(OK, so this turned into more of a manifesto. I know it’s long, but I couldn’t cut it. I’ll put up more Caroline Wozniacki soon, I promise.)
Let me start what is sure to be a long post by saying that, no matter what you may think of my criticism, I am, and always will be a Chicago Cubs fan. When the Cubs went up for sale a couple of years ago, I supported the Ricketts family bid…with the caveat they hire people who truly knew what they were doing to run the day-to-day operations of which sales and marketing are a major part. Unfortunately, making a ton of money in one business setting leads many people to believe they can easily duplicate that success in another realm, like sports. After all, it’s just baseball, right? How hard can it possibly be? You open the gates, people flood in, buy beer and t-shirts, and everyone goes home fat and happy. Now, I’m sure Tom Ricketts will disagree with that last assessment and insist he has worked his butt off and has taken this thing seriously from day one. And while that may be true, most of us know there is a big difference between working hard and working smart. Experience often equals intelligence, specifically in baseball, and is also necessary for success, specifically in baseball. And I’m not talking at all about the team on the field. That is beyond the control of the front office. However, a knowledgeable, inventive front office can figure out ways to fill many of those empty Wrigley Field seats now glaring emptily at the Ricketts’ family thanks to underperforming and overpaid ballplayers on the diamond and a lack of creativity in the front office.
Like, for instance, the Joey Votto incident. That could have been turned into something great, but it was completely ignored by the team. And please let’s not forget about the vomit inducing Wave which has made an appearance at Wrigley. Now you have someone in Milwaukee essentially attacking Cubs GM Jim Hendry. I won’t go into the validity of the thing itself(!), but the fact a team feels they can even do something like that without fear of mocking reprisal speaks for itself. The Brewers are obviously having a blast with their still budding rivalry and the Cubs will most likely ignore it.
If you do things the right way (and the fun way), you can overcome a bad season and give hope to fans for next year.
Right now, Cubs fans don’t have much hope. Bringing back a Cub legend to manage the team is a cheap, shortsighted trick. Besides, nobody comes to any ballpark to see the manager anyway. And unless he’s Casey Stengel, you will end up firing him, which will, in turn, eventually lead to hurt feelings and bitterness. Nobody’s looking forward to that. Also, blaming the 2010 fans for the fact payroll will not increase in 2011 is just plain bad business.
In my opinion, it all comes down to experience.
Which brings me to Cubs new executive VP and marketing ‘chief’, Wally Hayward.
You have got to be kidding me with this guy. Even a cursory perusal of Heyward’s resume shows that he has no baseball experience either. He worked for a company that put on events for former NFL football players, started his own marketing company (which any jackass can do, and does), and was one of the marketing geniuses for the failed Chicago 2016 Olympic bid. Which, oh by the way, only had President Obama and Oprah doing their part. With guys like this in charge, I see now why Chicago not only lost, but got annihilated in the bid process.
How Hayward has been allowed to ascend to the absolute top marketing position in baseball with NO BASEBALL EXPERIENCE is simply beyond me. I cannot wrap my feeble brain around it. In an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business, Hayward even says the person in sports he’d most like to trade places with is Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald because that covers his passion for football, for crissake. Football. Seriously. Just in case you were wondering, baseball and football are different things. With completely different fan bases. I hope Tom Ricketts needs Tommy John surgery from throwing his copy of Crain’s across the room in disgust when he read that.
Hayward’s lack of baseball marketing aptitude is plastered all over the Cubs 2010 season. From the defacing of sacred Wrigley Field for the first few series’ (pictured above) to the failed marketing campaign “It’s a Way of Life” (which means nothing) to ridiculousness of ‘the noodle’ outside the ballpark, that Hayward constantly touts as a triumph. Again, if you put up a statue of Mussolini or Blagojevich outside Wrigley, people would take pictures with it. I have seen people take pictures with security guards outside Wrigley. With maintenance guys. With the kids who play the pickle buckets. With Ronnie Woo Woo. It ain’t brain surgery. If you build it, they will snap a pic with it. That doesn’t quite make you a ‘guru’.
