What if they sold naming rights to Wrigley Field?

Wrigley Field, in a photo I took in 2004.

The reports that inappropriate douchebag maverick owner Sam Zell would have no problem selling naming rights to Wrigley Field have caused, let’s say, plenty of consternation in Chicago and the baseball world. (First off, let’s be honest here: is this really a surprise? Any guy who will tell an employee “F*** you” and have that not be the most inappropriate thing that’s come out of his mouth would likely sell Personal Seat Licenses around Buckingham Fountain.)

But as for this notion that the people of Chicago “would never let this happen” or that they’d “rise up in anger against it,” let’s get real.

Only a little more than half of Chicago would go crazy. The South Side would point and laugh. I don’t see any mobs with pitchforks still demanding the name Comiskey Park be returned to the Sox’ ballpark (partially because the Sox are the second team – even with the 2005 Series – in the city and enjoy less of a following, even though it’s sizeable).

No one will threaten to burn down anything. That’s an exaggeration. Cub fans would be very, very upset – no question. They’d be very vocal about it. They’d very likely boo any PA announcement that included the new name and it would become a tradition akin to throwing visiting home run balls back. Whatever company it was that bought the naming rights would likely be subject to scorn and derision, and would be associated with the boos that accompanied every mention of their name inside the ballpark.

A cottage industry would pop up with subversive t-shirts and other trinkets proclaiming “Wrigley Forever”(some of which, I have no doubt, would be planted by or at least done in cahoots with the Cubs themselves – never let an opportunity to cash in get away, don’t you know) and suchlike.

But would Cub fans stop going to games? No. No, they wouldn’t. A century of futility broken up by occasional flurries of mediocrity and the lightning bolt of promise that turns into disappointment hasn’t done it.

Three million of them, easy, would still go to games. There might be an organized protest on opening day, but by May, they’d be fewer and fewer in number. There’d be some Alderman introducing a resolution or at least making noise about getting “Wrigley” back in there somewhere and it would be quite the cause celebre for a while.

I don’t know what the endgame would be, exactly. I’d imagine that after some period of time as “Motorola Park at Wrigley Field” or something, someone would come to their senses and be seen as a white knight because they got the company to opt out of the contract or something like that, because the company that buys the naming rights is unlikely to have an easy time of it at first.

If it’s a Chicago company (as US Cellular is), the effect would be mitigated somewhat, I guess (at least they couldn’t bitch about an evil out-of-town company ruining a landmark).

But anyone who thinks that the lack of naming rights revenue is what’s kept the Cubs from winning a World Series (or that that’s why the White Sox won in 2005) is an idiot. And so is anyone who thinks that any revenue from selling Wrigley Field’s name would get put back into the team and not into the pockets of whoever winds up owning it.

That said, I really just believe the Sam Zell Era is going to end up a footnote in Cubs history. He’ll strut and fret his hour upon the stage, but will ultimately be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch

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