OMG! OMG! OMG! He knows my name!
It has been an incredible year for my family in our first season as stewards of the Chicago Cubs. Of all the new experiences, none was more enjoyable than the opportunity to meet and spend time with you---our season ticket holders.
We met many of you during our game day walks through Wrigley Field. Over the course of those games, you welcomed me and my family, you shared your thoughts and suggestions on improving the team and the ballpark, we celebrated some wins and, unfortunately, suffered too many losses.
Tom brought the shovel out pretty quickly because I can't imagine hearing opinions on middle relief from guys wearing Ryan Theriot jerseys was actually the most enjoyable part of owning the Cubs.
One of the highlights of the year was our first ever season ticket holder "open house" on July 8th. On that day alone I met more than 2100 of you, as we spent a day together in the greatest ballpark on earth. (For all who have inquired---yes, we are going to host that event again and in fact we will double up with a night session as well).
I wonder if he is counting his speaking to a large group at the beginning of each session as "meeting" the fans. I think there were six sessions that day that all lasted an hour, so if he is counting the people he individually met, he would have spent about 10 seconds with every fan (which I know isn't possible because he was actually engaged in conversations whenever I looked over there). So, he's definitely playing fast and loose with the definition of the word "met." It reminds me of the time I "met" the Rolling Stones at Soldier Field.
As our most highly valued customers, your opinions are invaluable as we move our organization forward. In fact, you will soon be contacted to participate in a quality assurance survey as we consider amenity upgrades and look to identify ways to improve your experience at Wrigley Field.
As long as they are only taking opinions from fans regarding the amenities in Wrigley Field, that is fine with me, but I do not want the fate of the managerial position or any roster moves based even a little bit on what the fanbase thinks. Jim Hendry and the rest of the baseball operations team get paid a nice sum to evaluate baseball talent and our stupid opinions shouldn't matter for shit to them. The ONLY time I want a fan's opinion taken into account in a baseball decision is when there is a decision between two players that basically are the same level player, but one is a dick and one is a scrappy fan-favorite. Then sure, go ahead and let the fans be the tie-breaker in that all-too-rare circumstance.
On behalf of my entire family, thank you for your warm welcome and your incredible support of the Cubs organization. You are truly our partners and we respect your contribution and insights.
We're not worthy! We're not worthy! We suck!
OK, Tom, we get it. We're valuable, we're part of the team, you respect us, we shouldn't stop spendinng our money on your crappy product, you love us, you'd name your children after us if you could somehow have 3,000,000 children. Groveling is not becoming of a major league owner.
Part 2 - 2010: It Wasn't All Shitty
Tom Ricketts opened telling us how important Cubs fans are to the team, so now that we are still basking in the warm embrace of our new fan-friendly owners, it's as good a time as any to slap us in the face with the cold, hard reality of the:
The 2010 season was a disappointment for all at the major league level-for my family, for the organization, for the players and for the fans. The team showed signs of its potential the last quarter of the season, but the 75-87 record fell well short of our goals. My family is committed to winning a World Series and though it may not be entirely evident from this year's performance, there are encouraging signs.
Well that sure doesn't sound like the season was as big of a cluster-fuck death march as I thought it was. Maybe I'm all turned around about the Cubs. Maybe I'll get a DVD to commemorate such a successful season:
(h/t The Heckler)
If the potential of this team was shown by lots of playing time for Koyie Hill, Darwin Barney, Bobby Scales, and Micah Hoffpauir, I'm not sure what the encouraging signs are. However, Tom nails it on the head when he says that his family's committment to winning a World Series is not "evident from this year's performance."
The 2010 highlights revolved around our home grown talent. Starlin Castro, Tyler Colvin and Andrew Cashner developed into budding stars, with Castro and Colvin in the NL Rookie of the Year discussion. That young group was enhanced by the August promotion of Casey Coleman, who went 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA in his last four starts. All need to take the next step in 2011, but we are very encouraged to have a group of young, home grown players emerge as regulars in 2010.
