Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Wrigley Field: A Losing Proposition

I've poked fun at Wrigley Field a few times on my Twitter feed, giving various reasons why I can't stand the ancient ballpark. Here's the full list, subject to additions:

Why I Can't Stand Wrigley Field

1. Not enough night games
2. No Friday or Saturday night games
3. Uncomfortable hard metal seats
4. Unconventional and confusing seat-numbering format
5. Inconvenient and insufficient concession stands
6. Crowded concourses ill-equipped to handle 40,000 fans
7. Disgusting men's rooms--the troughs are infamous
8. No gift shoppe
9. Inadequate out-of-town scoreboard that cannot show all games of a full MLB schedule
10. The scoreboard does not show the game's current score; addition of the linescore is required
11. The scoreboard does not have a video board with which to show replays
12. The scoreboard does not show the team's lineups
13. The scoreboard does not show official scoring for a play in which the scoring is in question other than "H" or "E" (it actually could be both)
14. Most main-level seats between the bases are obstructed-view seats due to the retrofitted suites hanging overhead
15. The public address systems plays "YMCA," possibly the worst song ever, during the first pitching change
16. Unfriendly ushers - I've had several unpleasant experiences
17. The ballpark is decrepit and structurally unsound

The night-game restrictions hit the Cubs very hard financially and competitively. This is most evident for Friday home games. The Cubs play 13 Friday afternoon home games. All other teams play at least 10 of their 13 Friday home games at night. This means all through the hot summer, the Cubs are stuck playing under the hot sun on Fridays. (Saturdays, too, but that's true of many teams due to the Fox television contract with MLB.) The limited number of night games makes attending games for day-shift workers (two-thirds of the workforce) that much more difficult. On weekends, they compete with tourists and families for seats. The television revenue also suffers with fewer daytime viewers. And I didn't even mention the ridiculous parking situation. Speaking of No. 17, the Cubs are very lucky a concrete block hasn't fallen and seriously injured an innocent fan sitting in his seat or walking on the concourse. If the Cubs want to stay in Lakeview, that's fine--they can raze the main structure (leaving the northeast corner--the bleacher section--largely intact) and rebuild it to modern specifications. That would mean two levels of skyboxes, a club level, a gift shoppe, dozens of concession stands, and a VIP seating area near home plate. It would also include wide, climate-controlled concourses, comfortable lounges away from the seating area, and a seat-numbering system that makes sense.

Many Cub fans don't realize how much they are missing by attending games in a ballpark nearly 100 years old. They find out when they cross town to U.S. Cellular Field or take road trips to see the Cubs in Milwaukee, Cincinnati or St. Louis. Teams in those cities play in ballparks built in this decade, and it shows.

It's not cost-effective for the Cubs to spend $100 million or more (without taxpayer help, I hope) to renovate and rebuild "that dump Wrigley Field," as I like to call it, if the night game restrictions continue. The Cubs' new ownership, the Ricketts family, must issue an ultimatum to Mayor Daley, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), and the anti-Cubs minority in Lakeview: we schedule our games whenever the hell we want, or we're leaving town. I'm sure there are still available parcels of land in the northwest suburbs along the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) corridor where the Cubs could build a new ballpark with a retractable roof. Inside, it would look a lot like Wrigley Field with a modern twist and 21st Century amenities. It would lack "charm," of course, "charm" being a euphemism for "aging dump." With a new ballpark near their season-ticket base in the northwest suburbs, the Cubs would be able to maximize revenue with parking, stadium advertising (including the video board), and a night-game schedule that resembles that of other teams--about 55 night games per season.* The ballpark would be the crown jewel of the northwest suburbs, joining Allstate Arena, Sears Centre and the Grand Victoria Casino as major entertainment options along I-90.

While the sale of the ballclub seems to be mired in financing difficulties, this is an opportune time for the Ricketts family to make its plans known, in no uncertain terms, for the future of Wrigley Field. The longer renovation waits, the greater the risk of a ticketholder, employee or player being seriously injured by falling concrete or debris. The current situation--not enough night games, and a ballpark in desperate need of repair--hurts the ballclub's value. Mayor Daley and Ald. Tunney need to assure the Ricketts family that their investment will be a sound one. Ballpark renovation should be permitted to begin at the conclusion of the 2009 season. The Friday/Saturday night-game ban should be lifted in time for the 2010 season, and the number of night games should be increased to the point that the Cubs are playing 55 regular-season home games at night by 2012.

*The Cubs currently play just 30 night games at home, a considerable difference of 45 percent compared to other teams and a serious competitive/financial disadvantage.

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