Do you love advertising in ballparks? Then do we have a stadium for you!
Fans who were worried that the renovation of Wrigley Field would see every square inch of available space plastered with ads saw their worst nightmare come a little closer to reality today. Rather than offer fans the option of purchasing life-size cut-outs of themselves and scattering them throughout the stands to simulate some semblance of normalcy — like other teams have — the Cubs have chosen to go scorched-earth with an advertising bombardment that looks more at home at an esports event than one of baseball’s oldest ballparks.
Can’t you almost smell the fresh cut grass? Hear the crack of the bat? Feel the excitement of opening a new investment account with Nuveen?
Of course, the Cubs won’t make money off concessions this season, and fans have developed a habit of shrugging off the corporatization of Wrigley Field if it means more money to sign marquee players. The problem is that’s not happening, either.
Despite the team’s value skyrocketing from $700 million in 2009 (when the Ricketts family purchased the team) to $3.2 billion in 2020, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts has been making the rounds the last two years crying poor. This is where we should also mention that the Ricketts family sold TD Ameritrade — founded by patriarch Joe Ricketts — for $26 billion in 2019. The Ricketts are not strapped for cash.
Despite this, the Cubs’ past two offseasons combined have consisted of signing Daniel Descalso (2019), an ineffective Craig Kimbrell at a half-season discount (2019), Ryan Tepara (2020), Jeremey Jeffress (2020), Steven Souza Jr. (2020), and Dan Winkler (2020). These deals came as guys like Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole, and even Nick Castellanos were there for the taking. And all of it took place with the threat of “we can’t afford to keep Kris Bryant” hanging over the Friendly Confines.
Of course, the Ricketts have every right to set a baseball budget and stick to it, just as fans have the absolute right to point out that the family is swimming in money like Scrooge McDuck yet still decided to cut salaries for non-playing staff across the board. After all, it’s not the fans’ fault the Ricketts prioritized buying up half of Wrigleyville over bringing in free agents, or turning Wrigley Field into a fundraising venue for Donald Trump — a president who goes out of his way to make racist comments about Chicago every chance he gets. The “baseball budget” appears to be an arbitrary number the Ricketts refuse to budge from, even though it has zero relation to their actual wealth.
Over the past couple of years, as the afterglow of the World Series has worn off, fans have begun to grumble. For some of us, the trading away of Gleyber Torres for an unrepentant Aroldis Chapman felt wrong, even if it resulted in a World Series win. What fans hoped was a one-off experience — a player suspended for domestic violence — started to look more like a pattern, with the Cubs’ unwavering support of Addison Russell following his suspension for domestic abuse. They brought in Daniel Murphy, who once proudly proclaimed he “didn’t agree with the lifestyle” of those in sex-same relationships, and debuted him just before an LGBTQ event at Wrigley (I swear I am not making this up). The area surrounding the park looks less like a neighborhood these days and more like the downtown Disney district.
All of this, and the fact that the Cubs have missed the playoff the last two years (and don’t tell me the Wild Card Game is the playoffs, it’s not) have made fans much less amenable to seeing their beloved Wrigley Field turned into a bunch of pop-up ads on an Outbrain site. At least when the Cubs were basically a AAAA team, we could escape the green grass and blue sky of Wrigley Field and forget everything for a while.
These days, not so much. Unless you’re in the market for a toilet.