Wrigley, Part One: Going (Foot)Balls to the (ivy-covered) Walls

Also known as Double your Pleasure, Double your Posts: A two-part examination of Northwestern's Wrigley Field escapades. Part one is just me talking about how I feel about Northwestern's game at Wrigley Field.

(And by the way, for those of you who always assumed that the couplet "balls to the walls" was referring to something being so all-out that the person doing the action was apparently crazy enough to put their testicles against a wall for some reason, you're wrong. It's pilot's jargon. Carry on.)

People like talking about the Wrigley game. People interested in Northwestern sports like to talk about "what this means for Northwestern sports." Will it boost our ticket sales? Will it get people in Chicago to pay attention to us? Will the stadium be filled with Illini fans? Will people who pay attention to the game come back and watch other, less well publicized games at Wrigley Field? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR NORTHWESTERN SPORTS?

I wanna tell you what I think about these questions. But first I want to say this: slow your roll. 

The most important thing, to be honest, is that I will enjoy the living hell out of this game, and you probably will too. My sorta life motto is that you gotta take time every once in a while to look around and notice how enjoyable things are, soak it in a bit, instead of getting caught up in the bigger connotations of everything. So, before we get into the nitty-gritty aspects of it... think about how awesome a concept this all is. One day in November, instead of doing the same thing I do at every football game, I'm going to hop on the el with probably about 3,000 of my closest NU student friends, we're going to watch a football game - always awesome, btdubs - in one of the most beautiful, iconic settings in sports, get hoarse, then leave, take over Wrigleyville, and make it back to Evanston eventually, and I'll be seeing this pretty unique event all at what will likely be a discounted price because I'm a student at the university involved in the game. Sound good? Sounds good to me. And in the grand scheme of things, well, that's all that matters to me. Maybe it's because I'm still in college. 

 

ANYWAY. Since y'all boring mofos like talking about bigger picture ish, let's get right to it.

People don't talk about Northwestern sports. You know this. You're a Northwestern fan. If you're not a current student at NU, I'd be willing to bet mortgages that less than five percent of the people you see on a daily basis are Northwestern fans.  You are so starved to talk or think about your favorite team that you're willing to read my consistently piss-poor blog to get a fix. You probably have at least one person that you don't really like, but consider your friend because you like talking to them about Dan Persa. (If you are a student, such conversations are generally acceptable without pretext. I'm living the good life.)

Jim Phillips knows this. He gets paid to know this. He knows that he, the athletic director at a Big Ten school about a half-hour away from a media market of 2 million people, cannot get 50,000 of those people to pay dirt-cheap prices to see a relevant team play football. He knows this, and it probably gnaws away at his soul every day.

The way the world is now, Northwestern will never consistently sell out games without being proactive. They could win the Rose Bowl, sell out the stadium for a year, but the next under .500 finish and those people are back to being casual Illini supporters or being oblivious. We've won Big Ten championships and nobody has noticed.

And the Wrigley game is the most proactive move Phillips has made in his time at NU, or that any athletic director in recent memory has conjured up. It's an actual, genuine, big idea that Northwestern settled upon and executed. That, in and of itself, is a step in the right direction. 

This game will not redefine Northwestern sports. It's not like after this game the Tribune will start putting us above Cubs coverage, or ESPN will send Pedro Gomez to live in a self-constructed hutch outside Pat Fitzgerald's house. But Jim Phillips is making a balls to the walls move here. 

Think about it: Northwestern sells under 20,000 season tickets a year. That absolutely sucks. 

The way Jim Phillips has it set up now, 30,000 season tickets will be sold in order for 30,000 people to buy Wrigley tickets, selling out NU's allotment. Now, either a) this happens, b) this happens, but a majority of the people buying the season tickets are Illini fans or ticket brokers looking to buy Wrigley tickets for their own purposes or c) the athletic department holds out until like September hoping to sell out the season tickets, then relents realizing they won't reach their goal and begins selling single game tickets to Wrigley at an increased price.

Let's assume the worst of all worlds. We sell 26,000 season tickets. 14,000 of them, roughly are people who already own season tickets. 3,000 are people newly intrigued with NU sports or previously wavering that really want to see this game. The other 9,000 are Illini fans have no plans to attend a game at Ryan Field and are merely buying the tickets so they can see the Wrigley game. The other 4000 go unsold. This isn't a particularly unlikely scenario, and it would prove the game a complete backfire on the part of the athletic department. 

But ask yourself: is that an awful scenario?  Think about it. Pretty much the worst scenario that can arise from this game is that a few thousand extra people come to games at Wrigley Field, there's no major change in attendance/visibility, and we all have a sweet time at a football game in Chicago. That's the worst-case scenario. That would make this whole Wrigley thing a huge waste of money - I can't imagine how much we're putting up for this whole thing to go through, but I have a funny feeling the Cubs were less desperate than we were - but still, not that bad a thing in the long run.

On the other hand, I don't see this event being a smashing success: What's probably going to happen is option C listed above: we're not going to sell out the game on season tickets alone, we're going to relent and end up selling Wrigley seats as single-game tickets at exorbitant prices. Completely revamping a team's public image takes more than a single afternoon, even if that afternoon is at Wrigley Field. For this to improve public image, that game is going to have to sell out, we're going to have to have a good record, and we're going to have to win. And even then, we're talking about a baby boost, probably right about up there with winning a bowl game, which we still haven't done in over a half a century.

 

So what I'm saying is, be realistic. Don't expect this game to turn Ryan Field into a madhouse. We should be treating our road to mainstream football relevance as a rebuilding process: we're doing the right thing on the "football" side of things, we just need to get proactive in other ways. And this, people, is nothing if not proactive, so embrace it.

Also, and more importantly, it's gonna be sort of awesome, but to many people, that's besides the point.

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