Whoa!!! Cubs wanna advertise! Photo: Crain's Chicago Business
Not satisfied with one extravagant multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract with brake problems perched in left field, the Cubs have filed an application with the city of Chicago for the rights to slap a Toyota sign in the bleachers of the landmark in which they play baseball. The good news is this deal will make the Cubs money. Probably not Soriano money, but maybe something in the Theriot neighborhood. The bad news is the Cubs need approval from the city of Chicago, which will also probably require half of Carlos Silva's contract, food allowance, and a third round pick.
The sign, an illuminated, insignia-shaped billboard towering 75 feet above Waveland Avenue, isn't the slightest bit objectionable to those who don't own rooftops with Horseshoe Casino painted on them. But it's also not a video replay board, and the Horseshoe/Budweiser/WGN Radio rooftop looked to be the most promising destination for something of that nature. Actually, the spot the Cubs management picked for the Toyota sign ain't a bad place for such a thing.
The question is, should we consider the ongoing lack of a giant replay board (and the semi-permanent billboard in its most suitable future home) a matter of good news or bad?
I have heard both sides of the argument. The main pros are: 1) all fans really want to see replays when they're at the game (admit it); 2) a JumboTron could bring in a lot of advertising revenue. How much? Does it matter? I'm sure it's plenty.
The cons are: 1) Wrigley is supposed to transcend time and provide an escape from the flashy, sensory overload, "Make Some NOISE!!!" brand of baseball featured at other parks; 2) a video replay board would distract from the existing, manually updated scoreboard; 3) a JumboTron could obscure the view from the rooftops as well as spoil the neighborhood skyline the fans currently enjoy.
The pros and cons have their problems, though. I agree, part of the charm of Wrigley is the time-warp feel of the place. Logic be damned, who knows how much of Wrigley's timeless value (or, more accurately, the value of Wrigley's timelessness) would be lost if modernization became pronounced in hi-def over drunken heads of the bleacher bums. Would enough Cub fans feel so jilted as to withhold their cash and offset the financial gain from selling Wrigley's soul? I don't know. That's kind of dramatic, even if you think a JumboTron would murder the Wrigley brand.
Business matters aside, I wonder what it would do the experience at Wrigley. Despite my rage-fueled yearning to see video evidence of just how safe Kosuke Fukudome was on that force play at second, I know it's good for me to be forced to enjoy the game as it is sans screen. I don't care if they put a James Cameron 3D IMAX screen in left, there's nothing like taking in the spectacle of the real thing on one take. Adding a giant video screen tends to draw the eyes of the crowd, any crowd, more than the event itself. Here's an example.
I used to work at a college with it's own coffee house. It was more of a coffee section really, but it carried the atmosphere of a coffee house. Indie music. Disaffected college students. Coffee. And you couldn't help but get ensnared in great conversation while waiting for your non-express espresso.
One year, the senior class of the college chose as its gift to the school a large-screen plasma TV for the coffee place. They turned the volume down and kept it tuned in to a news channel, but the lively conversation that once owned the place all but died. Worst gift ever.
I hate to tell you this, JT* haters, that ship has sailed. Not only have the Cubs announced plans to add WiFi to the stadium so fans can watch replays and get stats on enabled phones, but . . . well, people have their phones. Everybody's got a phone. There's no end to the texting, the looking down, the basking in the glow of the wireless mosaic tethers. The conversation hasn't died, per se. It's gone online and relies on the opposable thumbs of the users, but face it: our eyes aren't on the game.
There is no time travel. The friendly confines are body surfing on the sore-thumbed hands of the Wrigley faithful helplessly, for better or worse into the 21st century. Blocking the installation of a mega-sponsored video replay board won't change that. Putting one up probably won't even accelerate it all that much.
The modernization of Wrigley is like a runaway Toyota—you just can't stop it.