Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maintaining the Chicago Cubs’ Historic Brand

Even for the modest fan, few sports teams resonate in your mind stronger than the Chicago Cubs. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to know that the Cubs are an iconic brand (Trust me, I’m from Milwaukee).

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Wally Hayward, the Cubs’ Chief Sales and Marketing Executive who was brought on by new owner Tom Ricketts to solve this burning question: how can a historic team make changes that will respect the character of the ballpark while providing new growth opportunities?

The answer to that question is outlined in these three main goals of the Cubs:

1) Build a Championship Team

I found it interesting when Hayward said that the Cubs want all of their employees to be the best at their prospective jobs. Yes, that means they strive to have the best security desk personnel, office assistant, and janitor in all of sports. Why? Because being the best is part of the unique culture the new ownership has. “This job was lucrative to me because the family culture has the brand’s best interest in mind for the long run” said Hayward.
The Cubs did not produce a winning product on the field this past season. However, with more money invested in player development, the organization seeks to win the NL Central next year. To accomplish that, the Cubs are putting their focus on the youth rather than big league players. The team built an academy in the Dominican Republic that serves as the gateway into the MLB for many of the young athletes living in that region. The key now is to win consistently over time. One thing is for sure, the Chicago culture is not going to make it easy. In a city characterized by big expectations and tough media, the Cubs have their hands full.

2) Preserve Wrigley Field

If you have ever visited JerryWorld (the nickname given to Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys Stadium) you may have thought that bigger is better when it comes to screen size, number of sponsorships, clubs, and so on. In reality, while that strategy works wonders in Dallas, it would never fly in Chicago. Even a historic ballpark like Fenway Park has 67 sponsor signs around the stadium. Wrigley doesn’t have that freedom due to the iconic elements of the stadium (for example, the Ivy). In fact, the multiyear deal with Toyota that produced the 16 by 22 foot sign above the left center field bleachers was a strategic placement. Even though many were initially upset, the Cubs were very careful not to hinder the view of the rooftop stands on Waveland Avenue. Another big renovation project included the conversion of 6 suites into the PNC club. You can see how smart and strategic sponsorships like PNC and Toyota will help Wrigley move forward.

Not everything is done on a revenue maximizing focus. The Cubs have invested in renovations that have never been considered before by the Tribune ownership – like the neglected Women bathrooms. In fact, Hayward’s own office is a converted Women restroom, adding to the fact that the new ownership is willing to make sacrifices for the brand’s long term health.

Even with all the additions and renovations, many opportunities still exist for Wrigley. The creation of a merchandise store will prevent the lost revenue on licensing fees that are the result of not owning the stores currently. Let’s step out of the stadium for a moment. The impact of the Cubs on Chicago’s economy is $655 Million, so it’s in everybody’s interest to see the club succeed in the long term. Within a four block radius of Wrigley, you will find 64 bars and restaurants. If the Cubs can control the environment and the fan experience outside the ballpark, it will drive even more revenue within the park.

Remember the College game day held at Wrigley on November 20, 2010 (Yes, the one that could only be played using one end zone) – Did you know it was one of the highest rated in College game day history? Years from now, I can remind you that it wasn’t because people wanted to see Northwestern take on Illinois (neither team had a shot of winning the Big 10) – it was because the game was held at Wrigley, and there is power to holding events at iconic parks like Wrigley Field.

3) Find the right partner

We already saw how powerful the association with the Chicago Cubs can be. In June 2010, Muscle Milk announced a limited edition bottle with the Cubs logo and baseball stitching graphics on the bottle design. Furthermore, fans participated in a contest for the chance to throw the first pitch at a Cubs home game.
Another successful partnership was created with Scott’s when they unveiled “Wrigley Field Lawn Fertilizer” and “Wrigley Field Grass Seed Mix”, which contained formulas used at Wrigley Field. This smart move dramatically increased revenues for Scott’s and provided great visibility for the Cubs.
The Cubs will continue to integrate their brand with the right partner to achieve success in the future.

Image by Jasonippolito

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