Swinging for the fences: The campaign to restore Wrigley Field

Swinging for the fences: The campaign to restore Wrigley Field

Swinging for the fences: The campaign to restore Wrigley Field

The Challenge: 
Since acquiring the team in Oct. 2009, the Ricketts family placed a priority on renovating Wrigley Field as part of their plan to put a championship-caliber team on the field. However, a competing group of rooftop businesses repeatedly thwarted efforts to modernize Wrigley Field, seeing as it would cut into their $250 million in competing ticket revenue they had earned over the past decade.

In 2013, after several false starts to create a public/private partnership to renovate Wrigley Field, the Ricketts family pledged to privately finance the entire $575 million renovation project in an effort to break the logjam.

While the team gained the City of Chicago’s approval of a preliminary plan, Mayor Emanuel asked the team to attempt to reach agreement with the rooftop owners over a revenue sharing contract with the rooftops, which continued to threaten the entire project.

A year of negotiations with the rooftop owners ensued but without resolution, at which point the Ricketts family, the Cubs front office, and the Culloton team decided they needed to put the players’ operational needs and the team’s business objectives first. They decided to file a new plan in the summer of 2014 with Chicago’s City Hall to finally get the renovation plan approved. 

Our Approach: 
While the project had been stymied for years, the team was confident that an intense and well-executed 60-day communications strategy would provide the impetus for city government approval of the team’s new plan. 

That meant putting the ballpark renovation in proper context for Cubs fans: Renovation of Wrigley Field was vital to the efforts to bring a world championship to Chicago.

To kick-off the communications strategy, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts appeared in a video sent to all Season Ticket Holders and die-hard Cubs fans that laid bare the team’s antiquated, dilapidated and somewhat embarrassing clubhouse and training facilities.

After the video was released, the entire Cubs organization was focused on building support for the revised plans, with regular fan updates and calls to action. Via a dedicated renovation campaign website, over 30,000 Cubs fans emailed their support to City Hall. Neighborhood advocates that the team had built and cultivated over the years spoke out in favor of the plan. Groups like the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce advocated for the proposal, emphasizing the outsized economic impact the team had on the city and state. 

The intensive effort engaged Cubs fans, sparking conversations on social media, sports radio, in the media and at community meetings. 

Proven Results:
The revised renovation package was approved by the City of Chicago. The overwhelming support from Cubs fans provided the environment for officials to approve the plan after years of delay. Wrigley Field would again become a world-class ballpark with first-rate amenities and support the team’s on-field performance. 

After years of acrimony, ground was broken at Wrigley Field on Oct. 11, 2014. 

Our campaign received local and national recognition from trade groups who annually recognize outstanding work in public relations, including: 

  • The Holmes Report SABRE Award, Gold Award for Issues Management, 2015
  • Publicity Club of Chicago, Golden Trumpet Award for Government Affairs, 2015 

How the New York Jets Plan to Stay on Message

Dennis Culloton, President & CEO

Before Super Bowl III, New York Jets quarterback Joe Namath famously and publicly guaranteed the Jets would win the championship game.  Fortunately for Broadway Joe he was able to lead his team to victory, and in doing so joined the pantheon of sports legends.

That kind of excited utterance is in jeopardy.  Today’s Jets have had their share of public relations trials this off-season — from their volatile quote-machine Coach Rex Ryan to their quarterback controversies, to the signing, Twitter ranting, releasing, re-signing then releasing of wide receiver Braylon Edwards. In a perfect world, the world of Lombardi, a professional football team’s communications office doesn’t need to worry about what the athletes are saying. But times have changed and the media, egged on by fans that demand transparency, insists on attempting to extract information from players. That is why the Jets have infuriated some media outlets by issuing “media bridge cards” to players. With phrases including “let me just add that,” “that reminds me,” and “another thing to remember is,” Jets players are instructed to steer conversations with reporters away from conversations that may lead to statements that indict teammates, coaches, or front office personnel, and drive the team into distracting media circuses.

Doubts remain regarding whether or not the Jets’ new media strategy will be successful, specifically among the already cynical sports media. The Jets have work to do as a football team, so it is crucial that they aren’t distracted by off-the-cuff remarks to the media. If the usually comical New York Jets manage to stay away from bad press, NFL reporters in other cities may have to deal with the same “bridges” away from dangerous leading questions.  And New York sports media better hope the Giants are less on message.

Chicago: A City of Fair Weathered Fans with an Unruly Sporting Climate


Patrick O’Connell, Intern

The prestige of Chicago sports is undeniable: the historic ’85 Bears and their shuffle into the hall of fame, the international phenomenon of the Jordan-era Bulls and the recent championship run made by the Blackhawks. One can argue, however, that despite its obvious presence in the sporting world, Chicago may be the hardest city to play for.

Take the most recent criticism that Bulls point guard Derrick Rose underwent for example. Prior to his injury in the April 2012 playoff game versus the 76ers, Rose was a true hometown hero. He epitomized overcoming obstacles to achieve the American dream. He demonstrated that growing up in an underprivileged community on Chicago’s south side is never a reason to not strive for success. Fast forward a year later to the 2013 playoffs when Rose received a lot of criticism from fans and the media as championship hopes began to diminish for his team while he sat on the sidelines.

As for the baseball woes of Chicago, we see this demonstrated by both the north and south side team fan base. Remember when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005? Average attendance rates of 24,437 fans in 2004 skyrocketed to an average attendance of 36,511 fans in 2006. As for the Cubs’ 2003 win in the National League Division Series and falter in the National League Championship Series, average attendance saw a slight increase from the 2002 average of 34,512 fans up to 39,138 average fans in 2004.

