By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Public opinion matters to the Cubs in their efforts to modernize their property and stabilize their presence in Tom Ricketts’ beloved Wrigleyville.
It matters more now to him, after all the good will evident on the day of his purchase was eroded by a poorly-managed grab for taxpayer dollars that crashed and burned spectacularly. It has taken years to dig out from the damage of the ill-timed, tone-deaf embarrassment, and the Cubs have moved actively to get better at politics just as they are trying to get the baseball part right.
The hiring of the experienced, well-connected Julian Green was a start, and the new VP of Communications and Community Affairs has helped polish and tighten the organization’s message while playing a key role in smoothing the relationship with the mayor’s office.
Just as significant is a new understanding of what their customers actually want. We have seen the made-for-TV optics of Ricketts shaking hands with fans at games, sleeves rolled up, among the people. But underneath that cosmetic effort to get anecdotal feedback is real intelligence-gathering, as the Cubs have used surveys and keener monitoring of media both social and traditional to get a truer picture of their modern fan. Throughout the efforts to strike the renovation deal with the city, they have tried to remain as aware as possible of the sentiments toward the various players, and have acted based on that information.
That’s why Ricketts spoke of “the high road” when asked about the stunt of a proposal floated by Rosemont. It’s not that he isn’t smart enough to understand the concept of leverage, it’s that he never wanted to look for it. His choice was to look at longer-term perception of his family’s role as stewards of a public trust, rather than carpetbaggers trying to squeeze every other party for the best deal.
That’s why the increasingly-desperate cries from the rooftop owners are going utterly unrecognized, and they have been kept away from any actual negotiations. The Cubs now know that the tables have turned – where the rooftop businesses once represented the little guy standing up to the monolithic Tribune Company, they now are seen as poachers who have been selling someone else’s product.
And that’s why the team shrewdly avoided showing pictures of the proposed video board at the Cubs Convention. They know that the silly annual gathering of out-of-town rubes, local wackos and elderly sentimentalists was the wrong place to come clean on their forward thinking. The crowd there has ceased to be anything close to an accurate picture of the fan base, if it ever was at all, so the smart move was to roll out the modernization plan to the known mainstream instead of the fringe.
Listen for how often Ricketts explains the video board in terms of what the fan wants, not what he or the Cubs want. He’s not lying, and not speaking without having consulted real data. The giant screen will happen because the Cubs fan – that stereotypically traditionalist Luddite – wants it to happen. Amazing though it may seem, that fan wants not only the improved, better-informed gameday experience, but totally understands how increased revenues can better the chances of winning something meaningful.
There will be grousing from the vocal minority, of course, and it will be amplified by media looking to cast well-worn roles in the drama. But for every Uncle Ed who complains, there are two or three Gen-Xers or Millennials ready to embrace it. Remember: Uncle Ed moaned about night games in 1988.
It will be different. It will look a little strange at first, and then everyone will get used to it. Soon after, many will wonder how there was ever a time without it.
It looks like both Wrigley Field and the fans who attend games are starting to get brighter.
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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