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Cubs Convention 2019: Business Operations update with Crane Kenney and Carl Rice

Some of the Cubs front office staff sat down with a small group of bloggers to answer our questions

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I was lucky enough to join a small group of bloggers for a private session with President of Business Operations Crane Kenney and Vice President of Wrigley Field Restoration and Expansion Carl Rice. They answered our questions about a lot of things that come up frequently at Bleed Cubbie Blue, including mobile tickets, the 1060 Project, the Cubs interest in hosting the All-Star Game, and more. Below you’ll see highlights from that conversation along with notes from the general session Saturday afternoon.

1060 Project

We spent a lot of time discussing the status of the 1060 Project and what the ballpark will look like when it opens in April 2019. Rice indicated that this would be the last year of the project. It was originally a five- to six-year plan and they will be able to finalize everything in phase five. That does mean that some upgrades won’t be done when the park opens on April 8. Specifically, the right field work and seats will likely not be finalized until July.

They also adjusted the plans for the “mini-triangle” building that was in the 2015 plans in right field at the corner of Sheffield and Addison. That part of the expansion will be re-evaluated after the rest of the current project has been finalized and the business office has had time to determine the impact of additional club levels and suites.

Courtesy Chicago Cubs

Some of those suites may not be immediately available when the park opens, however, there will expanded Terrace Reserve seating and patio space in both left and right field. Rice estimated they’d added about 220 seats across both areas. Although it looks like the areas connect the decks you will still need to head downstairs to leave the general admission area of the bleachers. There will be a concourse connector beneath the marquee on the upper deck in the grand stand.

Additionally, fans can look forward to upgraded amenities in the upper deck next season. The renovations have doubled the number of restrooms and concession stands in the upper deck. This should give fans more time in their seat and alleviate congestion in the main concourse. While we’re on the subject of upgrades in the grandstand, the aisle numbering system in the grandstand will change for 2019 and the Cubs will adopt a more conventional system by numbering each section.

One part of the upper deck that is not being renovated for 2019 is the press box, which is about 30 years old, small relative to other parks and lacks air conditioning. Rice did indicate that they are looking to renovate the press box, but probably not until next offseason.

One other long-awaited upgrade is happening in 2019, however, and that is to the visitors’ clubhouse. While the old clubhouse was steeped in history considering all of the players who have spent time there, it is widely considered inadequate. Kenney mentioned that MLB had requested they update it again this offseason and it will be ready for opening day.

Revenue and spending

While this was a business update, Kenney did discuss the baseball operations budget. Specifically he stated that while he knows it’s more fun in January to talk about new players the Cubs really have confidence in the players they already have. He noted that 2018 and 2017 were both records for team payroll and that the team will be spending substantially more in 2019. Barring something really unexpected, the Cubs will be over the cap and will once again be one of the top payrolls in baseball.

He also highlighted that the Cubs are one of the top revenue grossing teams in baseball and that the Ricketts family has been willing to let the team spend the resources that are available. He also talked about how great it was that the culture and expectations around the Cubs have gotten so high. The team used to practically have a parade for the playoffs, the fact that a 95-win team causes angst is a sign of progress. This sentiment was reiterated by Theo Epstein in his general session with fans.

Kenney explained that while there has been a ton of development in Wrigleyville, revenue from the Hickory Street development will take time to evaluate given the flux in restaurant revenue. He stressed that the whole area, including Gallagher Way, is a great addition to the park. The idea was to create an environment that would incentivize people to come to the park and really experience and enhance Wrigley. He feels that has been successful both during games and with events at Gallagher Way.

Mobile ticketing and pricing

The Cubs moved to mobile tickets for multiple reasons. Kenney explained that it’s more secure and allows for much faster turnaround and efficiency. For example turning around ticket sales for Game 163 was much more efficient and less chaotic than it would have been in the past.

There will still be a paper option for season ticket holders, however it will be a post-season commemorative option. One of the advantages of that is that it will allow the Cubs to highlight certain games with the images, for example an image of David Bote after the ultimate grand slam or snowflakes on the comeback against Atlanta. There are not currently plans to offer that option to non-season ticket holders. There will continue to be a dedicated season ticket holder line in the bleachers, however there are not currently plans to add a dedicated season ticket holder line in the concourse.

There was a follow up question about seat selection and allowing fans to see the view from their seat. Kenney indicated that this is a question of what the ticketing platform allows.

In the general session the Cubs addressed ticket pricing. The look at over 5 million lines of data to set pricing in the offseason. Each area has a unique demand and character. In some areas the price went up, in the upper deck this year the price went down.

Mark your calendars now, single-game tickets will go on sale on February 22, 2019.

TV Network

Kenney mentioned that the Cubs network will be independent and they will have a partner. However, he didn’t divulge a lot of details that weren’t already public. He indicated that conversations were ongoing and that there will be more news on this front in the next month or so as the Fox Regional Sports Networks situation becomes clearer.

He also indicated that there will continue to be streaming options for people who are cutting the cord, however when asked about the blackout map he mentioned that there was little the Cubs could control there, even with their own network. The blackout map and restrictions remain under the purview of MLB, and they haven’t indicated they will be changing it.

All Star Game

Speaking of MLB, Kenney also talked a bit about a future All-Star Game bid. Crane confirmed that the Cubs are very interested in hosting the midsummer classic. It’s been 29 years since they last hosted the All-Star Game, so it feels like it’s time, but Rob Manfred is really running a meritocracy and bidding process rather than just going down the line or awarding bids based on his personal relationships. The Cubs were unsuccessful in the last cycle of bidding, but they will be bidding again.

Additional notes from the general session

  • There will be more accessible seating than ever in Wrigley Field in 2019.
  • The Cubs social media and marketing teams will be creating expanded content starting with a series called “The Offseason” that should be available in March. The decision to discontinue Vine Line was related to offering more mobile video content.
  • Cubs Charities continues to be a leader among the major league sports franchises in Chicago. They do this by supporting player foundations, arranging volunteer opportunities for players and supporting over 19,000 kids across Chicago through the Diamond Project.
  • There has been a lot of discussion of the Ricketts family’s involvement in the 44th Ward Aldermanic Race. Vice President of Communications and Community Affairs, Julian Green highlighted skyrocketing entertainment fees at Wrigley Field, micromanagement of Gallagher Way and Tom Tunney’s protection of special interests during his 16 years as the ward’s alderman as reasons fans should support change. Notably, he did not name a specific candidate.
  • The Cubs are working to improve WiFi at Wrigley Field next year.
  • The new suites allow them an environment that may be amenable to a peanut-free night for people with allergies. They will be piloting that in April.