Wrigley is Changing More Than the Roster
It seems appropriate that Rob G. would ask me to guest post for him in his absence about improvements to the ballpark. If you have read anything of mine at Tales from Aisle 424, you know I am a season ticket holder there since the 1998 season, so I tend to mention the ballpark, its facilities, and the Cubs' staff more than most Cubs blogs.
This year, there is quite a bit of change happening in the old ballpark.
The aspect that has gotten the most press is, of course, the bathrooms. Basically, the bathrooms on the concourse level will get noticeably larger for the ladies, and slightly larger for the men. The troughs will remain and they will all get a good cleaning.
The most interesting thing about this part of the changes is the reaction to it. Some people seem to love the troughs as a "Wrigley tradition" more than anyone should have feelings for a bathroom fixture. Other people hate the troughs more than Hitler. I'm pretty confident in my heterosexuality and am big on spending the least amount of time in the bathroom when I have paid more the $60 to be in the ballpark, so I come down on the pro-troughs side simple for efficiency, but I wouldn't cry if they ever went away. HINT: If your problem with troughs is the stage fright, try computing complicated math problems in your head as you try to go. I don't know why, but it works.
As for me, of all the changes that can be seen outlined by Paul Sullivan here and Dave Kaplan here, there are two in particular that interest me as a season ticket holder that attends more than 40 games per year in that ballpark.
First. the new PNC Club of Chicago is interesting to me because I have long been concerned about the possibility of PSLs coming into play at Wrigley, and this could seem to be a step in that direction. They have converted a number of the individual skyboxes on the left field side into a fancy club that I will almost assuredly never see unless I take a tour of Wrigley on a non-game day. Over at Aisle 424, I did a post about the various PSL plans that are currently in place in the major leagues and what I found was that the only PSL plans in place were begun when the teams went to new ballparks. Also, the PSLs were sold more as club memberships that entitle the owners to perks above and beyond what "regular" season ticket holders would get in their plans.
However, despite the opening of the PNC Club, I tend to believe Crane Kenney when he says that PSLs are not coming to Wrigley anytime soon. For one, the Cubs seem to be following the model of the Red Sox in maximizing the revenue streams in an old ballpark and the Red Sox do not have a PSL plan. Also, the Mets and Yankees don't have PSLs in their new high-end ballparks, so clearly there is a model for bringing in the dollars without having to take a PR hit by introducing PSLs to Wrigley.
Secondly, the biggest change, in my opinion, is not a physical change, but a change in how the operations in the ballpark will become more fan friendly (in theory). The Cubs hired Jahaan Blake (who worked in the Red Sox organization at one point) as a Chief Hospitality Officer and has been tasked with making sure the Cubs' flowery words in the marketing promotions translates into the actual experience when fans attend a game.
This is part of the Ricketts' overall vision of Disneying up the ballpark so that fans won't notice or care as much that the prices are getting really, really high. According to Crane Kenney in an interview with Bleed Cubbie Blue, there will be an army of Game Ambassadors that will be evaluating every aspect of the fan experience at Wrigley:
"They will be riding the remote bus from DeVry. They’ll be riding the El from downtown. They’ll be secret shopping our food seeing whether is the hot dog warm, is the beer cold. They’ll be monitoring the restrooms. They’ll be basically touching every point where a fan comes into contact with our ballpark even including the remote parking lot. How is the bus traffic from DeVry to the ballpark? Are the bus routes appropriate on game days where it’s a day game versus a night game, day game weekend, week day. Have we done everything we possibly can to make the bike corral work well? To help the pedestrians get from the El platform to the ballpark."
How they respond to the data they recover from these Ambassadors will be key to whether this is simply more Tribune fan-speak or if they are intent on making sure that when I pay $20 for a hot dog, I can be reasonably assured that it will actually be hot.
I'd be satisfied with an occasional thank you from the ticket office and ushers who are good at making sure people who don't know where they are going find the correct seats. I'm a simple man with simple tastes.
We'll see how they do once the season starts and the inevitable stupid questions from fans erode their resolve.