Another Perspective on the Chicago Cubs’ “Public Relations Push”

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Headlines that include “public relations” or “PR” usually grab my attention. When the headline includes a reference to public relations and the Chicago Cubs, it’s like someone grabbed me by the lapels and said, “Read, then offer some insight.”

That brings us to today’s post.  In the May 15 issue of The Chicago Tribune — which I read “old school” or in print form — I was drawn to a sidebar piece that referenced public relations.  The sidebar accompanied a larger story, part  of the newspaper’s ongoing coverage of efforts by the billionaire Ricketts family to raise money for two iconic assets: The Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball team, and the place they play baseball, the nearly century-old Wrigley Field.

An artist's rendering of proposed renovations to the venerable Wrigley Field.

An artist’s rendering of proposed renovations to the venerable Wrigley Field.

Back in 2010, the Ricketts were hoping to use state funds to help pay for $300 million in renovations to the Friendly Confines.   That development sparked another so-called “public relations” effort, one The PRDude chronicled in this post.

These days, the Ricketts are pushing for plans to fix up the old ballpark in large part by getting approval for much more advertising signage, a proposal that owners of nearby rooftop adult playgrounds claim is the same as a bean ball to their revenue streams.  Read more in this Trib article.

But it was the sidebar, the one with “PR effort” in the headline, that has prompted this discussion.

restore-wrigleyThe piece, written by business reporter Ameet Sachdev, states: “The Cubs have stepped up a public relations campaign to build support for Wrigley Field renovations …”   The renovations are need to preserve the venerable park and modernize it. The plan includes an online petition on this web site where fans (or anyone with a computer, I guess) can endorse renovation plans that will be realized by revenue from increased signage, as well as more night games and a 6,000 square-foot video screen.  The Cubs also enlisted “a consulting firm” (not identified) to conduct research from area residents to gauge their support for proposed renovations.

On the surface, I applaud the Ricketts family for the petition program, for initiating a survey and for hiring communications consultants.  This falls under primary research, and solid research drives all effective public relations programs — or any initiative that starts with a sound strategy.

But let’s not lose sight of what’s really happening here:  The Ricketts family made its fortune through smart business decisions.  A crumbling ball park with outdated amenities can only attract fans — even Cub fans — for so much longer.  The team is employing public relations strategies and tactics to help build awareness and acceptance for the need to get approval for its revenue-generating proposals.

Do you really think they’re number 1 goal is to preserve the league’s second oldest ballpark?  Or, to preserve the “Wrigley Field experience?”   I think it’s to make money.

There’s nothing wrong with making money.  And, there’s nothing wrong with employing sound, ethical public relations practices to realize that goal.

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.