As the Cubs and White Sox continue to revamp their programs, Derrick Rose preps to make his return, the Blackhawks continue to familiarize Lord Stanley with the organization and its traditions, and the Bears make franchise moves to put together another shufflin’ crew we must tip our hats to the past, present and future athletes that find themselves in the Windy City. Chicago is a city like no other and one that holds tradition and superstition hand in hand. So whether it’s seeing red, having one goal, hoping for next year, or going all in, Chicago is a city of fair weathered fans with an unruly sporting climate.

Where Sports Branding Meets Politics: Jacksonville's Love Affair with Tim Tebow

Conor J. Culloton, Intern

As our effort to help the Ricketts family win approval for their $500 million plan to save Wrigley Field continues, we are reminded that politics and sports often intersect in the open forum of 21st century American public opinion.  But at least we haven’t appealed for presidential intervention.

The University of Florida Gators brand, like any successful Division I college football program, is powerful boasting an $80 million, ten year TV contract, the fifth highest revenue in the NCAA in 2012, and three BCS National Championships. It is no wonder, then, that the Gators have a powerful presence in northern Florida.

Seventy miles northeast, the Jacksonville Jaguars are a foil for the Florida Gators. Where the Gators have a rich history dating back to the 1930s, the Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995 and have yet to play in a Super Bowl. Over the past few seasons, abysmal performance has resulted in dwindling fan support in an already small market for professional football. Bears fans may remember the chorus of “Let’s go Bears” that rang out during the fourth quarter of Chicago’s victory over the Jaguars last season. This explains why Jacksonville was the least valuable NFL franchise following the 2012 season.

Enter a third brand: Tim Tebow.

During the 2011 season, University of Florida graduate and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow became a household name as he led the Denver Broncos through the playoffs with his patented religious fervor that earned him respect, criticism and indifference from myriad media outlets. After an injury-marred and otherwise unsuccessful 2012 season with the New York Jets, Tebow is a free agent.

Moved by an allegiance to the nearby Florida Gators, and Tebow’s status as a northern Florida native, Jaguar’s fans have filed a petition addressed to President Obama via the White House website, urging him to “Call NFL Jacksonville Jaguars GM David Caldwell and tell him to stop ignoring the Jaguars fans and sign Tim Tebow!”

Neither the general manager, nor anyone else in Jacksonville’s management, has expressed any interest in or intent to sign Tebow, despite the fact that the fans have promised a spike in ticket sales and sold-out stadiums in exchange for the deliverance of Tebow to his native region.

Where sports, politics and branding collide, odd predicaments emerge. What if President Obama were to call the Jaguars’ management and urge them to sign Tebow? Would Caldwell be compelled to listen and take action? It says a lot about contemporary culture and how fans perceive themselves that the President’s higher authority was sought by eager Jaguars’ devotees. Fans filing a petition and using the federal government to encourage their team’s management to take action calls to mind a question that the ownership staffs of all sports teams grapple with: do the owners and managers take action to please the fans or to gain revenue, or does one follow the other?

In the end, decision makers in Jacksonville’s front office will have the final call. Caldwell must ask himself: is it good for the Jaguars brand, if nothing else, to take on Tebow? It may be worth a shot to boost fan-generated revenue by piggybacking on the successful University of Florida and Tim Tebow brands. The move could catapult the team into relevance, even if Tebow never makes large and meaningful on-field contributions to the team.

If points on the board determine the course of action David Caldwell and President Obama will take, it is easy to predict what will happen. As of Monday, May 6, the petition has 329 signatures.  Die-hard fans are too small in number. Perhaps, like Tebow, petition leaders need to go over the President’s head.

February Madness Work Flow

CeCe Marizu, Account Executive

If you haven’t started watching college basketball this season you’re missing out.  Yeah, I’m talking to you “I don’t like college basketball until March” fans.  For the past five weeks the number one team has gone down, Big Ten basketball is AMAZING this year and Notre Dame vs. Louisville reminded us all why we love the fight in the game (five overtimes? As Dick Vitale would say, “This is awesome baby!”).

Do you see the similarities between this basketball season and the work world like me?  For example, each week you have games to win and some seem bigger than others, but your focus level has to remain the same.  One week you might feel like the underdog in a campaign and the next week suddenly fans are rushing the court as you take down a powerhouse.  Other times it may appear as if you’re the number one team in the country, but someone is always looking to dethrone you.

Now is the time to focus on the smallest details in your game plan to avoid a mistake that could turn into a crisis.  Show up for work early and stay late when you need to finish a project.  The great Muhammad Ali said, “Champions aren´t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision.” Your desk and computer may not look or smell like a gym, but the desire to produce great work is still inside of you. The employee that works harder than his/her competitor will be the most prepared.  And most importantly, just as in basketball, your team is a vital part of your success. You need to trust them when you need them the most.

Here are some key points for you to focus on as March Madness approaches (March Madness Work Flow that is):

   * Think of your competition and get into “grind mode”

   * Take time to read more and write blogs

   * Challenge yourself by working on your weaknesses

   * Step outside of your comfort zone at least once a week

   * Take the extra time to edit your work

   * Engage with your team members and learn more about them

   * Mix passion with purpose

   * Stop stressing out! If you put in the work there’s no reason to be nervous

   * Enjoy the moment (As Kid President would say, “This is life people!”)

   * Breathe and slow the game down when you need to

Can you see how this basketball season looks like work now? Besides the College Game Day crew from ESPN and the sound of screaming fans every time you walk through the door at the office, it pretty much looks the same right?

Good luck in your work season! Come time for the big dance you’ll be ready to go.  Your basketball bracket on the other hand…eh that may be a bit more challenging to put together.