SBJ/20100329/SBJ In-Depth

Sponsorship growth a slippery slope at historic ballpark

As the Ricketts family attempts to balance historic preservation and revenue enhancement at Wrigley Field, corporate sponsorship represents the most volatile portion of that continuous struggle.

Chicago Cubs executives believe current team sponsorship revenue can be as much as tripled, even without selling the Wrigley Field stadium name, something not at all on the radar of the Ricketts family. Achieving that growth will require both an aggressiveness toward new deals but still cautious integration into the historic elements of the 96-year-old Wrigley.

Preservationists howled at a Toyota sign that
will grace Wrigley’s outfield.

“We need to create a new model, and we’re working on that, a model where we can really get very deep and integrated with our sponsors,” said Wally Hayward, the team’s chief sales and marketing officer. “We can’t do something like 67 signs around the ballpark. We have to be much more careful and respect the character of the ballpark.”

Whether that’s been done is already up for debate. A new multiyear deal with Toyota struck this month will create a backlit, 16-by-22-foot sign for the auto manufacturer above the left center-field bleachers, but below the rooftop stands on Waveland Avenue. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Preservationists and some local politicians predictably bashed the plan almost immediately, but Hayward said there are no plans to create more such signs above the bleachers, due largely to the rooftop stands with whom the Cubs hold revenue-sharing agreements.

“This was a very unique situation, a place where we would not obstruct the rooftop views, but also something that provides a high level of TV visibility,” Hayward said.

PNC Financial Services Group will be the title sponsor
of a new club area at the ballpark. The Ricketts family
thinks team sponsorship revenue can be more
than tripled.

Other new sponsorship deals have mixed conventional and unique approaches. PNC Financial Services Group, for example, signed on to become the title sponsor of the new club area at Wrigley, extending an investment in baseball that already includes deals in Pittsburgh, Washington and Scranton, Pa.

The Cubs, meanwhile, have formed a new deal in which Chicago-based bicycle components manufacturer Sram Corp. will sponsor a bike lot across the street from Wrigley. The club will use the deal to promote a healthy means of transportation to the ballpark and a release valve of sorts for traffic on local roadways and public transportation.

The Sram deal will include a charity ride between a new Higher Gear bicycle store, co-owned by Tom Ricketts’ brother, Todd, in suburban Wilmette, Ill., to the ballpark bike lot.

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