There is the silver lining. Castro, Colvin, and for some reason, Cashner, get prominent billing. Youth shall save us! The Cubs seem hellbent on turning Cashner into a middle reliever so even if you followed him through the minors and are excited about his power arm, no team should hype a middle relief prospect in its top three "encouraging" signs. Throwing Casey Coleman and his small sample size is just grasping for straws.
We also have to recognize the superb job done by another one of our own-Mike Quade. During the final 37 games, the team played at a .649 clip (24-13), the second best record in the majors over that timeframe. Making this even more significant, we played largely against teams fighting for playoff berths.
This last part is particularly interesting since Tom seems to be selling Quade to the fans. He could have mentioned the strong finish and left it at that to build the hope train going for next season, but he practically equates Quade to a prospect that is coming into his own at the major league level that we can enjoy in future seasons. Huh...
Plus, he gets a little liberal with his definitions again when he states the Cubs finished "largely" against teams fighting for playoff berths. Even if I include the last three games against the Cardinals as a team "fighting for playoff berths," only 16 of Quade's 37 games came against such playoff contenders. In those 16 games, the Cubs were 9-7. That is nice, but it isn't like they kicked good teams' asses and took names. But yes, Quade did a nice job overall.
It is my strong belief that, in the end, it is organizations with strong farm systems that win championships and I am convinced that our organization is making progress.
Our success in producing talent from within our system can be attributed to a number of factors, including a commitment of financial resources. We believe we have one of the best scouting directors in baseball in Tim Wilken (now 4 years in place) and with a strong farm director in Oneri Fleita and a very productive international effort, we are making progress in what had been a weak spot in the organization.
He's talking about good young talent more than a popped-collar guy at Casey Moran's. It's like he's wearing beer goggles when looking at the state of the team...
Well, that explains the optimism.
Our farm clubs performed very well in 2010, playing to a collective 374-316 record, with first place finishes at both the Triple-A level in Iowa (tied) and Double-A level in Tennessee. The overall .542 winning percentage was second among all major league organizations and our 374 wins were the most for the Cubs organization in 15 years. As I said at our opening press conference about a year ago, we are committed to winning the right way---with our farm system. We believe we are on the right track.
Notice he didn't mention what a great job Ryne Sandberg did to lead Iowa to that first place tie. Maybe because they blew a post-season berth in their last game. Maybe because Ryne suddenly finds himself on the outside looking in? At least there is a head-fake towards Ryne with his mention of "winning the right way."
Besides the absence of Sandberg being discussed, some other noticeable omissions were: Every veteran player on the roster. No mention of Zambrano's strong finish, no mention of Byrd's All-Star appearance, no mention of Soto's rebound season. It makes you wonder if a full fire sale may at least be on the table as an option.
So, in short, the season was disappointing, but check out all those rookies! That makes a nice segue into the next segment:
Part 3 - 2011 Preview - Things Are Looking Up
So far, Tom has told us how valued we, the fans, are and how the 2010 season had a whole bunch of silver linings if you looked hard enough. But enough about all of the lovey-dovey crap and going over things in the past nobody can change. Let's talk about the future! What about 2011? Tom?:
We are early in the process of building the club for 2011. The first order of business is hiring our manager. Jim Hendry has identified a strong group of candidates and we are currently completing our interviews. This is a critical decision and I am confident we will find the right person to lead the club.
When the list of candidates involves Bob Melvin it can't really be that strong. Ryne Sandberg has name recognition, Mike Quade has a month of major league experience with an expanded roster, and Joe Girardi isn't even officially interested in the job. Bob Brenly said thanks, but no thanks. The only way the list gets less impressive is if Dave Martinez is added to it (and he's interested!).
I do like his confidence and wish I had that sort of optimism regarding the choice Hendry is about to make. I wonder where that comes from...
The strength of our team in 2010 was our starting pitching, as we led the National League with 96 quality starts. We expect that to continue. We are excited to see the continued development of our young players and the strong bullpen work anchored by Carlos Marmol (38 saves and a reliever-franchise record 138 strikeouts) and Sean Marshall (2.65 ERA, 22 holds).
