PR Game Plan to Help Chicago Cubs

By Edward M. Bury, APR, aka the PRDude

The headline from an article in today’s online Chicago Tribune was as resounding as a tape-measure home run:  “Cubs striking out in PR fight over Wrigley plan. ” For the record, the print edition of the Tribune featured a different headline for the same piece: “Cubs swinging away in Wrigley plan PR fight.”

Regardless, the news from both mediums is the same: The Chicago Cubs are embroiled in some kind of problem, and regardless of the nature of the problem, it somehow involves public relations.  As a loyal and life-long Cubs fan and public relations professional, I’d like to help.

On the surface, this entire scenario is strange because the 2011 Major League Baseball season is around six months away, and no one in the Cubs front office — as far as I know — is under indictment.  The only inebriated people staggering around the intersection of Clark and Addison these day are the denizens who frequent the many bars nearby; so the PR issue can’t be tied to a contest on the field, someone in the front office or overly zealous and overly served baseball fans.

Upon reading the piece, I learned the fully story. The issue  is tied to what makes the world go round. And, that, of course is money.

Here’s what’s going on: The new owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family, are asking for a loan from the state of Illinois to pay for some  improvements to the venerable Wrigley Field. These improvement include making sure what was once known as the Upper Deck (now billed and sold as Upper Level and Terrace Reserved) does not come crashing down on those sitting the Field Box seats.  Actually, they’re asking for a lot of money — $300 million in the form of bonds from the State of Illinois — to complete proposed renovations.

The near-century-old ballpark needs renovations that will cost an estimated $300 million.

Terms of the bond proposal are the stuff only guys in gray suits can decipher, but the owners want to repay the bonds through future amusement tax revenues paid by Cub fans who purchase tickets . And, one more thing: They’re seeking money from a state that is facing a $14 billion budget crisis.

As the Tribune reports: “The team’s proposal is complicated, and that’s part of Ricketts’ public-relations problem.”  Excuse me, but I think this really is more of a financial problem.

But as the PRDude, a Cub fan who saw Ernie Bank play and remember ticket prices of 90 cents — yes, 90 cents — in the bleachers, I’m here to offer effective public relations counsel.  Here are two definitive, attainable objectives with the goal of keeping the Cubs financially viable until they win a World Series or Chicago elects a Republican mayor:

1. Increase awareness by 50 percent by year-end 2011 among season ticket holders that the price of their treasured seats will continue to escalate for the foreseeable future.

2. Increase acceptance by 100 percent among all baseball fans from the 2011 season until the Cubs win a World Series that every trip to Wrigley Field is an historic event:  Witnessing the athletic competition of the professional sports franchise with the longest consecutive streak of not winning the ultimate championship.

Best of success to the Ricketts family in their quest to secure the funding needed to keep Wrigley Field open for another generation or two of fans who continue to have faith that “this year will be the year.”  Or, maybe next year. Providing of course, the old Upper Deck stay where it’s suppose to be.

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Here’s a PR-Related Story With Some Teeth in It

Local headlines the past few months in Chicago have been dominated by some pretty disturbing, and often plain bleak, news.

Kids skipping rope on the sidewalk in front of their home were shot and one killed in a drive by gang-related shooting.  The August 24 housing sales report from the National Association of Realtors revealed that existing home sales plummeted across the nation last month; in Chicago, sales fell by 25.1 percent in July, which put a damper on relatively robust sales activity during the first half of 2010.  And, of course, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was convicted on one of 24 felony counts in Federal Court; he plans to appeal the conviction, and federal prosecutors plan to retry him.

But this week, we were treated to some good news.  The story lead the evening television news reports and even generated a fine editorial in the Chicago Tribune.

The story?  A three-foot-long alligator that apparently had been dumped by its owner into the Chicago River was finally captured unharmed.  The gator, obviously not a native species to these parts, will be kept under observation here for a few months, then released where it belongs — in a Florida swamp.

For a few days, Chicagoans watched as a volunteer from the Chicago Herptological Society paddled his canoe along the river near Belmont Avenue in search of the elusive lizard.  The volunteer would only describe himself as “Alligator Bob.”  He reportedly shied away from the limelight to protect his privacy;  too many people, he said, would seek him out to extract renegade gators abandoned in area ponds and rivers.

“I’m a volunteer,” Bob said.  His intention is to capture big lizards so they can be relocated, not generate more headlines and exposure.

From a pure publicity or press agentry perspective, Alligator Bob just walked away from some potentially lucrative opportunities.  Think about it:  This guy has success in extracting slimy creatures that crawl around in the shadows.  Based on Chicago history, there are a lot of creatures around here that fit that description; and, many wear nice suits and work close to the Chicago River.

But enough political satire and sarcasm.

I’m impressed that Alligator Bob eschewed potential to build awareness for himself during his humble and diligent efforts to save a poor gator that surely would have died once fall and cold weather arrive in the next several weeks.   Lessor men or women would have hired a battery of public relations and marketing professionals to secure appearances on TV and radio and build the Alligator Bob brand.  Imagine him on “Oprah” and the made-for-TV-move rights.

This guy just wants to help alligators.  Compare his actions, his character and his conviction to others who have been in the news lately, and I find Alligator Bob to be a true hero.   An example: Former Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa complained that the team “disrespected” him by letting other players wear his jersey number — 21.  Right.  A showboat player embroiled in the steroids mess who walked out on his teammates the final game of the 2004 season. And, he was found using a corked bat.

For the record, Sosa did hit a lot of home runs, and he’s the only player in history to have three 60-plus homer seasons.  But were they all “legal” roundtrippers?

I can say this with a lot of confidence:  Alligator Bob netted our rogue gator using just a regular net.   And, when the job was done, he packed up his canoe, minus the fanfare.

Snapdragons in November, Part IV

What’s a sure sign of spring?  The start of the baseball season.

Today is opening day for Major League Baseball and my beloved Chicago Cubs are already taking it on the chin in Atlanta.   As any baseball fan knows, the Cubs have had their share of public relations nightmares, due in large part to a century and a year drought in winning the World Series.  Ah, but maybe this year.

Regardless, despite the absence of winning the big one, inept play on the field, boneheaded front office decisions and some purported curse caused by a goat, the Cubs remain one of the best brands in all sports.  Sold out crowds at Wrigley Field and lucrative TV contracts attest to that.   Hey, I’d take a public relations job with the Cubs, if for the sake of getting into the ballpark to see a game now and then.

But, for you loyal readers, enough talk of the Cubs.  Here’s the fourth and final installment in my work of fiction, “Snapdragons in November.” Thanks to all who’ve read it; I’d welcome any comments.

The door opened and he could smell the cleansing rain for a moment. A couple, mid-twenties, somewhat reserved and looking slightly rumpled in their torn dark denims and faded leather jackets, took seats to his right. They studied the food menu – burgers, sandwiches and wings, mainly — for what was a long time and scanned the chalkboard that listed the dozens of beers available. He tried to listen to their conversation and heard the guy offer thoughts as why the pale ale was a better choice than the kolsch. The girl, almost pretty in a gaunt way, listened intently.  For some reason, he liked these two. They probably are artists, or want to be artists, but have to work at some crap retail job to afford a one-bedroom flat in one of the buildings that line this once working-class neighborhood on the upswing.  They had conviction, even in ordering a beer and food from a bar menu.

He wanted to talk to them, and find out more about their lives and what brought them together and to Wellington’s on that early Sunday evening in late fall.  He wondered: What will their conversation be about a year, five years from now? Will they find a common bond built upon something so everyday like what kind of beer to drink?  He sort of envied them. Together, life was unfolding and could take any direction they pursued.

Finishing his fifth Metropolitan, he gestured to Sam for a check. “Hey good lookin’. What’s the damage today?” he asked. “It’s time I started dinner. Otherwise I might get to like this place and stay here all night.”

“Don’t wear out your welcome,” she said. “You could walk out of here for sixteen.”

“I always knew you were a cheap date,” he said, leaving a $20 bill and some singles on the bar. “When’s your swan song shift?”

“Oh, you mean when’s my last shift here?”
“Uh huh.”

“Next Sunday.”

“Well, I’ll plan on being here and plan on being thirsty.”

“It’ll be a little emotional, you know?  I’ve been in Chicago for four years, and I’ve been here three years. Tried to make it work here, but I’ve got to put down new roots where I think they’ll have a better chance to grow. Sometimes, you gotta take that first new step.”

“And, I’m ready to step out and navigate my way home. Goodbye for now, California girl. You ain’t seen the last of me,” he said, pushing open the heavy door.

Damn the rain, he thought, walking at a deliberate pace home. Like the old lady said, it washes the bad crap away.  So what if he got wet.  So what if he stayed at Wellington’s longer than he planned.  So what if dinner would be ready a little later.  So what.

He knew she was not home when he unlocked the back door.  The lights were off and the shades were not drawn. The house was dark inside save for the yellow glow from the street lights. It looked warm, welcoming.  And there, on the kitchen counter, were the snapdragons.  She neatly pruned away the nearly dead leaves and blossoms to create a small beautiful monument to the end of a long, long season.  Little bursts of color in a vase against the black counter top.

There was no note, but he knew where she went, off to buy her milk and probably lots more stuff they didn’t need.  Her unpredictable spirit.  That’s part of what defined her, part of what made him fall in love those seemingly simple years and years ago.  There was goodness in her soul, and perhaps he was too inflexible to recognize this.  Perhaps he had better reap whatever good things – big and small – he could gather.

Keeping his wet jacket on, he went back outside in the rain to wait for her to return. He would inspect every car that drove up their street, toward the home they built together, and hope the next car would be her’s. He would rush to help her carry the groceries they didn’t need. He didn’t care how long he had to stand in the rain.

The End