Saturday afternoon Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney led a wide ranging discussion that covered everything from food in the ballpark to the possibility of a Cubs media network. This session was a bit unique because it was opposite the always popular kids’ press conference. The smaller setting was conducive to a more robust conversation with many season ticket holders and neighborhood residents in attendance. I’ve got some highlights for you below.
A Cubs Media Network
Kenney said the Cubs have been looking forward to a major TV deal since the Ricketts family bought the franchise from the Tribune Co. in 2009.
“We’ve never lost focus on this because it’s such a big (deal) and a game-changer for us,” Kenney said. “And two years ago, Theo Epstein … said the next TV deal could present a ‘paradigm shift.’ “
Such a deal could fund the player payroll on an annual basis and allow Epstein, the president of baseball operations, a more robust budget to compete with the likes of the Yankees and their YES Network.
The potential deal would come just in time for next winter’s potent free-agent market. It also wouldn’t hurt the Cubs’ quest to secure the young talent already on their roster.
As nostalgic as I am for the WGN relationship that was instrumental to me becoming a Cubs fan in rural Utah in the 1980’s, the possibility that the Cubs will be able to keep that national reach in a way that ensures their ability to field a quality team far into the future is intriguing.
Working to accommodate access issues
As Al reported earlier this January, there is a lawsuit pending regarding disability access for fans in the park. This subject came up in questioning that also highlighted the limited bathroom accessibility for fans with disabilities in the bleachers. While specific solutions were not discussed (likely because of the pending law suit), Kenney made an effort to follow-up with fans on their concerns and encouraged fans to report any such concerns in the moment either to a Cubs official attending the game or via email. He stressed that they take all of those issues seriously and want to accommodate all fans at the ballpark.
Another access issue highlighted during the meeting included the possibility of a peanut free night at the ballpark. Currently 22 major league teams offer some form of a peanut free environment or at least one night where the ballpark is “peanut-free” to accommodate fans with allergies. Alex Sugarman, SVP of Strategy and Ballpark Operations acknowledged this is a challenge but indicated there is no plan to offer a similar event at Wrigley Field given the difficulty in guaranteeing a peanut free environment in the ballpark with dust and other residual contaminants. While this wasn’t stated, I’d have to imagine another concern is that such a night would have to guarantee no outside food was brought into the ballpark, which would certainly be a challenge.
After a particularly brutal foul ball incident last season at Yankee Stadium a number of teams including the Cubs were under scrutiny for not having extended the protective netting further down the foul line. Earlier this fall it was reported that the Cubs would be extending that netting at least 30 feet. Kenney confirmed that there would be extended netting in place for 2018.
Better food options inside and outside the park
The Hotel Zachary is set to open in 2018 and brings with it an array of food options to the ballpark (including the much anticipated return of the McDonald’s across the street from Wrigley Field). You can read about all of those offerings here. In conjunction with other new offerings like the Brickhouse Tavern and Rizzo’s Bar and Inn, fans will have a lot more options for food before and after a game.
The Cubs also confirmed that by July at least eight new concessions stands will be open in the ballpark offering a wider variety of foods for fans who want something other than a hot dog and a beer at the park. If a hot dog and a beer are still your thing, don’t worry, you should be able to get those, too.
As a Wrigleyville resident I often take the time to hear what the Cubs are doing and listen to feedback in the neighborhood. I’m always struck by how positive it is at Cubs’ centered events like the Convention and how negative it is at neighborhood centered discussions in the ward.
That disparity is likely at the root of one of the few sources of frustration for fans at this particular session, namely the inability to access the Park at Wrigley on a game day without a ticket, which the Cubs business office shares.
The Cubs business team seem to be struck by the same difference because one of the comments made in a roundabout way by Kenney highlighted the importance of residents who support the Cubs making sure their voices are heard by the ward and the city on issues like access to the Park at Wrigley. As the Cubs continue to pour money into the development and upkeep of Wrigleyville here’s hoping residents heed Mr. Kenney’s advice.
The only other issue highlighted by residents is the continued lack of parking in the neighborhood, however that seems unlikely to be resolved given the lack of real estate suitable for expanding parking nearby.
The visitor’s clubhouse at Wrigley will remain spartan for another year, and is now set to be part of the 2019 renovations. The front office and ownership didn’t seem particularly concerned about this, but look for opposing teams to continue to complain about their facilities at Wrigley Field for the foreseeable future.
All in all it was a really positive set of updates for Cubs’ fans and confirmation that the business side of the Cubs is hard at work to ensure that the fan experience at Wrigley will continue to be exceptional in 2018.