Bernstein: Are Cubs Fans Growing Up?

By Dan Bernstein- Senior Columnist

(CBS) Something pretty amazing happened over the weekend.

Or rather, didn’t happen.

Amid the usual, goofy hokum of the annual Cubs Convention came the announcement of a proposed redesign of Wrigley Field’s right-field bleacher area. The plan includes a rooftop-style party deck, premium seats like those atop Fenway Park’s left-field wall, and – what’s significant here – a rectangular, 75-foot LED screen set just above the basket.

You can imagine the blowback from traditionalists: the howls over technology defiling pastoral bliss, cries against the creeping commercialization of a baseball cathedral, fears that precious memories of simpler times are being trampled by greed. Phone lines blinking, websites abuzz, and wormy, over-sentimental media members leading the charge.

And you’ll have to imagine all of it, since none of that materialized.

A decade ago, this would have been cause for endless debate, particularly since the news came at a relatively quiet time in Chicago sports. Now, however, it merits either a nonchalant shrug or outright approval. “Giant television right above the ivy? Cool. Who’s this guy the Bears are interviewing? How’s Rose’s toe?”

It was even handled cleanly by the Cubs themselves, a signal that they may have learned from previous public stumbles. They plan to formally seek city approval for the changes to the park, even though permission from the Landmarks Commission is not required. They have deftly maneuvered Rahm Emanuel into a position to back the plan, since he has to let them do pretty much whatever they want to the park if he’s digging his heels in on not forfeiting amusement-tax money. According to a report in the Sun Times, 44th-ward alderman Tom Tunney (who fought the left-field Toyota sign) will not oppose this effort.

Usually these kinds of shifts are incremental and generational. It’s only in hindsight that we can pinpoint significant moments of evolution.

But the hiring of Theo Epstein and his high-tech troops, apparently, has catalyzed and accelerated the process. It’s like the whole thing has been power-washed, with decades of built-up nostalgia and sluggishness removed like so many barnacles – blown off the hull of a creaky ship.

Waves of progressive good will continue to cascade from Tom Ricketts’s bold stroke, and he knows it. They are trying to move ahead quickly before some of the feeling dissipates amid the cold truth of rebuilding the organization. This on-field product will not be pretty for a while, yet, and the grumbling will begin when fans really start to understand the scope of what Epstein has been asked to accomplish. Naming-rights to the park will be sold at some point, public money will be requested, all while patience is preached. It’s a tricky political calculus.

It’s not perfect: the Cubs could have been more sincere about the purpose of the new screen, telling us it will create valuable advertising inventory rather than hiding behind the idea that it’s for displaying the same pitch-count data we can all get on our phones. The Ricketts-driven decision to re-sign Kerry Wood for $3 million smacks of the Old Ways (and the reaction of the assembled conventioneers to the announcement of that deal was cringe-inducing. One could actually hear Epstein gritting his teeth above the din).

Still, the Cubs are finally on the right side of history, and they are ready to act on it.

I’m hopeful, now, that the same can be said of their fans.

bernstein 90x130 Bernstein: Are Cubs Fans Growing Up?

Dan Bernstein

Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of ‚ÄúBoers and Bernstein‚Äù since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.

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  • Lincoln Park John

    I don’t understand why people need to embrace the commercialization of Wrigley Field. You keep claiming that it “brings the Cubs closer to a World Series”, yet when the Tribune shelled out for big contracts and spent a lot of money in the later 2000’s it didn’t help.
    The Ricketts’s lining their pockets with more money doesn’t do much for anyone other than the Ricketts family. Sure we may get some nicer bathrooms and a “cleaner” park in exchange for the corportization, but its not worth it in my opinion. The point is that advertising money doesn’t bring the Cubs closer to a World Series like your mantra states.
    You’ve even said the point of bringing in Theo and Co was so you didn’t have to go out and spend a ton of money. Just because you don’t care about corporations taking over America doesn’t mean there aren’t some people that still do.

    • Markie Maypo

      Which is all well within the Ricketts family’s RIGHTS to do….since, you know, THEY own the team and all. It’s not YOUR team. You may like them…that’s your choice. It DOES however, bring them closer to a WS. More revenue and a better stadium will also help get highly sought after free-agents to sign with the team more easily. Stop with this closed-minded “the park was fine the way it was when I was 10” stupidity. For that’s all it is….stupidity.

      • Lincoln Park John

        It absolutely is within their RIGHTS to do, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to celebrate because there’s a Toyota sign and a jumbotron that looks out of place just so they could make more money for themselves.
        The only way they are going to get free agents easier is if they make a new clubhouse, which would possibly happen using the “triangle” space next to McDonald’s.
        I’m not saying improvements can and shouldn’t be made, but to celebrate because we get to stare at corporate advertising under the illusion it brings the Cubs closer to a WS is just wrong.

