Cubs

Fan Fare

Fan Fare

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

I am a sports fan.

A HUGE sports fan!

Anyone reading for any part of the 6 years here already knows this. My psychosis is on full display for all to see. But that doesnt mean that in my fervor that I am unaware of the part I play in the process. I am an observer. And, I am a source of revenue for the teams and leagues I follow. That is why I am bombarded with garish signage, internet offers and commercials as a reward for my visits to a stadium or arena and in my near constant TV viewership of athletic endeavors. Its a badge of honor that I have watched over 500,000 Anheuser Busch commercials in my lifetime. (I wont even mention the Viagra and Cialis commercials that seem to dominate national broadcasts these days, but that number is growing rapidly every day!) It comes as part of the price to enjoy the ultimate reality shows of our times.

For as much as sports exist to entertain, like any other business their continued existence is dependent on their ability to turn a profit.

They say its a game, but its really a business. And, as we all know, business is business. This leads to plenty of off-field drama and reality shows. It also makes a fan think.

The two areas I find interesting are:

1) Who is responsible for a franchises financial viability?
2) What responsibilities exist in the team-fan relationship?

Of course financial viability should be the responsibility of those running the franchise, right? I mean they put up the cash for the right to own. The main focus then must be to understand your target consumer and to give them what they want in the quantities that they desire. Im a believer here of the more you win, the more you make. Thats simple enough. Its the bottom rung of the competitive hierarchy that seems to have the most money problems, isnt it? That would make sense. They then have the choices to make in their fight for survival in this win-or-else world we live in. Sometimes though, as time has gone on, we have had the unique opportunity of being sold on the civic pride angle of having a professional sports franchise in our midst, no matter the scope of their on-field miscues. Whatever! I bring this up again of course in lieu of the Cubs latest grab for IllinoisChicago public funds. I know the headlines said that the Cubs were going to use their own money, but lets be real here. Someone is going to pay. Who might that be? Well, first of all, I would think the neighborhood might have to make a donation and that is in addition to what they have already donated to their local alderman to protect their interests.

To be honest, Ive never really had a problem with this, although I would also agree that the neighborhood should have some say on what occurs there. But ultimately, the Cubs have made everyone in that neighborhood a lot of cash and my guess here is that everyone in that neighborhood knew the franchise was right next door when the bought their property or opened their business. I would think the Cubs are well within their rights to get their payments from rooftop owners since those owners make a ton of cash directly from selling an experience related to someone elses business. But when you want to start shutting down public streets to effectively increase your business footprint, who directly benefits from that? And who would suffer? If I owned one of the Clark Street bars I would be very concerned about the negotiations going on with city hall.

Its with this in mind, that when I hear the improvements in and around Wrigley Field will enhance the guest experience, I reach for my wallet. Because thats what the bottom line here is. Upon my arrival to Chicago 18 years ago and my initial visits to Wrigley, I often wondered aloud (because thats how I wonder!) and later in this space, why the team didnt own the buildings surrounding the stadium poaching off their business. For most people, myself included, there is only a limited amount of time allotted to going to a game. The team should understand this and act accordingly. The common denominator of all of the stadiums built since Camden Yards in Baltimore was the number of options that a ticketholder has once they enter the ballpark. There are still options in the neighborhood, but the fun starts once you go inside and head down Eutaw Street. (I often tell folks at the bar, you havent lived until you get a picture in front of the stadium with the Babe Ruth statue and then go inside and have Boog Powells sweaty head add extra flavor to your barbeque beef sandwich before the game!)

So I can understand the Cubs trying to grab as much fan cash as possible, its their game.

And heres where the relationship should be honest. The enhancement is for one reason and one reason only. Again, no problem with that, just be upfront.

You know, like NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Did you see his heartfelt apology to the fans for the lockout? Please.

His only job is to make money for the NHL owners. He apparently is pretty good at this. Since he took over 20 years ago, NHL annual revenue has risen from around 500 million to the current 3 billion. Wowza! For a niche sport in this country, thats impressive. Part of the collateral damage of this ascension though, were the three forced lockouts of their primary expense, the players. Did he apologize the other two times? I cant remember. Or care. Im a hockey fan. I just want to see the best players play. I dont need crocodile tears.

