Chicago Cubs management isn’t the only part of the team that is being rebuilt this off-season. The MLB team last week revealed plans to reconfigure the right field bleachers at historic Wrigley Field and add a newly-constructed “Budweiser Patio” section.
The changes are expected to be ready by Opening Day, April 5, when the Cubs host the Washington Nationals.
Seats in right field will be elevated above a new high-tech scoreboard. A standing-room patio with a capacity of 150 will be built above the seats. The Cubs plan on selling patio spots in groups of 50, 100 or 150 and tickets to both the new seats and patio include a food and beverage package. The team hasn’t released ticket pricing for the new section yet.
An artist’s rendering, revealed earlier this month at the Cubs annual fan convention, shows a design that looks suspiciously like select seating areas at Fenway Park in Boston. (See rendering below.) Specifically, the new patio appears like a combination of the Budweiser Right Field Roof Deck and the cantilevered configuration of the Monster Seats, built atop the iconic Green Monster in left field.
The Cubs hired general manager Theo Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox in October and made him their team president of baseball operations. So is the new seating configuration more than just a coincidence?
“No, not at all,” team president of business operations Crane Kenney told ESPNChicago.com when asked about the Fenway comparison. “I get that question asked all the time. …the [similar seating] elevation was really generated by trying to avoid obstructed views.”
Still, the Cubs-Red Sox connections are numerous.
Esptein hired former Red Sox executive Jed Hoyer as GM and former Red Sox coach Dale Sveum as Cubs manager. Cubs owner Tom Ricketts, who purchased the team from the Tribune Co. two years ago, has said the team would like to emulate the success of the Red Sox on and off the field.
Until Boston won championships in 2004 and 2007, the two franchises shared a common bond of historic ballparks — Wrigley is 98 years old, Fenway 100 — and World Series title droughts. The Cubs still haven’t won it all since 1908.
Ricketts said the new Wrigley seats are part a larger, long-term renovation of the park, again similar to what has been done in Boston. The new right field seats eliminate some obstructed-view seats that were there before. Elevating the seats makes room for the 70-foot LED scoreboard above one of Wrigley’s iconic ivy-covered walls. The board will feature game information and stats and have rotating advertising.
Ultimately, the changes are aimed at squeezing more revenue out of the old ballpark — just like Red Sox ownership has done with Fenway since John W. Henry’s group bought the team in 2002.
Chicago ticket broker Max Waisvisz, owner of Gold Coast Tickets, told TicketNews that the new section should help boost slumping bleacher ticket sales.
“They found out they couldn’t sell their bleachers,” Waisvisz said. “There was such a big drop in bleacher sales last year; they needed to do something.”
Last season, the Cubs missed the playoffs for the third year in a row, and attendance at the 41,000-seat Wrigley dropped by a cumulative total of more than 45,000 for the season. Just before bringing in Epstein, the Cubs announced that bleacher seat prices for next season will be reduced by more than 10 percent for individual games and more than 14 percent for season-ticket holders.
The new section also brings with it the freer atmosphere of the seats located on the rooftops of adjacent buildings to Wrigley.
“What we’re finding is that people want to be able to circulate,” Crane told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Certainly, you see it on the rooftops. Places where you can bring clients, move around in the space and not just be fixed.”
For years, private companies have sold seats on the residential rooftops behind Wrigley so fans can watch the games. After a legal battle, the Cubs and the rooftop owners agreed in 2004 to a 20-year deal that gives the team a 17 percent cut of the rooftops’ revenue.
“They can see the legitimacy of the product across the street with the rooftops,” Waisvisz said. “They’re trying to bring that rooftop experience inside the ballpark.”
Fenway’s Monster seats are $165 per ticket. The right field roof deck is priced at $115, which includes a $25 food and beverage credit. Look for Wrigley’s new digs to be priced steeper, Waisvisz said.
“They won’t be cheap seats,” Waisviz said, placing his best guess at “$300 a head.” He added that his prices for rooftop seating across the street are as low as $79, depending on the game.
While the Cubs say the construction won’t impact the landmark status of the ballpark, the Sun-Times reported the team will still ask the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks for approval of the project. The city has landmarked certain features of the ballpark, including the ivy and hand-operated center field scoreboard, and limited the team to 30 night games a season.
“That’ll get done,” Waisvisz said of city approval. “The Cubs know the right people.”
Artist rendering courtesy Cubs Media.