    • Jeffrey Jeffrey Jordan

      I, too, am surprised there aren’t any mass protests.

      Bringing in the lights for night games had huge protests from the neighbors; people still whine about the Toyota sign and threaten never to set foot in Wrigley until the Toyota sign is gone. Hey, guess what? They won’t miss you.

      At this point I am not sure what Cub fans want because they are not the types to fall into lock-step and roll with the punches. Cub fans fight any changes to the bitter end. Usually.

    • Spoon

      So why is it that you don’t seem to have a problem with the very name of the stadium itself?

    • Lil' Bycracke

      1. Hope to God you don’t own a business.
      2. Tell that to the Yankees and…Bo Sox who “commercialized” and renovated their Fenway Park in order to spend more money on payroll. Theo knows that more $$$ is not a bad thing to have.

      • Lincoln Park John

        1. I’m not writing from the standpoint of owning a business, I’m writing as a CONSUMER of the Cubs. I think my argument clearly states that going to a ball game and staring at corporate advertising doesn’t do anything for me, while I’m sure the Ricketts family loves it.
        2. You are under the assumption that these “revenues” from corprate advertising are going to the payroll of the team and there’s no clear indication of that what so ever. I think that’s a big assumption to make given how much they spent to get the team.

      • Lincoln Park John

        My point wasn’t if advertising “worked”, but rather that it is unnecessary for me to see it because the positive externalities of it are minimal at best.
        You’re essentially proving my point by recognizing that “subliminal” advertising (which is what you’re referring to) essentially crowds a consumers mind and making them think about the brand even if they weren’t focused on it. My question to you is how is being subjected subliminal adverstising any good for the CONSUMERS or FANS of the business? The answer is it’s not, and as I’ve shown there’s no way of knowing that advertising brings the Cubs closer to the WS.

      • Lil' Bycracke

        Actually, advertising affects everyone physiologically. You might say you ignore it, but I’m sure that Toyota sign put up a couple of years ago got you talking about the “Toyota” brand.

        That is what the Cubs and Toyota want…you mentioning their brand.

        That is also what’s nice about advertising. Consumers may say they reject it, but the only way they reject it is by noticing it the first place. Mission accomplished.

        Please see advertising 101 for further help.

      • Lil' Bycracke

        My bad for not getting straight to the point.

        A lack of advertising in terms of cost allocation (of payroll) would cause other revenue streams to bear the cost load and cause them to rise. Hence, ticket prices, parking, concessions, merchandise, and beer prices would have to rise to cover the team expenses. Sound familiar for the Cubs organization?

        Hence, that is why it costs so much to attend a game for the consumer. If costs are passed on to businesses and corporations through advertising and sponsorship, the price sensitive consumer will not have to bear as much of the load.

        The Cub fan should want advertising as it brings in money. Then, ticket prices and other consumer related prices would not have to rise if expenses (like player payroll) were to increase.

        I take it John that you would rather pay 30-50% more for a ticket and not have to look at advertising?

        I guess I had to go into Accounting 101 here too.

  • Markie Maypo

    The crazy old guys are dying off…and the rest of the Cub fans JUST WANT TO WIN! I think the hiring of Theo, the guy that ended Boston’s incredible series drought, changed the way Cub fans think. They realized that “hey, maybe the Cubs ARE going to try and win one or more”. Then they realized that is the most important thing to a professional sports franchise. So, in a manner of speaking, I’d say you’re probably right Bernsie. Cub fans DO seem to have grown up a bit.

  • mike in davenport

    To know a lot about what’s happening with the Cubs, you have to keep up with the various news sites reporting it. The people who are likely to really complain about this tend not to be people who read a lot or stay on top of things. You’ll hear backlash the instant it shows up on TV.

  • Moe Thacker's Cooperstown Dreams

    I guess thems what would be outraged at the gutting of THEIR bleachers have Timed Out, as we says on the Internets. Now do something about the main concourse. During the postgame cattle drive…not even Jack Ruby could slice through that.

  • Anthony Keating

    Why oh why is there always going to be the people that argue against change? Nostalgia makes no sense in this case. What are you holding on to? A history of losing and idiocy. I want the Cubs to win. I could care less if they move to Arlington Heights. Wrigley holds a lot of memories for me. Going when I was a kid, day games all the things that people talk about wanting to keep. The problem stems from the fact that in the background of all those “happy” memories (for the most part) was a Cubs loss. So how “happy” could they really be. Step in to the present and understand what a organization needs to do to win.

