February 15th, 2007

Cubs Show Tradition the Door with New Ad Deal

By Paul Sullivan
Chicago Tribune

Bricks and ivy have made up most of the outfield walls at Wrigley Field for the last 70 years, but the Cubs will alter the ballpark’s famous backdrop for at least the next two years with advertisements on the old green doors.

The Cubs announced a multiyear deal Wednesday with Under Armour, a sports apparel company, agreeing to place its logo and name on the outfield doors. Terms of the agreement were not announced, but the ads will be in place at least through 2008.

By mid-May, the Under Armour ads will be surrounded by the ivy that Bill Veeck helped plant 70 years ago to beautify a ballpark that eventually turned into a baseball mecca. Cubs marketing director Jay Blunk said the skyrocketing cost of player salaries necessitated the change, though he knows the decision may upset traditionalists.

“Our track record with the subtle changes, year after year, speaks for itself,” Blunk said. “Going all the way back to the lights, the skyboxes, the rotational signage in 2004 behind the plate, the dugout signage, which we started in 2000, and all the subtle changes we’ve done to update Wrigley Field and keep Wrigley Field from becoming financially obsolete.

“We always have the tradition and the ambience of Wrigley Field in mind, and rather than make bold changes, we try to make subtle changes that deliver high impact with regard to revenue and television exposure to sponsors, yet have low impact on the visual quality of Wrigley Field. I think that’s what you see with the Under Armour [ad]. It’s just the next phase of keeping Wrigley Field updated.”

Blunk said the Cubs are competing in a division with five teams that have new or relatively new stadiums, and that it costs a lot of money to maintain Wrigley Field, which was built in 1914.

“Yes, it’s a Normal Rockwell painting everyday,” Blunk said. “But that Norman Rockwell painting takes millions of dollars each year to maintain and keep at the standards we like to keep. So we do have a unique situation at Wrigley--sort of a double-edged sword.

“It’s a beautiful place and it draws people, but then again, it does limit your revenue streams and is quite expensive to maintain. This is a way we can counter-balance that, and help us attain these blue-chip free agents such as Alfonso Soriano, who, by the way, is a spokesman for Under Armour.”

The current outfield walls were constructed in a 1937 remodeling project and the doors were painted green to blend in with the ivy.

Veeck oversaw the construction, purchasing and planting of the bittersweet and Boston ivy and helped attach it to copper wires running to the top of 11-foot walls.

Like many Wrigley purists, Veeck was averse to change and he boycotted the ballpark in his final days in 1985, citing the Cubs’ decision to end the policy of selling bleacher tickets only on the day of a game. Veeck had originated the policy.

Will modern-day bleacherites--who will pay as high as $42 a ticket this year--really care about a couple of ads on the wall? The Cubs are betting the answer is no and would argue the Boston Red Sox’s owners have made substantial changes the last few years to historic Fenway Park, including putting fans on top of and ads on the Green Monster, the park’s iconic left-field wall.

A press release touting the Under Armour ads on the green doors at Wrigley point out that the Under Armour logo “shares space” on the Green Monster with another sporting-goods retailer.

But Wrigley had never had ads on its outfield walls since Veeck planted the ivy, and the Cubs generally have resisted putting obtrusive ads in areas outside ballpark’s concourse, with the notable exception of a large beer-company ad under the center-field scoreboard, which lasted a few years during the 1980s.

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