In a way, this lockout could end up working out to the NHLs favor. With the condensed 48 games in 99 days schedule, us fans are expecting more exciting, playoff-style hockey than we would see in a normal regular season, which of course will make everyone in the NHL more money in the long run. Funny how that works. Not funny ha-ha, but funny.
Because in the long run, its about the product. Do you think the Hawks public relations blitz right now would have had the same resonance 10 years ago? Thats what a Cup will do for you.

Add the NBA and the NFL to this labor strife mix.

Will the fans come back? Of course we will. Were fans. What else do we have to do?
In todays world fans will show their support but it comes in many different ways. No longer, I think, is a fan measured by how many games they go to. Who has the time, and more importantly, the money?

The fan today spends plenty on team merchandise and has to be able to watch any game, at any time, wherever they are. Thank you smart phone!!

And after spending all of your cash on jerseys and league subscriptions, who can afford going to the actual games? Add in to the fact that they are giving away big-screen HD TVs, why would you want to leave the house?

Me, I have to be compelled to go to a game. Two things do that. One is an over-the top experience for the large sum of money I know that Im going to invest. Wrigley held that for quite a while, but I have to admit, it looks pretty cool over my fireplace also and I dont have to worry about parking or a trough. Ive been there more recently for concerts. Now that is something that is worth the money. Seeing an iconic musical act in one of the iconic structures of all-time. Paul McCartney? Roger Waters? Bruce? Now thats priceless.

The other, and you would think this is unbelievably obvious, a winning product.

People want to be a part of something special, not a bridge to nowhere. Going to see a team that is near the top of their league is always cool and will always be the major part of the equation. That is an enhanced guest experience every day of the week.

If you build it, they will come. With their wallets open.

Fans like us, baby we were born to pay!

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

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AP

Four takeaways: Blackhawks on wrong side of history in loss to Lightning

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks on wrong side of history 

Earlier this year the Blackhawks made history by appearing in five straight overtime games to start the season, something no team in NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB history has ever done.

But Sunday they found themselves on the wrong side of it after allowing 33 shots on goal in the second period alone. It tied a franchise high for most given up in a single period — March 4, 1941 vs. Boston — and is the most an NHL team has allowed since 1997-98 when shots by period became an official stat.

"It's pretty rare to be seeing that much work in a period," said Cam Ward, who had a season-high 49 saves. "But oh man, I don't even know what to say to be honest. It's tough. We know that we need to be better especially in our home building, too. And play with some pride and passion. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was lacking at times tonight. The old cliche you lose as a team and overall as a team we weren't good enough tonight."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was a tough, tough period in all aspects. I don’t think we touched the puck at all and that was the part that was disturbing, against a good hockey team."

2. Alexandre Fortin is on the board

After thinking he scored his first career NHL goal in Columbus only to realize his shot went off Marcus Kruger's shin-pad, Fortin made up for it one night later and knows there wasn't any question about this one.

The 21-year-old undrafted forward, playing in his his fifth career game, sprung loose for a breakaway early in the first period and received a terrific stretch pass by Jan Rutta from his own goal line to Fortin, who slid it underneath Louis Domingue for his first in the big leagues. It's his second straight game appearing on the scoresheet after recording an assist against the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"It's fun," Fortin said. "I think it would be a little bit more fun to get your first goal [while getting] two points for your team, but I think we ... just have to [turn the page to the] next chapter and just play and be ready for next game."

3. Brandon Saad's most noticeable game?

There weren't many positives to take away from this game, but Saad was certainly one of them. He had arguably his best game of the season, recording seven shot attempts (three on goal) with two of them hitting the post (one while the Blackhawks were shorthanded).

He was on the ice for 11 shot attempts for and five against at 5-on-5, which was by far the best on his team.

"He started OK and got way better," Quenneville said of Saad. "Had the puck way more, took it to the net a couple of times, shorthanded."

4. Special teams still a work in progress

The Blackhawks entered Sunday with the 29th-ranked power play and 25th-ranked penalty kill, and are still working to get out from the bottom of the league in both departments. In an effort to change up their fortunes with the man advantage, the Blackhawks split up their two units for more balance.

They had four power-play opportunities against Tampa Bay and cashed in on one of them, but it didn't matter as it was too little, too late in the third period — although they did become the first team to score a power-play goal against the Lightning this season (29 chances).

"Whether we're looking for balance or we're just looking for one to get hot, I think our power play has been ordinary so far," Quenneville said before the game. "We need it to be more of a threat."

Four more minor penalties were committed by the Blackhawks, giving them eight in the past two games. That's one way they can shore up the penalty kill, by cutting back on taking them.