  • Adam

    I actually missed this announcement over the weekend. Was still looking at the Rizzo trade and Wood/Maholm signings I guess.

    While I’m actually one of those who just says “it’s OK if they have to bulldoze Wrigley to compete” (and praise Jeebus if it chases out some of the current Wrigley demographic) I don’t really care for them radically changing the current park by shoehorning in a screen like this. It’s not that I don’t want them making money, it’s just that I actually prefer watching the game at Wrigley the way it is. A giant, flickering jumbotron will in fact detract from my personal enjoyment of watching a baseball game.

  • Dean

    The revenue created will go into three areas: 1) payroll; 2) improvements in the player development infrastructure (Dominican Academy, etc.); 3) improvements at Wrigley (larger clubhouse, stadium batting cages, etc.).

    So while it won’t all go directly to payroll, it will go towards making the Cubs a competitive team for the long-run.

    Finally, I don’t get why some believe watching a game with a Jumbotron to show replays, stats, highlights, etc. is so distracting. It’s certainly no more distracting than trying to get stats from your phone during a game.

  • a_spooner

    “ricketts-driven signing of wood” puhleeeze… don’t think konerko’s three year deal with the white sox last year wasn’t reinsdorf ‘driven’??? so what?

    and as for cringe inducing….how about players taking microphones at the cell and begging fans to vote for ‘pods’ all-star….or announcing after a game at the cell so the fans could cheer buerhle’s new four year deal….WHO CARES (except sports radio)…IT’S SELLING TICKETS FOR SHOW BUSINESS.

    • BearsFan401138

      I agree. What proof does he have that the Wood signing was Ricketts-driven? Bernstein has no more proof of that than he has proof there’s a personal-services contract waiting for Wood after he retires. Having Wood for one year at 3mil isn’t the worst thing that could happen.

      Personally though, while I like the new deck idea, I’d just as soon have the old scoreboard disassembled and reassembled at the Museum of Science and Industry and put up a jumbotron there. They could still have the things that the proposed scoreboard in right field would have, just in a more central location. And enjoying the older things like the ivy on the walls and such isn’t as bad as Bernstein likes to believe…

  • Seen enough

    The younger generation of beer-swilling fedora-wearing party-kids don’t care what they do to the place.

    • Meatless Meatball

      Exactly. Which is why the younger generation of beer-swilling fedora-wearing party-kids are going to see a World Series championship, while the nostalgia-driven Cubbies dorks will be too busy messing themselves the way old people do to notice.

      • Bronzo

        That’s a BIG statement Meatball….the thing about the World Series that is. If Lord Theo can pull a third rabbit out of his hat….Those of us on the Southside will bow at his alter that is Wrigley Field.

  • Jim

    It doesn’t matter what they do to the park, the mythical triangle building, or the bathrooms. It also doesn’t matter who the coach, the GM, the president, and/or scouting director. Nothing will ever matter with this team because they will always lose. The sooner people realize it the better and maybe that is what is actually starting to happen.

    • Meatless Meatball

      That’s idiotic, Jim. Any team, given the right resources, can win. There is nothing mythic about the Cubs’ losing. They lose because they were worse than the other teams in the league. Period. Stop pushing the magic-realism of Cubs history. The Cubs’ history is littered with failed teams, not curses and bad luck.

  • Old and in the way

    I think the design can work – would be better if they did left field too though to keep the symmetry. I’m more troubled by one of the rationalizations I read describing how this section is for the fans who like to move around and congregate during the game. Despite all the stereotypes about the typical Cub fan who just goes to Wrigley to party, it is the last place I know of that doesn’t have these silly distractions, Just sit down and watch the game. Cheer for the Cubs because of the situation on the field, not because some fan-o-meter tells you to. I wish they would put additional rows of seats in this section. With the raised perspective, the view of the game should be great. I think that’s more important than a party.

  • bobwhite

    Dan, your dyadic position with this, and most issues, creates a false duality. It does not need to be either/or. You can keep the “silliness” while creating a winning organization. You can serve the real baseball lovers and those who just want to have good time. And a smart business man understands that.

    • BearsFan401138

      I agree. The “silliness” doesn’t help the Cubs win games, but by the same stroke it doesn’t cause the Cubs to lose games either. Some people don’t care what is going on as far as the game is concerned, they just want to have a good time in the stands. And some people go for the games. The important thing is, both groups spend money on the tickets and everything else that goes with attending a ball game, which can be used for signing those big-name free agents or improving the scouting department or whatever else needs to be improved.

      • HeatherL

        And the sad fact is even GOOD baseball is boring as hell!

