11:42 PM CDT, October 11, 2013
The sales pitch started the moment I opened the glass door and stepped off the sidewalk.
"Cubs welcome (the) Chicago Tribune and Melissa Harris." The words scrolled across a 7-foot-long replica of the iconic Wrigley Field welcome sign.
"People love to see their names in lights," Wally Hayward said, grinning, as he introduced himself. On Friday, the Cubs gave the Tribune a tour of its $1.1 million "presentation room," where team Chairman Tom Ricketts and Hayward's company W Partners are selling potential advertisers on their planned remodel of Wrigley Field and construction of an adjacent hotel and plaza.
To pay for the estimated $500 million project, the Cubs are demanding among the lengthiest sponsorship agreements in professional sports — up to 20 years — in exchange for exclusive marketing rights in select categories, such as beer, soda and financial services. The strategy so far had instigated at least one bidding war between MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch, according to sources.
The terms of the resulting deal with Anheuser-Busch, which have not been disclosed, were so expensive that Pabst Brewing Co.'s Old Style brand wasn't even invited to hear the Cubs' presentation, Pabst Chief Marketing Officer Dan McHugh said. Tellingly, Anheuser-Busch's Blaise D'Sylva was among the first entertained there in May, Hayward confirmed.
"It's probably by far the single best presentation that I've seen," said D'Sylva, vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing at Anheuser-Busch, which announced an agreement with the team last month.
Casualties, such as the end of Old Style signs at Wrigley, will continue.
"We're going 'less is more' on our corporate sponsorship model," Hayward said, meaning fewer but bigger sponsors. "We've spent three years kind of designing the future model, and what we don't want to do is overclutter everything."
On the field, the Cubs have nothing to boast about. So they're hawking nostalgia and promising to make Wrigley Field a year-round hub of activity with rock concerts, ice skating, a farmers market and a ball drop on New Year's Eve. Baseball almost seems secondary.
The preview center is across the street from Wrigley, at the corner of Clark Street and Waveland Avenue in the first floor of a brick warehouse that houses the team's front office.
On Friday's tour, a few steps past the receptionist desk the Chicago Tribune logo is projected in white on a replica of the outfield's green wall. And when a client steps inside the center's door, a blue light turns on outside, warning anyone who walks by that a pitch is in progress and no one is to be disturbed.
The preview center's front room is modeled after what a corporate suite would look like at a renovated Wrigley. It's bigger in size than an actual one but features the same finishes, including dark wood floors, granite countertops and a mini-kitchen with a stylish backsplash.
Four back-lit photos shaped like movie posters decorate the gray walls. One is of Tom Ricketts and his three sibling co-owners. Another collage of photos depicts special events at Wrigley, including last year's Bruce Springsteen concerts and the 2010 Northwestern-University of Illinois football game. Another is an aerial photo of the field, showing its proximity to downtown. The final photo shows the view of home plate from the outfield.
"That shot we show because when you look at restoring Wrigley, a lot of people say, 'Well, what are you doing?'" Hayward said. "'Are you doing things like the new ballparks where they put big leather seats behind home plate and big alleys and tunnels?' (No.) We're preserving that shot. That's a shot that's iconic on WGN, on Comcast SportsNet, that everyone knows you're at Wrigley. So we want to try to preserve that."
Before leaving this room, potential advertisers watch an eight-minute video narrated by actor and Chicago native Joe Mantegna that opens with a Cubs walk-off home run and highlights its "treasured traditions." It ends with a segment from a commercial for an EA Sports video game showing what would happen — in the streets, in offices, in bars, in the stadium — if the Cubs won a World Series.
Very little of the video highlights recent events. The Cubs finished the 2013 regular season 31 games back in last place in the National League Central Division. That resulted in the team's fifth consecutive year of declining attendance and the team's steepest annual decline since the 1994-95 strike.
That presents a challenge as all of the Cubs' major sponsorship agreements expire in 2013 or 2014, said Colin Faulkner, the team's vice president of sales and partnerships. (That excludes Anheuser-Busch and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, which were inked under the new campaign. The boutique hotel the Rickettses are building across the street will operate under Starwood's Sheraton brand.)
Both D'Sylva and sponsorship consultant Michael Wright of IEG, which is working on the sales effort, said the Cubs do not have to win the World Series for the economics to work. Instead, Wright said the Cubs have to "compete each week," while D'Sylva said they need to be "consistent winners." None of these contracts provide for bonuses, penalties or alterations based on the team's performance, Wright said.
"Depending on the brand that comes in, you know, Under Armour is a performance brand linked to performance on the field," Hayward said. "So when we talk to them about our partnership and where baseball is headed ... we bring Theo (Epstein) or Jed (Hoyer, the general manager) or Jason (McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development) and the baseball guys in to really sit down and talk to our clients, whether that is Anheuser-Busch or Under Armour, on where they are currently that may not be out in the public to discuss because we think we have the right baseball management and the right vision and plan."
Pitches began in May, and negotiations are expected to last another 18 months, Hayward said. The Tribune confirmed that PepsiCo and State Farm are among companies in negotiations.
Although Hayward is no longer the team's executive vice president, he is in charge of signing megadeals, which the team calls "legacy partnerships," for both the Cubs and the Rickettses' Hickory Street Capital LLC, the developer of the hotel and plaza. The Ricketts family invests in Hayward's W Partners.
D'Sylva said the Budweiser deal involved two contracts, one with the team and the other with Hickory Street. Terms were not disclosed.
Keeping the pots separate also may help ensure that the funds the Rickettses raise for the hotel and plaza are not defined as "baseball-related" under league rules and therefore not factored into the amount the Cubs must dedicate to smaller-market teams under the league's revenue-sharing agreement, team and W Partners officials confirmed. Ultimately, Major League Baseball will make the determination.
While the Rickettses' vision is laid out in the first room of the preview center, the details are ironed out in the second. The centerpiece there is a 6-by-9-foot model of the improved Wrigley Field. Built by Chicago's Presentation Studios International and installed in September, it is meticulously detailed, down to flourishes on the new iron railing and umbrellas on the new outdoor patios.
One of the center's most high-tech features is the 103-inch Panasonic touch-screen monitor used to show potential advertisers how their logos would look once the renovations are complete.
Using the touch screen, Hayward can show advertisers how they're going to sell naming rights to gates, including a new one on Clark Street. Or show what a company's logo would look like atop the new Jumbotron-like screen. Or even replicate the sponsors' views from their seats.
Using his finger as a mouse, Hayward grabbed the Chicago Tribune logo from the right side of the screen and dragged it into one of the open advertising spots under a planned left-field patio.
On screen, at least, the "Chicago Tribune Patio" was born.
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