Friday, June 25, 2010

They "Get It"

A Cubs season ticket holder (known has flannj), recently received the following letter from the Cubs:

Dear Mr. flannj,

Throughout the long, storied history of Wrigley Field, millions of fans have walked through its gates, taken their seats, and cheered on their beloved Cubs. Many, like you, decided to make a commitment to the team by purchasing Season Tickets and to you we want to say a special thank you.

On Thursday, July 8, you and a guest are invited to experience the Friendly Confines, both on and off the field, at our first Season Ticket Holder Appreciation Day.

Walk along the outfield grass. Run the bases. Take a swing or two in our Batting Tunnel Arcade. Relax in our exclusive PNC Club. And take pictures in front of our famous ivy.

Along with these activities, your Season Ticket Account Representative, as well as the rest of our front office staff, will be available for questions, comments and conversation. Some of you have been Season Ticket Holders for almost a half-century. You have seen years of success and years of disappointment. You have seen some of the best players that have taken the field and players whose names are forgotten. For others, this is Year One, just like the Ricketts family. Your name made it to the top of the waiting list and you decided to make a very tangible commitment to supporting the team.

But no matter how long you have been a Season Ticket Holder, you all share one common trait – a passion for the Cubs. For that, we are grateful. We look forward to thanking you in person on July 8.

To reserve your spot, please contact your Season Ticket Representative or call the season ticket holder hotline at 773-404-4080. We are taking reservations for the 9:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. time slots.

My family and I look forward to spending time with you on July 8th.

Man, are these guys scared. Scared of what?

Empty seats.

The Cubs have been playing to well less than full houses this year. And, without a dramatic influx of talent this offseason, the expectation would be for even more empty seats next year. This letter and event is the first attempt by the Ricketts to try to reduce the number of season ticket holders who say, "You know, the economy sucks and the team isn't very good. Maybe now is the time to do something else with my money."

The Tribune recognized this in 2006. The empty seats led to the firing of Andy MacPhail, the non-renewal of Dusty Baker, and the massive spending on Alfonso Soriano and Tedd Lilly. The Trib recognized that the ability to sell the Wrigley experience was waning and on field product was paramount. They spent and put butts in the seats. Who cared if the team would be any good in 2010, they thought. Just don't let potential buyers see empty seats. It worked.

This letter shows that Ricketts know they are in trouble here. The product on the field stinks and the only way to improve it rapidly would be another huge round of payroll spending. They also know that they already have some big payroll obligations and the still have $425 million in debt that needs to be repaid. One bets they also are going to have to go to their father and explain how the return on investment of 1/3rd of the family's net worth is doing.

The possible silver lining here is that the empty seats will result in major changes in the way the Cubs run their baseball operations. That means changes from Jim Hendry on down.

The fear is that the Ricketts don't understand this. To date, all the changes we've seen have been cosmetic (clean bathrooms and Ricketts Buffalo Hot Dogs) and revenue enhancing (Toyota sign, buying a rooftop). There's nothing there that gives a fan any confidence that the Ricketts have a concept of how to run the baseball side of a baseball team.

If only there was a local model of a sports franchise that changed ownership that the Ricketts could copy...

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