  • Philgrin

    Dan, you don’t need me to tell you this – you are flat-ass right. The nay-sayers haven’t been season ticket holders for ’25+ years’ as has this writer. Right on the money.

  • - Chicago Ticket Hub

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  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Hiring Theo was a way for the franchise to grow-up and be successful like the Yanks and BoSox. Give him a few years to get the pieces in place.

  • Tom

    I’m 27 years old and my job keeps me in front of a computer screen all day. When i relax i am often on the internet, looking at a computer screen, as i am right now, or watching movies on my television screen. Commuting, I am often looking at my blackberry and responding to e-mails. There is something to be said about going to a beautiful ballpark with no screen in sight, and there is nothing stupid in thinking that. If this jumbotron really makes the difference in the team spending the money necessary to put together a world-series winner then yea, I support it, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t prefer the Wrigley Field experience without one.

  • val

    Party deck sounds great. Theres nothing else to do at Cub games….

  • Ligue Talkin' To Me?

    Those decks will be great for gangfights.


    I’ve been to G.A.B. twice and the new Busch Stadium. If you are a fan of baseball, the new scoreboard isn’t going to change how you view the game. And, I don’t mind advertising (depending on the company. There were some wretched spots out there this season).
    But, one thing Tom Ricketts could do is make sure that all 162 games can be seen on the cheap. Believe me, internet packages aren’t the answer. They can imagine that you live in a designated market, because the game is listed, even though your cable provider doesn’t carry it. And, you get blacked out. Even the away games.

  • billy bash

    I think a good start at ‘growing up” would be to stop peeing on my lawn before and after games, ripping off my lawn ornaments and placing them in the street as a “prank.” If the new TV and scoreboard helps people to “grow up”, great, but I highly doubt it will change the behavior of the mostly yahoo’s and weekend warriors that frequent the area.

    Also, “growing up” would embark on not turning the Wrigleyville “experience” into some campus-cult-like place.

    That would be a good start.

  • billy bash

    Ligue talkin’ to me is a perfect example of how Cubs fans have NOT yet grown up. Only an adult would realize that the shooting outside of Wrgley Field several years ago, and at the hands of a Cubs fan that actually attended the game, was far more recent than the “Ligue thing.”

    I guess shooting guns outside of a Shrine is a “grown up” thing to do when you disagree with someone, huh?

    Also, an adult would realize how The Trib BURIED that incedent on the 6th page. Adults see that. Kids do not.

    Again, growing up is in BEHAVIOR, not what someone else does.

  • James Steever

    I know I speak for many die hard loyal Cubs fans who have entered the “grown up” stage and turned their PASSION for all things Cubs into APATHY… Apathy, is the most dangerous form of fan…

    The Cubs are going through what the Blackhawks went through after Dollar Bill had completely raped and rendered the franchise irrelevant back in the mid- ’90’s. Blackhawks fans “grew up” fast to the tune of 6,000 or so fans every evening. I am at the same point. I have “grown” tired of the almost’s and what if’s, and the new front office and ownership has made more mistakes in 3 years that the Tribune Co. made in 20 —- largely because the Tribune Co left things alone… which to me is turning out to the be the “good old days” of the Friendly Confines.

    I’ll be back at Wrigley when they are in the Postseason, until then the Bulls, Blackhawks, Bears and Fire will get my hard earned money…

  • billy bash

    James brings up a great point: There is a sector of “grown up” Cubs fans that have earned that tag, even if I find it a tad bit silly that Bernstein would refer to it as that.

    Usually these are fans that have been around, been a fan, before Wrigleyville’s resurgence as a hip, ultra-touristy mega-attraction.

    That brings a different type of fan into Wrigley. One that often get mislabeled as something it’s really not. It’s a big boy fan base built on tourism. Tourists act like tourists, not well behaved, educated fan bases.

    I guarantee you many, many people that attend Wrigley this year will have absolutely no clue they even renovated the place.


  • JMS

    I don’t think there are protests because people don’t care about the Cubs like they used to. I think it is because you can only suspend disbelief for so many years and this current generation doesn’t revere baseball like past generations do/did.

    We will see what this summer brings but I expect attendance to be down on both sides of town.

  • Larry Horse's Arse Horse's Arse

    There have been so many embellishments and so much signage added to Wrigley that fans have become inured to it all. It’s accepted. That’s why it’s no big deal that they’ve announced this change.

    It’s funny why the Cubs say they’re putting it in, when we all know it’s about ad revenue.

    The fact remains that you need to tear out the entire concourse, lower deck and upper deck and rebuilt it all while keeping the field, bleachers and scoreboard.

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