One of the reasons baseball experience is so essential for a guy like Tom Ricketts is not necessarily to know what to do, it’s to know what not to do. If Ricketts had any idea what he was doing, he would have realized instantly that marketing guys like Hayward are a dime a dozen. They ooze out of the woodwork and try to attach themselves to every sports team, at every level, in the country. Even at the admittedly low ranks I was at in baseball, I/we had to put up with a dozen of these guys per season. Because once again, it’s just sports. And everybody who has ever ‘marketed’ something, anything, thinks they can do so in sports. If you speak in bombast, you probably assume you can market a ballclub. Here’s a tip. You can’t. The best marketing guys I have ever known are all quiet, unassuming types in general. But they can flat get it done for the sponsor. Better yet, they can get them to sign on the line which is dotted. (It takes braaaaass balls…)
Success in the baseball industry requires one thing at its outset. Passion for baseball and more importantly, baseball fans. I was a relative success in the baseball business because I’m passionate about one thing in my life. Baseball. I was desperate to create an atmosphere that allowed for the best possible fan experience, while also realizing the objectives of the sponsors, of course. I’m not naïve. The sponsors matter. But the marketing team has to think creatively enough to advance the sponsor’s goals and fill the stands at the same time.
Through all my years in the business of baseball, even when I was a GM, if you needed me after the ballgame, I was easy to find. 100% of the time, I was just outside the gates, often handing out sponsor’s coupons or the like, thanking fans for coming. If I didn’t have a coupon to pass out, then it would be a pocket schedule or a flyer we created touting upcoming promotions. Something. Just as long as I got to thank the fans, I was happy. Those are the moments I miss most about working in baseball, actually. Not celebrating soon forgotten victories with selfish ballplayers I might have to bail out of jail for getting into a bar fight later that night. I’m not a jock sniffer. No, I just enjoyed hanging out with fans. Talking to a father who was bringing his son to his first ballgame. Or the little girl who was the only one in pigtails still playing ball at 10 years old when the rest of her friends had moved onto soccer. Or the grandfather who wants to reminisce with someone who cares about the time he saw Hank Aaron play.
That’s what makes it all worthwhile, and that’s what a guy like Wally Hayward obviously doesn’t get. Or maybe I don’t get it. That’s entirely possible too I suppose. Maybe baseball is all man-tanning, teeth-whitening and 3-piece suits these days and my romanticized notions of days gone by are antiquated and obsolete. But I really don’t think so.
I have a feeling, in his wildest dreams, Tom Ricketts never thought he would see thousands upon thousands of empty seats at Wrigley Field during his first August as Cubs owner. Which is too bad. I have written before, that Tom Ricketts was simply not prepared for Cubs ownership because he wasn’t ready to be the most hated man in Chicago when the Cubs lose, as they are doing this season. For the last 30 years, Cubs fans only had a faceless, multi-faceted media empire to despise. We all knew the Tribune was only concerned with the bottom line, so it was useless to rail against them. Nobody was listening anyway. But Ricketts is now the face of the franchise and he needs to either take the lead or disappear entirely.
Where was Ricketts anyway when Derrek Lee got shipped out? That’s the kind of event in which an owner, a leader, needs to participate. You don’t get to be the #1 fan anymore, just handing out cheap baubles on the field and sitting in unsold front row seats. Cubs’ fans don’t care that you proposed to your wife in the bleachers and used to live across the street.
We care about the decisions you make that affect our enjoyment of the team, not yours.
You’re making your money and that’s fine with everybody I’m sure, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. You basically owe us better than a Wally Hayward. I don’t want to be writing the same crap in 5 years about the disastrous Ricketts’ term as Cubs owners.
Tom Ricketts, YOU are going to be around the Cubs in 20 years, Wally Hayward is not. He’ll be conning some other company into yet another cheesy marketing campaign and using the Cubs line on his resume to weasel more money out of a client. You have already given Hayward all he ever needed. Credibility. While it may sicken someone like me, what’s done is done. The disgusting banners on your first opening day and ‘the noodle’ and everything else can’t be undone. But they certainly don’t need to be repeated.
Why not wake up to that fact sooner, rather than later?
UPDATE: I just saw that today the Cubs fired their Director of Sales and Promotions, Matt Wszolek. He worked for the team for 10 years and replaced John McDonough’s right hand man Jay Blunk when they both left for the Blackhawks. Seems like my buddy Wally is pointing the finger at a guy he didn’t hire and probably didn’t want. I don’t know Wszolek, but who wants to bet he wakes up on Monday with a job offer from the ‘Hawks? Also, someone angrily emailed me about how McDonough didn’t have any hockey experience and look how that turned out. To that person, I say…you’re an idiot. I’m sure even McDonough will admit he didn’t have anything to do with drafting Kane & Toews who are the main reasons they won the, you know, Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks on the ice have been really good since McDonough and his guys took over and it’s easy to market a perennial championship contender, no matter the sport. That doesn’t mean I don’t think McDonough isn’t doing a fantastic job. (triple negative sentence) He is. But the wave of support for the franchise started with the (sorry to say)death of Bill Wirtz combined with a winning product.