The Chicago Cubs have devised strict protocols they believe would allow 6,000 to 7,000 fans to safely attend games at Wrigley Field midway through this pandemic-shortened season — in groups of two, four and six and with designated gates and staggered entry and exit windows.
Crane Kenney, president of business operations for the Cubs, said the plan has been presented to the city and Major League Baseball and needs approval from both.
The Cubs are eager to test it — not so much for the sorely-needed revenue, but to “see how the ballpark operates with those rules,” he said.
“We have to plan for the potential of that happening next year, where we’re not allowed to have full capacity in the ballpark — where it wouldn’t be safe to do that,” Kenney told the Sun-Times.
“Getting a little bit of a look in a pilot program this year to see how ingress, egress, concessions, restrooms, ticket sales might work would be really helpful to get ready for next season.”
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, a Sox and Bears season ticket holder, says there is “no bigger sports fan than me.” She, too, longs for the day when she can “enjoy live sports in the stands,” but only when “public health guidance” allows it and only with strict safety protocols.
Kenney believes his plan does just that, though it would “probably not happen until the half-way point of the season,” he said.
“If you’re coming with your family — people you’re spending time with in your home — and there are four or six of you, you could sit together. But you would be six feet from anyone else in the ballpark. … Masks would be required on the way in. They would be required any time you weren’t in your seat. Concessions would largely be ordered from your seat so you didn’t spend time in line,” Kenney said.
“Rather than saying that’s it’s a 1:20 [p.m.] game and you can come any time up to two hours prior to the game to get into the ballpark, you would be assigned a specific entry window ... and you would be designated a gate to use for entry and exit,” he added.
“No one would be asked to leave the game prior to the game’s ending. It would just be a staggered exit. Wrigley Field holds about 40,000. So … we have plenty of gates to get people in and out observing social distancing.”
The mayor’s office said the “decision to bring fans back to stadiums” is part of an “an ongoing conversation” with public health experts and all of Chicago’s major sports leagues and teams.
“The City has remained in close coordination with all of Chicago’s major sports teams throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and looks forward to welcoming back fans at a time when it is deemed safe,” the statement said.
In late May, the Associated Press cited a Major League Baseball document based on an 82-game season played in empty ballparks that pegged the Cubs’ potential losses at $199 million.
On Thursday, Kenney said the Cubs stand to lose “north of $125 million” over the course of the 60-game season that will cost all of Major League Baseball $4.5 billion.
His carefully-crafted business plan has been blown up.
There are no fans in the stands, no concerts, no Cubs convention. The outdoor plaza known as Gallagher Way is empty and City Hall has ordered it to remain so.
The Hotel Zachary and the Wrigleyville restaurants and 11 rooftops owned by the billionaire Ricketts family that owns the Cubs are operating at 25% capacity.
“We’ve been reduced to basically our media revenues — our television and radio revenues— as well as our share of the league’s profits that are shared equally among all 30 clubs,” he said.
“The music business has been really good to us. We had a really busy calendar with live music at Wrigley. All of that, as well, will not be enjoyed.”
Kenney talked about the Cubs’ river of red ink the same day the Dodgers finalized a 12-year, $365 million deal with Mookie Betts — the richest in MLB history. It trumps Mike Trout’s 2019 deal with the Angels, now managed by former Cubs skipper Joe Madden.
How can the Dodgers afford that in the middle of the pandemic?
“The Dodgers were the beneficiaries of the largest media rights contract ever done when they launched their channel, Spectrum, with Time Warner. There isn’t anything close to it. … If next year we’re unfortunately not playing with fans and we only have media rights [revenue], they have that incredible outside deal to lean on. That was done prior to any of the current turbulence in all of the media markets. Kudos to them for their timing,” he said.
Does that mean the Cubs can’t afford long-term commitments to their core trio of soon-to-be free agents: Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Anthony Rizzo?
“I’m not saying we can’t. You asked me why the Dodgers could do a deal like that in the middle of a pandemic. It’s because most people are reasonably confident that we will have media rights next year. And that is, for them, by far their largest revenue line,” Kenney said.