Your intrepid reporter awoke to falling snow and a world of white this morning, but I braved my way on the Red Line down to the Hilton for the enlightening Meet Cubs Business Management Session with blatant disregard for the elements. It was an interesting session with lots of questions, so without further ado, let's get to it.
Present were four members of the Cubs front office: Frank Maloney, Director of Ticket Operations; Jay Blunk, Director of Marketing and Sales; Mike Lufrano, Senior Vice President of Community Affairs and Broadcasting (and also Cubs' legal counsel - where can I get his job?); and Mark McGuire, Vice President of Business Operations, who did the majority of the talking. I will note who answered each question, of which there were 26 in total.
Blunk opened the session by noting that new Cubs president John McDonough was seated in the back of the room; why he wasn't a participant was not asked or addressed. Good to see he was there, regardless.
Lufrano then spoke briefly about Cubs Care and some of the programs it has undertaken recently. He began by noting that Cubs Care has given $10 million to the City of Chicago since 1991 and gave $1.1 million in 2006 alone. He noted that Cubs Care was responsible for the recent renovations to the Little League park Thillens Stadium at the corner of Devon and Kedzie, and also the new playing surface, lights, and scoreboard for the field at Hamlin Park at Damen and Wellington. He said that Cubs Care was active in the Race to Wrigley and the Meet the Team, Have a Ball events, and that it was also active in certain neighborhood protections, including noise, traffic, and parking, noting that the Cubs had recently purchased a new parking lot close to Wrigley, though he did not say exactly where it was.
Then came the questions. Overall this was an older crowd, and the questions were fairly innocuous and non-hostile with the exception of a few. And just before the questions began, McGuire said that Alfonso Soriano was very excited about the fan support and response he saw at the Convention and that he couldn't wait for Opening Day.
Everything in parentheses is my comments because it's my diary, dammit.
- A season ticket holder in the upper deck complained about being kicked out right after the game ended. (I've noted this myself, especially in the upper deck, but I personally don't find it to much different in any other stadiums; I mean, the game's over, and they need to clean up the park.) His big complaint was that the ushers were rude about it, and McGuire said that this was something that would be addressed with the usher staff. McGuire then noted that the Cubs spend between $2-5 million on structural maintenance to Wrigley every off-season, that the brick sidewalk behind the bleachers was being extended to around the Harry Caray statue at Addison and Sheffield by Opening Day, and that there would be a major upgrade to the sound system in the lower deck for this season, with the upper deck coming next year (let's hope they turn the volume down).
- This one was about the progress of the "triangle" building on Clark. McGuire said that it was stalled for now with no reason for the delay being given. He did say that the clubhouse was being refurbished for this season.
- This one was about night games. McGuire said that they were currently at 30 and that there was no current discussion of having more. (Nothing was said of whether they are even allowed to have more than 30; I thought that they weren't allowed to have more than 30 per their agreement with the city, but nothing was said of that.)
- This questioner wanted to know if there would be an opportunity for autographs at the Have a Catch day. Lufrano said no because it was scheduled for a Saturday when the Cubs were out of town, but that you could get autographs at the Meet the Team event. McGuire also said that being a White Sox fan is a learning disability, bringing quite a laugh from the crowd.
- Some moron wanted the Cubs to take down the message boards from under the scoreboard and the upper deck roof, and also the board behind home plate. (Obviously this idiot has never been to any of the other 29 major-league stadiums, which have ads plastered over every conceivable space.) McGuire essentially implied that there was no way in hell this was going to happen and that these ads bring in significant revenue. He also said that the Cubs must push the envelope in terms of advertising to generate more revenue to cover payroll and that there will be more advertising in Wrigley in the coming seasons, without saying where they would be located.
- This one was about the possibility of smaller season ticket packages, noting the Bulls' 11-game plan, among others. Maloney said that the business plan of 18 games was currently the smallest (I wasn't even aware of this plan), that the Cubs have a strong season ticket base (duh), and that it's difficult to have smaller plans because of this fact.
- A season ticket holder complained that there weren't more events for season ticket holders. McGuire said that there were too many season ticket holders to be able to coordinate such events successfully. (Kind of a cop-out if you ask me, but what do I care?)
- A guy wanted to know if Dave Matthews Band was playing at Wrigley over the All-Star Break. McGuire said that it wasn't for certain yet but that negotiations were still ongoing.
- This was about the possibility of the All-Star Game coming back to Wrigley soon. McGuire said that there have been no recent internal discussions but that it was logical for the 100th anniversary of Wrigley in 2014. (Even-numbered years are now AL hosting years, however, so that might present a problem).
- This was an unpopular question: somebody wanted to know if the Cubs had thought of Personal Seat Licenses like the Bears have. After the question was roundly booed, McGuire said that it had been thought about internally and did not deny it as a possibility, noting that through revenue sharing the Cubs must give 34 cents of every dollar of revenue to MLB.
