Wrigley reno inching toward deal, monster scoreboard still an issue

A deal on the $500 million renovation plans for Wrigley Field (really $300 million for the stadium, $200 million for a new building adjacent to it) was reportedly “just about set” on Saturday, then reportedly not just about set yesterday. But either way, it seems like one of these days, there will be an announcement that the Chicago Cubs’ 99-year-old ballpark will be getting slowly redone over the next several offseasons, introducing Cubs fans to the wonders of expanded concessions concourses and beach umbrellas.

Since Cubs owner Tom Ricketts dropped his request for $150 million in ticket-tax kickbacks in January, the main item being granted from the city at this point looks to be allowing the team to close off Sheffield Avenue on game days to use as an open-air concessions area, though there’s been relatively little public talk about that of late. The Boston Red Sox have been earning $5 million a year on a similar use of Yawkey Way, so this isn’t a minor concession; once there’s an official announcement, look carefully to see whether the Cubs will have to pay any rent on use of public streets, and if so whether it’s more than the pittance that the Red Sox have been paying.

As for what this will mean for Wrigley itself, many of the changes will be mostly behind the scenes (new locker rooms, kitchen facilities moved across the street a la Fenway), but some will not, in particular the proposed 6,000-square-foot electronic scoreboard that would be erected in left field under the latest proposals, and which would be a pretty dramatic change to the face of a stadium that’s become famed (and insanely popular) for retaining its old-time feel.

The new scoreboard, which would supplement rather than replace the hand-operated scoreboard in center field (as depicted in this fairly non-Euclidean rendering from Bleacher Report), is one of the main sticking points in the renovation talks, albeit mostly over how much it would block views of the game from neighboring rooftop clubs. It’d be nice if, at the very least, somebody in the meetings would wonder not just about the impact of a Wrigley Jumbotron on revenue potential, but on what size board, if any, would make for a better fan experience. Not anything I’d expect at this point, mind you, but nice.

12 comments on “Wrigley reno inching toward deal, monster scoreboard still an issue

  1. The big hold-up continues to be negotiating with the Rooftop clubs Alderman Tom Tunney, who is lobbying hard on behalf of the Rooftop Clubs to avoid any kind of blocking of the views of the field the Clubs currently enjoy…
    Which sounds insane, that a business (Cubs) needs to negotiate with other businesses that are effectively stealing its product (Cub games/concerts/Northwestern football/etc.)…ah, but the thing is, some years ago the Cubs organization negotiated with the Rooftop Clubs and signed a contract, effectively saying “We are OK with you selling tickets to view our product, as long as we get a cut of the $$$”
    So, the Cubs can’t simply put up a new scoreboard/Jumbotron and block rooftop views, while giving the Rooftop businesses an extended middle finger, because of the aforementioned contract.
    The fact is, the old hand operated scoreboard, while perhaps an architecturally significant component of Wrigley Field, simply is NOT being optimized in today’s game – The VAST majority of the time, half of the scoreboard is NOT being used, because of the fact that the majority of games played at Wrigley are Day games, and the majority of games played in the league are NIGHT games, so half the scoreboard simply states “NITE GAMES.”
    I’m all for dismantling the existing scoreboard, perhaps placing it in or around the Art Institute of Chicago, as they did with the stone facade of the Louis Sullivan designed stone Stock Exchange facade, and building a NEW scoreboard, designed in such a way that it resembles the old scoreboard, but instead of a hand-operated manual scoreboard, is a giant LED/LCD screen, allowing for instant replays/advertising/etc.

  2. The most important element of any/all the monster boards is revenue generation not fan “experience” – the buzz word for SPEND, SPEND, SPEND…
    Sorry, Neil…

  3. In random order –

    As a Cubs season ticket holder who gets to about 20-25 games a year, if by “the wonders of expanded concessions concourses and beach umbrellas” you mean replacing the absolutely worst concession options in all of professional sports – seriously, it sucks – with a decent sandwich and a premium beer that does not have the name Budweiser, that is a very good thing.

    The Cubs are not allowed, by ordinance, to have more than 28-30 night games a year, none on Fridays, and only one or two on Saturdays.

    The 6000 sqft. board is still just the proposed size, it will be surprising if it is that big. What size board would make for a better experience? I don’t know, but A BOARD OF SOME SORT would add immensely to fan experience. Having one will not drive people away.

    The City of Chicago, without the Cubs requesting it, already closes two streets along the park on many game days. Why NOT try to make a buck there?

    Yes, the previous owners of the Cubs did strike that deal with the rooftops – but understand, the rooftops are not some “local guy with chairs on his roof”. They are multi million dollar businesses, owned by basically 3 individuals who are not exactly pillars of their community, who are the three largest contributors to Tom Tunney, the local alderman. No one has a clear idea of the wording of the contract, as it is not public, but it is understood they pay the Cubs 17% of their revenue every year. They are all, every single one, massively leveraged and cannot refi their loans in perpetuity – which is what they do – without some assurance of future revenue. Rumor has it that their contract does not guarantee a view of a game – and that the contract has explicitly clear language stating that “any government approved Wrigley renovations” (govt approval required as it is a landmark) does not invalidate their contract.

