SBD/February 6, 2013/Colleges

Cubs, Northwestern Univ. Reach "Landmark" Agreement To Bring NU Athletics To Wrigley

Northwestern will play five football games at Wrigley Field starting in '14
The Cubs and Northwestern Univ. yesterday announced a "landmark, five-year marketing agreement" that will "bring Northwestern football back to Wrigley Field five times in the coming years," according to Danny Ecker of CRAIN'S CHICAGO BUSINESS. The dates of the games still are "to be determined based on Northwestern's football schedules and the planned Wrigley Field renovation project." The deal extends through '17, though the language of the agreement is "flexible." NU as part of the deal also will "play an assortment of baseball, women's lacrosse and potentially other sports games" to the ballpark. The school's football game against the Univ. of Illinois in '10 -- the first football game at Wrigley in 40 years -- was "best known for being played in only one direction ... since there was not a safe distance between the back of the east-end zone and the brick outfield wall." The Commission on Chicago Landmarks' permit review committee in October "gave the Cubs the thumbs-up to move the brick wall behind home plate three feet closer to the field and reconfigure a roughly 12-foot section of the wall along the third base line so that it would be movable." That renovation, combined with a restructured third-baseline dugout area, will "provide the necessary 12-foot perimeter from the surrounding walls that will make two-way football possible again at Wrigley under NCAA rules" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 2/5).

EXAMINING THE SCHEDULE: In Chicago, Teddy Greenstein notes the first football game will be played "in 2014 and then, depending on the Wrigley Field renovation schedule, they might be spread out over six to eight years." The games likely are to be "played in November to avoid a potential playoff conflict in October," but NU AD Jim Phillips would "not rule out a September date." Getting approval from the Big Ten "will be a formality." There will be no games in '13 because Phillips "wanted to give NU season-ticket holders more of a heads up." The first game will be NU baseball playing "host to Michigan on April 20," while the women's lacrosse team will play a game in '14 against Notre Dame. Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney said that the club had a group of students from NU's Kellogg School of Management "investigate and present a business project for them." Cubs employees will be able to "tap into executive education programs, and the team has NU football and baseball players working as interns" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 2/6). Phillips said, "The Chicagoland area is a crowded marketplace. We have to do innovative things. We have to do creative things. We have to get Chicago sports fans to adopt Northwestern” (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 2/6).

CREATING A BUZZ: The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh called the partnership a "great idea," as it "makes sense from a sports business standpoint." Haugh: "It creates a little more buzz around a Northwestern game that might not always have it. I think it’s a bit of a calculated risk because it is based on the assumption the renovation is going to come off successfully.” WGN-AM's Jordan Bernfield said of the Cubs, "They want to use different opportunities to bring in other sports, which they’re going to do in this scenario. From Northwestern’s perspective, it brings buzz to games that they’re playing that may not get as big a buzz otherwise.” Haugh said Northwestern playing a football game at the ballpark on an annual basis will not detract from the "uniqueness" of the game because “every season has its own buzz” ("Chicago Tribune Live," Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 2/5).
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