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Wisch: Boxed In By Rooftops, Cubs Must Think Outside It

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A view of the proposed jumbotron at Wrigley Field. (Cubs)

A view of the proposed jumbotron at Wrigley Field. (Cubs)

Dave Wischnowsky Dave Wischnowsky
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in...
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By Dave Wischnowsky –

(CBS) With so many fans so weary of rooftop battles and so fatigued with a franchise that’s so seemingly unfocused on fielding a winning team – or even a so-so one – anytime soon, the Chicago Cubs are stuck between a rock and a dull place.

And they need to find a way out, as hard as that might be.

Otherwise, they’re liable to end up killing off half their fan base from sheer boredom.

In an attempt to provide an escape route from the logistical and legal boondoggle plaguing Wrigley Field’s pending renovations, the Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan on Sunday wrote a story entitled, “Cubs need fresh ideas to break rooftop impasse.”

In the article, Sullivan interviewed some TV production people about one such fresh idea. He asked them if the Cubs could perhaps mimic the Blackhawks by erecting virtual TV ads at Wrigley in place of the giant beer sign slated to be put up in right field.

“During Hawks’ telecasts on WGN-Ch. 9,” Sullivan explained, “virtual ads appear on the plexiglass behind the goals and near the face-off circles, sometimes showing giant head shots of the station’s morning news personalities.

“While the fans in the expensive seats at the United Center can’t see the ads, those watching on TV can. With modern technology available, why not install some plexiglass behind the bleachers in right field and let fans watching on TV see a giant beer logo while the fans on the Sheffield Avenue rooftops can see right through it?”

Sullivan surmised that, “The rooftops wouldn’t threaten to sue the Cubs because their view wouldn’t be obstructed. The Cubs could begin their $300 million renovation plan and count the years until the rooftop agreement ends and they can block views without threat of a lawsuit.”

According to Sullivan, two veteran sports producers said the proposal was doable, but the Cubs would need to equip more cameras with the technology than the two used at the United Center. And that could get costly.

No doubt. But would it really be any more costly to the Cubs’ progress, goodwill and dwindling ticket sales than the franchise’s inability to get the maddening rooftop situation resolved?

At the rate the Cubs are currently going, Javy Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora won’t be prospects by the time that ground is broken on Wrigley renovations.

They’ll be retired.

As Sullivan pointed out, the Cubs’ agreement with the rooftop owners expires in 2023. And what I’d prefer to see is that the Cubs respect that deal by 1.) buying their way out of it or 2.) by thinking outside of the box with novel ideas such as Sullivan’s.

Now, is this virtual ad board proposal perfect? No, probably not – Anthony Rizzo said it would detract from Wrigley’s history and tradition, while Darwin Barney worried that plexiglass could create a glare for players – but at this point in the saga, let’s face it, nothing is perfect. And potential solutions that leverage modern technology are at least worth serious consideration. Perhaps, for example, there are ways to make virtual ad boards work and not produce a glare. 

Last May, I suggested that the Cubs resolve their Jumbotron crisis in left field – another point of potential litigation for rooftop owners – by devising a scoreboard that could benefit the ballpark from both inside and out.

“The dirty little secret about the Wrigleyville rooftops’ views is that they’re really not very good,” I wrote. “The seats are incredibly far away from home plate, making it hard to closely follow the action on the field. As a result, many fans on the rooftops end up just watching the game via the club’s array of HDTVs.

“So, what if the Cubs set up their own giant HDTV on the reverse side of their proposed video board? Think about it. The back of the Jumbotron could also feature a sizable video screen, allowing fans on the rooftops along Waveland a much crisper and better view of the game’s action (which the rooftop would essentially pay for with its revenue-sharing agreement). In between innings, the Cubs could also show ads on the video board – producing even more of the revenue the team covets.

“To avoid residents’ concerns about Wrigley Field becoming ‘Times Square,’ the Waveland-facing video board also could be shut down when games are not underway.”

In the past, rooftop owners have suggested erecting a Jumbotron atop one of the buildings along Waveland. They’ve also offered to place advertising signage and video boards on the rooftops. Now, I understand that those options aren’t exactly what the Cubs want, but we can’t always get what we want, especially when the other side has a legal contract. And I believe the only thing that Cubs fans really want to see is some kind of compromise. 

So, the Cubs have an obligation to figure out a way to truly accomplish that. And they should look into ideas beyond what they consider to be the “perfect” one. Look into some out-of-the-box concepts such as plexiglass ad boards or two-sided jumbotrons – or ideas from people more tech-savvy than sports columnists – and find a middle ground with rooftop owners until the contract expires so we can finally see an end to this drama outside the ballpark.

And hopefully start seeing some drama on the field, instead.

Follow Dave on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his columns here.

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