    Tunney’s big demand, or so he says, is a new parking garage for 300 more cars on game days. Which will totally reduce traffic, a big complaint of neighborhood residents. Because more cars in a tight urban environment = less traffic. Right?

    It would be good to note that Tunney owns a well known, extremely popular breakfast restaurant a few blocks south of the park which benefits greatly from non-evening games.

    I hate to be the guy who defends ownership, but the political / community situation here is really unique, not at all similar to any other MLB team, inner city or otherwise.

    Eamus Catulli!

  4. I realize I’m an absolutely atypical fan, but I would be driven away by a large electronic scoreboard. The main reason to travel halfway across the country to see a game there is because it’s one of the few places where there isn’t all the constant noise and advertising in other places. I’m sure there are tons of Cubs fans who would prefer it otherwise, but Wrigley as a tourist attraction owes a lot to it not having a giant screen, so I hope they find a way to do whatever they need to do tastefully.

    For that matter, again I’m atypical, but the last time I was at Wrigley I discovered that their concessions sell one miraculous item: little cups of nacho dip to $1 each. Since we’d brought in pretty much a whole Walgreen’s full of chips, we were thrilled.

    There are definitely ways to do this well: Fenway Park is probably the best example, though even there I know there are lots of longtime fans who wish there weren’t quite so many ad boards. The thing with the Wrigley debate is that tt seems like most of the media attention is going to the rooftop issues, thanks to Mr. Ann Sather’s; I just wish that equal discussion were being given to the use of public space by the Cubs, and what the heck the actual renovation would look like.

  5. I may be wrong, but the whole idea of a big, new scoreboard adding significantly to the “fan experience” sounds fishy to me. Yeah, it’s nice to be able to see the batter’s stats, but that doesn’t require a 50,000 square foot screen. They don’t replay close calls, so that’s not a valid benefit. Otherwise, it’s just a TV for between-innings entertainment – and t-shirt cannons or racing Presidents/sausages can take care of that just as well. I just have a feeling that the mega-boards are more the result of excellent salesmanship by mega-board makers than any real analysis that says they sell more tickets.

  6. Well, they also inarguably sell more ads. Which may be more important to a team’s bottom line than selling more tickets.

  7. “Well, they also inarguably sell more ads.”

    It would be interesting to see an analysis of whether ad income outweighs cost of the board and negative impact of being bombarded by ads, but certainly doesn’t contribute anything positive to the “fan experience”.

  8. When they get their board, I think it will be done as tastefully as possible. I mean, yeah, sure, it will kinda suck, but it’s a suckiness we need and I am OK with it. I guess the tourist value is not what really drives me personally, but sure, I can see the value to non-regulars. The noise though, that scares me, and I hope they do not go overboard with that.

    Really, just keep out the kiss cam and I am OK with it. Mostly.

    Ahh, the nachos and cheese. Every year, I go to the park for the first time thinking, man, I can’t wait to get me some nachos. Then I get some, and spend the rest of the year thinking, why did I get those nachos? Winter seems to wipe my memory clean and I repeat. Year after year.

    I think (as a local who goes often, lives nearby, and often has to deal with driving thorough the area on game days) that your concern over the public space is off target – simply put, the streets are blocked off by the cops – not the Cubs – anyways on many dates, so why not somehow monetize that? I’m there a lot, and I just don’t think it’s an issue. Cubs pay for the cops already, cops block the street already, why not try to make it work for everyone?

    FWIW, on non-game days, Sheffield (right field side) is a secondary (or lesser) through street, blocking it is a nuisance but not horrible. Waveland (left field side) is a tertiary side street, minimal traffic even though it is wide, blocking it permanently would cause minimal disruption to anyone who does not live on that one block.

    I think for any regulars, it is pretty clear what shape (if not exact color) of the non-scoreboard visuals will be – there is limited space to work with, they are not expanding the park (or so we are told) by much if at all, so really, the big thing is the new deck behind LF upper deck, and widening of concourses on the lower level.

  9. Oh, I wasn’t worrying about traffic. But getting to use Sheffield as a concessions concourse would be a potentially huge windfall for the Cubs, so the city should at least be getting a cut of that, since the street does belong to the taxpayers. I mean, there’s nothing stopping the city from renting out the middle of the street to independent vendors if it wanted to, and keeping all the money itself.

  10. I know about horse heads for prized horses being intimidating… but does Ricketts have a prized goat ?


  11. They are doing everything pretty much ass backwards IMO. They are really only doing a superficial touch up of the one part of the ballpark, the grandstand and second deck, that I think could use a whole demolition or overhaul for aesthetic and structural reasons.

    They are basically defacing and fugllifying the best part of the park (outfield and vistas onto Lake View) and making a mockery of the use of landmark designation further in this city in order to put up oversize jumbo tron kiss cams.

    I would LOVE to know what other teams get for advertising on the jumbo trons but I am highly skeptical it is all that much at the end of day which is why I am a bit miffed on why the Ricketts want to make the gamble of alienating the so called “traditionalist”.

    And given these are the hick owners who have brought us the shack that is the Captain Morgan Club, the Noodle, and used car lot Toyota signage I am not very optimistic on what plans they have for the hotel and triangle building.