, nine rooftop

owners have sold their buildings to the Ricketts family. These transactions have created a

perception for some of the team’s audience that the Ricketts family has prioritized maximizing

revenue and profits over other concerns when it comes to ballpark restoration.

However, this perception is flawed for two reasons. First, some rooftop owners sold

their buildings because these transactions made sense from an economic perspective. Receiving

millions dollars represented both a “fair price” and a significant return on investment (Sachdev,

2015). Second, the Cubs could not pursue videoboard construction until it received approval

from the appropriate government authorities. The videoboards are an example of how the Cubs

may have the most restrictions placed on its operations than any other professional sports team.

This reality occurs despite it being one of the few teams that has generated significant public

returns. For example, local governments place restrictions on the Cubs that few, if any, other

professional sports organization have to deal with when it comes to game times. There is a

reason that the Cubs did not have night games at Wrigley Field until 1988. The neighborhood

associations and city government did not want fans in the area after the games for fear they

would cause disruptions in the community. The Cubs had to fight hard to have something –

night games – that other teams take for granted. From 1988-2013, the Cubs could play a

maximum of 30 night games per year. Starting in 2014, the Cubs would still only be able to play

a maximum of 46 night games (Byrne, 2013).

The lack of night games is an example of the central issue facing the organization when

it comes to the larger renovation. Remember, the Cubs were not using any direct public

financing for the ballpark reconstruction. Yet, the organization still needed to secure

government approval for the ballpark construction plan. The team had to spend months

convincing government officials at multiple levels to approve of plans it was going to pay for

using its own capital.

This situation was all the more confounding for the Cubs because Wrigley Field has

actually delivered significant public returns. Today, the Wrigleyville neighborhood in Chicago is

one of the most affluent areas in the city. Many restaurants, businesses, bars, and homes have

been constructed or appreciated in value because of Wrigley Field. That was not always the case.

Until the mid-1980s, Wrigleyville was actually one of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago.

When the team performed better in the mid 1980s than it had in the recent past while also

installing lights to have night games, the Cubs served as the catalyst for the gentrification of the

neighborhood. More specifically, people wanted to spend time engaged with the team by going

to Wrigley Field and staying in the area after games. They wanted to live in the area, eat at local

restaurants, and patronize nearby bars because the Cubs played in the neighborhood. Wrigley

Field is now clearly the anchor for the success of Wrigleyville.

In addition, the Cubs organization is one of city’s and state’s largest taxpayers. The Cubs

pay $17 million per year in city taxes alone and $50 million in overall tax dollars (Green, 2014). A

significant portion of these dollars comes from an amusement tax levied by both the City and

Cook County. This requires the Cubs (and other Chicago professional sports teams) to charge

fans additional dollars for each ticket it sells to all home games. The more fans come to Wrigley

Field, the more taxes the team pays. Even before the renovation project, the Cubs estimated

that the team creates over 7,000 jobs per year and helps create a $638 million impact on the

local and state economies (Green, 2014).

To gain more support for the renovation, the team recognized it needed to position the

renovation as part of this larger narrative on how much it has contributed to Wrigleyville,

Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois. It also had to convince a skeptical audience how these

changes would contribute to this storyline in a credible way.

Combining audience expectations with the team’s brand analysis enabled the team to

develop a communication strategy that would best ensure audience buy-in for the project. The

Cubs employed strategies and tactics that have enabled a highly visible organization to make

changes to an iconic structure while increasing or maintaining the support of most of its key

audiences.