- Our resident Greg Maddux aficionado Jessica asked about the Premium Tickets operation and how that whole thing worked. McGuire admitted that it probably wasn't his best idea, saying that the logic was that the Trib needed to be in the secondary ticket market because of their involvement in running the team, broadcasting it over TV and radio, and so forth. He said that 12,000-15,000 tickets were sold to Premium in 2006 and that not every ticket in the park can go on sale because a certain number must be held back for players, umpires, sponsors, the Trib, etc. Jessica then pressed on about season ticket holders reselling their tickets for a profit, saying that the Yankees cracked down on such activities by their season ticket holder, and wondering why the Cubs didn't do the same. Maloney gave a complete non-answer (as he did with most questions, frankly), saying that it's legal for season ticket holders to do it in Illinois, and basically challenging every season ticket holder to read their contract every year because it's always changing (he didn't say how it's basically an adhesion contract, but that's a story for another diary).
- This one was about the potential of moving up on the season ticket waiting list (of which I am on, so I was interested in this answer). Maloney said that the money was due just a few days ago and that they should know more later this week. He foresaw that they would get into the list "a little bit" (whatever that means).
- A woman said that the women's restroom near Aisle 102 was always in need of repair. McGuire promised to have it addressed.
- Somebody wanted to know where the name for the event "Have a Catch" came from, saying that he's from Chicago and that you always "play catch." Lufrano said that it was from "Field of Dreams."
- This one was about any potential sale by the Trib. McGuire basically said that they didn't know anything about it and couldn't worry about it because they had a job to do no matter who owned the team.
- Somebody wanted to know about the Batter's Eye in center field. McGuire said that the Cubs were looking for more non-game day activity this year but that it will remain as a group facility.
- This wasn't really a question as much as a thank you for having cheap scorecards on quality card stock (a sentiment I echo because I keep score every game, and there was much applause for this one). McGuire says that the publications department does a great job (I would quibble with that as there are frequent mistakes on the scorecard, but that's neither here nor there) and that they're not going anywhere.
- A woman wanted to know about the possibility of season tickets for wheelchair seating. Maloney said that it was possible but that it rarely came up as a question to the ticket office and that he wasn't sure if the market was there and whether people in wheelchairs would come to all 81 games (I personally agree with that assessment). McGuire admitted that there were problems with able-bodied people buying wheelchair seats.
- Some guy complained about not being able to see two-thirds of the field from the bleacher boxes in right field. Maloney said that they were aware of this. The guy then went on to bitch about "young people" getting drunk on beer and mai tais, that they cursed in front of kids, and that he spent all of the game passing beer down the row. McGuire thanked him for bringing it up and said nothing else on the point.
- Some guy said that the rows to the bullpen side of the visitor's dugout looked "single A" (which I disagree with). Blunk said that the Cubs are constantly looking for low-impact, high-revenue improvements to the park as they try to ensure that Wrigley never becomes financially obsolete. He also said that the goal of in-park advertising was to have them be seen on TV, like the behind home plate board.
- This one was about the Cubs Cruise coming back. Lufrano said that this was unlikely, with McGuire noting that expenses for this particular event were very high.
- Somebody asked about the "combination" season ticket plan (something I have never heard of whatsoever) and whether something could be done about reselling the tickets. Maloney said that this was revisited every year. (I still have no idea what this question was about; they might as well have been speaking French.)
- This one was about the brick paving near the Harry statue. McGuire said that everybody who bought one would be given a map and a code for locating their brick and that he prayed it would be ready for Opening Day.
- This was from a non-season ticket holder thanking them for limiting the number of season tickets. McGuire said that the demand for more season tickets is certainly there and that they try to balance demand vis-à-vis season vs. individual by cutting back on group sales (a very wise strategy if you ask me, though I know certain groups who are used to going every year don't like it).
- A guy who had asked a question earlier suggested that when full season tickets because available, the Cubs should break them into smaller packages. Maloney more or less dismissed this as ridiculous (which it is, as I want the full plan if/when my turn comes) and said that there are lots of restrictions on single game purchases when they go on sale so as to get them into as many people's hands as possible.
- The last query was from a guy here from Monroe, Louisiana wanting to know when he would know for sure if he got a ticket for the Meet the Team event, specifically because he would need to buy a ticket for that night's game, plus make travel arrangements. Lufrano said they would notify people as soon as possible and that he should know by the time single game tickets go on sale. The fact that the questioner was from Louisiana was not received well for obvious reasons, though it was all in good fun.
As I left the Hilton, I saw lots of people in Saints gear, so it appears that their fans are traveling well, and Bears fans are going to have some competition in Soldier Field this afternoon. Me, I'm waiting for the varsity game at 5:30. If you've actually read this far, thanks for indulging me.
EDIT: I forget to mention the actual highlight of yesterday. It came during the live auction of game-used equipment. When I got in there a big guy in a black shirt was doing the actual auctioning, and I didn't think anything of it until he auctioned off a lineup card from the dugout and frequently mentioned that Scott Eyre pitched in the game. Of course, Eyre was the auctioneer, and he did a fine job at that. He took a break and when he came back he was holding a can of Bud Light, which he drank, signed with a blue Sharpie, and proceeded to auction off for $25. This guy is a riot.