Friday, February 16, 2007

Poison Ivy in Wrigley Field?

Under Armour Signs Advertising Signage Deal for Outfield Walls at Chicago's Wrigley Field.

The green doors tucked into the ivy into the left and right field bleachers of Wrigley Field will be decorated with 7-by-12 foot advertisements, touting Under Armour's signature logo.

The Chicago Cubs have entered into a sponsorship agreement with sports apparel company Under Armour that includes signage on the ivy-covered outfield walls at historic Wrigley Field. The Under Armour logo will appear on the two doors in left and right field, and the company will also have signage rights behind home plate.

Financial terms of the two-year deal were not announced.

Built in 1914
Venerable Wrigley Field is the second-oldest ballpark in the country. Built in 1914, the famed ivy-covered walls were added during a renovation in 1937, and the two outfield doors that lead to the bowels of the stadium were painted green to blend in with the ivy.

The decision is bound to cause some debate.

But baseball diehards -- particularly Wrigley Field denizens -- will almost certainly decry the advertising creep taking place. After all, it was a group of Cubs fans that for years fought the good fight to keep night baseball out of Wrigley after the Tribune Co. bought the team in 1981 and announced its intention to add lights. The lights were finally added in 1988, in large part because Major League Baseball threatened to move any potential playoff games to a site that did have lights.

Outfield ads
But baseball historians will note that stadiums regularly featured advertising on outfield walls during the heyday of the game, including the famous "Hit Sign, Win Suit" ad at Ebbets Field, former home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, in the 1940s and '50s.

"I think everything we do is very measured. We certainly do keep the fans in mind, the aesthetics in mind, and that's why you haven't seen this before or more advertising than this," said Jay Blunk, the Cubs director of marketing. "At this particular time in the organization's history, these revenues go directly to payroll."

At this particular time, the Cubs are spending money and need the influx of sponsorship cash. Chicago, which has been mired at the bottom of the National League's Central Division the last few years, spent $300 million in the off-season on free agents to bolster the team, including $136 million for outfielder Alfonso Soriano -- who, coincidentally, is an Under Armour endorser.

Moreover, of the teams in Chicago's division -- St. Louis, Houston, Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh -- all have moved into new stadiums within the last five years, giving those franchises additional revenue streams through naming rights, luxury suites and more.

'Norman Rockwell painting'
"We play baseball in a Norman Rockwell painting every day," Mr. Blunk said. "[Wrigley Field] is a tremendous asset to the organization but it takes millions of dollars to maintain. Our challenge is to find these new revenue streams to compete."

Mr. Blunk said it was important that the outfield signage be related to baseball and competition, rather than doing a deal with, say, an insurance company or car company. Under Armour, which also has its logo on the famed "Green Monster" left field wall at Boston's Fenway Park -- the nation's oldest ballpark -- is launching a new ad campaign this spring, done in-house, that touts its new baseball cleats.

"The timing was right for everybody," said Steve Battista, VP of Baltimore-based Under Armour. "I talked about this two years ago with [Cubs president] John McDonough, but the ball club wasn't going in that direction then. But the tide has really turned and there's a new way of thinking."

It's the first time the Cubs have allowed any ad or sign on the outfield doors. Jay Blunk, director of marketing and sales for the team, said the Cubs have been approached by other companies wanting to use the space. He said Under Armour was the "right fit."

"For us, marketing-wise, to have our logo and Wrigley associated with it is tremendous," Blunk said. "The brand represents performance and athletic achievement at the highest level."
"The Cubs have an impeccable track record of tastefully adding signage," Blunk said. "No question, there's been a change in the culture here. It's an aggressive culture. That aggressive culture means always maintaining the integrity of Wrigley Field, but how do we still win? This helps us in that regard."

This topic is tricky for me. I've worked with the Cubs Marketing Department for four years now. They do a great job and are as nice a people as you'll find in the industry. Initially however, like any traditionalist, I saw the Under Armour signage and cringed... Yipes, our beautiful green doors, our lovely ivy covered walls, blasphemy. can't be.

It's taken a while and I'm slowly coming around (okay, begrudgingly) to accepting the change knowing that the Cubs really are committed to winning a World Series.

Wrigley Field is a special place. It's the perfect ballpark. Fenway Park is a distant second. Sorry BoSox fans. I believe it's such a special place that my only child's middle name is what else: Wrigley. So any change comes with a huge amount of skepticism and resistance. Heck, it's personal... But give the Cubs credit. The organization has made evolutionary changes to this great old guy slowly, carefully and in nearly every instance, successfully.

In August of 1988, I was their for the first night game 8/8/88. And yes I went with a great deal of skepticism. I was opposed to the lights. No lights were one of the things that made Wrigley unique. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, cutting work, going out and having a few cold ones is a passage of life...the glorius self indulgence of "hooky".

In the last 5 years, the Tribune Company (the team's owner) has made more evolutionary changes like LED ribbon boards on the first and third base fascia to go along with LED ribbon board under the center field scoreboard, refined the luxury suites (I use the word luxury loosely). The Cubs also added four new rows of top end seats right behind home plate which were blended seamlessly into the old configuration. And the Cubs went the route of the behind home plate rotating signage a few years ago. None oo this has not hurt the look of Wrigley.

Last year, the Tribune Company rehabbed the famed bleachers by basically demolishing the decrepit old seats and replacing everything but the actual brick structure that comprise the outfield walls. Well, the new bleachers are tremendous. Clean, roomy, accessible, and more amenities. When the bleachers are full of fans (every game), you barely notice the changes.

So, while it's going to take a little getting used to see "Under Armour" as another Cubs home run leaves the playing field, when the Cubs finally win the World Series (and it will be soon) the motto will be CHANGE IS VERY GOOD. Go Cubbies!

No comments: