Last week, I wrote about how the Cubs will sell us on the concept of hope in the offseason and how I think it will actually work if they do it right. One commenter known as DB chimed in:
"I'm not buying hope. I'm fed up. If any Cubs marketing gurus are reading this (fat chance), note well, I've considerably lowered my expectations of the Ricketts. I.e., they'll suck just as much as the Tribune and we'll never win. At least not if Tom continues the way he has been, doing a big fat nothing and continuing to rely on has-been Hendry."
DB is not alone in her discontent over the Ricketts' handling of the Cubs so far, especially now after the news that the Rangers' new owners have reduced food, beverage, and parking prices.
A fellow blogger known as @talkchibaseball on Twitter posted this sentiment:
"Meanwhile in Chicago, Tom ricketts probably will bump ticket prices this offseason."
That comment was retweeted several times and seems to be reflecting the belief that Tom Ricketts is, at best, a distant cousin of Satan. This growing discontent over the Ricketts family and their desire to make profits over winning baseball games could put a real damper on the whole selling of hope thing they have going.
As fans, we would like to see an owner spitting fire over the poor performance of the team. We want 1970s George Steinbrenner. We want how we imagine Mark Cuban would be if he was the owner of the team. We want someone affiliated with the team to scream and yell and froth at the mouth over the Cubs and their crappy play. When Paul Sullivan asks a question about how it feels to see the latest baserunning gaffe, bobbled grounder, overthrown cutoff man, bullpen implosion, or inability to hit with runners in scoring position, we want someone to grab him by the neck and scream, "HOW THE FUCK DO YOU THINK IT FEELS TO WATCH THAT SHIT DAY IN AND DAY OUT?"
But Tom can't do that. He is measured. He is restrained. He is a big picture kind of guy. He can't go flying off the handle every time a Cubs pitcher walks in a run. And so the populace begins to think that the Ricketts family only cares about profits and raising revenues.
Of course, the Tribune was always accused of exactly that sentiment and maybe there was some truth to it. They wanted a winner (winners sell easier than losers), but they went about it as cheaply as possible. Until the end, they didn't use their huge advantage as the only major market in the NL Central to their advantage. Their front office was practically a skeleton crew. As long as they had a star or two to market, they seemed content to fill in around that star with players like Leo Gomez and Damon Buford.
The problem is that the Tribune was a largely faceless organization. The villians rotated in and out. The GMs got the biggest name recognition, but how many casual fans even remember Ed Lynch, much less hate him? I bet I could ask twenty random fans at the game tonight to give me their opinion of Larry Himes and I would get a blank stare in response from at least ten of them.
But if I asked about Tom Ricketts, everyone would have an opinion, and I bet most of those opinions would be unfavorable.
So what can he do?
He can't burn the roster down and start over by dumping Fukudome, Zambrano, Ramirez, or Soriano. The Cubs are going to be paying these guys to play baseball whether it is for the Cubs or for someone else, so it might as well be for the Cubs so they don't also have to to pay their replacements.
They can't trade Marmol, Marshall, or Byrd since they need some light for the fans to focus on. If they traded any of those guys, despite how smart and savvy a baseball move that might be for the longterm, they would get hammered by the fans in the form of unsold tickets next year.
They can't really lower concession prices since hardly anyone's reasons for not showing up to games, or not walking up to buy a ticket do not involve the price of beer. Basically, all that would happen is the Ricketts would bring in less revenue than they already are. The Rangers are trying to build fan loyalty so that they can make bigger profits off the fanbase in the future. If you think they are knocking a few cents off concession prices out of the goodness of their hearts, you are insane. They can spin it however they want, but they are eyeing larger future profits by sacrificing a few dollars this year.
The Cubs don't have any more loyalty they can buy. The season ticket waiting list is still 100,000 deep and will probably be at least 60,000 deep after this round of turnover in the season ticket holders (and declines by people currently at the top of the list). Cubs fans are about as loyal as they are going to get, so reducing concession prices will do nothing but reduce revenue from a team that needs all the revenues it can get right now.
They may have to explore reducing ticket prices slightly for next year. There is ample evidence that they overshot the true demand price for tickets, so a correction may be in order, but it won't be dramatic. They'd also sell it as an apology to Cubs fans, but really, all it would be is a market correction. My guess is they simply won't raise prices this offseason.
So what can they do?
If I were Tom, I'd have a conversation with my siblings to see which one of them wants to be the angry sibling that speaks his/her mind when it comes to the Cubs. Give the fans what they want: a member of the Ricketts family that is as pissed off as they are.
It doesn't matter who it is as long as it isn't Tom. Tom needs to be the sane voice of reason that holds everything together. Tom needs to be the one who reigns in the rantings of his sibling(s).
Pete, Todd and Laura can draw straws to see who complains about Lou's crazy lineups, the fact that Cashner is in the bullpen instead of starting, that Soriano hops when he catches balls, that the bullpen sucks or any of the other seemingly unending list of problems with this team. I'd nominate Todd since he is the youngest and can be easily painted as the impudent one, but if none of them wants to be the "crazy sibling" all the time, they can just take turns.
Fans would love whoever it is. They would be comforted knowing that at least one member of the Ricketts family cares as much as they do. They would identify with the anger and not feel as resentful as they handed over large sums of money to an owner they no longer trust.
Nothing at all would actually be different, but the fans would have a voice. They would have someone that has their backs as they pay for their Cub fandom in both money and emotional scars. That's really all Cubs fans demand to keep their dreams of unicorns and a Cubs World Series alive. Seriously, Tom, you'll be amazed how fans' attitudes will change with a Ricketts family member dropping a few f-bombs when discussing the Cubs' season.