I really like this paragraph because he starts out talking about the quality of the starting pitching and finishes by talking about the youth again (particularly Marmol and Marshall - who aren't starters). This would lead many people to believe that the starting pitching that was so successful this past year is young and that we can expect that kind of success in the future. It's a great marketing message.
Unfortunately, it is also wishful thinking at best and flat out not true at worst. The leader in quality starts this season was Ryan Dempster, age 34 next year. Next comes Randy Wells (age 29), Carlos Silva (age 32), and Carlos Zambrano (age 30). That isn't exactly a kindergarten class out there. What's more, Dempster and Silva will be in their last years of expensive contracts, and the Cubs would really like to get rid of Zambrano's big contract. This does not bode well when the two regular starters with the lowest percentage of quality starts (Wells and Gorzelanny) are the only ones under 30 years old.
The only other starters besides the aforementioned Casey Coleman that pitched for the Cubs this year under the age of 30 were Jeff Samardzija and Thomas Diamond. This does not make me feel optimistic.
Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. We need to improve our offense and become more efficient in both moving runners and hitting with players in scoring position. It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves, trades or through free agent acquisitions. But we know we must improve in these areas.
This paragraph sounds like he is running for something and he is addressing a room full of Cubs fans all waving "It's Gonna Happen" signs. He talks about changing what needs to be changed and offers absolutely no solutions. Here is how I imagine it would be written on a teleprompter:
"Going forward, we recognize the need to recommit to fundamentals. (wait for applause)
We need to stabilize our defense and cut down on errors. (wait for applause)
We need to improve our offense (pause)
and become more efficient in both moving runners (pause)
and hitting with players in scoring position. (wait for applause)
It is too early to determine whether this will be addressed with internal moves,
trades or through free agent acquisitions.
(pounds fist on podium) But we know we must (pounds fist)
improve in these areas. (wait for standing ovation)"
Add a "God Bless the Cubs" and maybe a "Think of the children" and you've got a really good start to a stump speech.
Given that we had the highest payroll in the NL in 2010, I get a lot of questions about our payroll commitment for 2011. As I said earlier, we are still working on our 2011 baseball plan, so it is hard to be too specific at this time. What I can tell you is that our overall baseball budget (scouting, player development and payroll) will be about the same in 2011 as it was in 2010. Continued long term success will come through superior scouting and player development, and we are committed to improving that facet of the organization. As a result, this likely means a shift of some of our resources from the major league payroll toward scouting and player development, but we are still very much in the evaluation phase.
This is what Tom has been working towards with all the youth talk. Young talent in baseball is cheap talent, thus the major league payroll is most likely going down. This means there will be veterans traded away if Hendry can find takers who are willing to pay a decent portion of the contract. This means that the team is most likely going to be crappy. Tom is trying to sell the notion of a rebuild, but he's framing it so that we think that the youth can carry the team as soon as next year.
The thing is, most of the superior talent down in the farm system probably won't be making significant contributions until the rosters expand again in September. If there was talent that close to being significant on the major league level, we surely would have seen it down the stretch in 2010. Instead we got Thomas Diamond and Jeff Samardzija.
Trades probably won't boost that major-league ready talent unless they are willing to part with pieces like Marmol and Marshall. Otherwise, all the Cubs get back is salary relief in any trades that occur of players like Fukudome or Zambrano (not that he would waive the no-trade clause anyway).
So Tom is doing his darndest to put the best face on 2011, but when it all comes down to it, it really has no more substance than this:
Part 4 - Ticket Pricing: Good Luck Figuring it Out
If you remember from last week, Tom Ricketts sent a very lengthy letter and I've been breaking it down as best I can so it can be viewed safely by normal human beings without going insane. By now we've seen that Tom has given a group hug to the fans, talked up the rookies to Corey Patterson levels, glossed over the disaster of the 2010 season, and made some leaps from small sample sizes to build up the hope for 2011. At this point, he is counting on our eyes glazing over and nobody reading this far. As one of my heroes, Dave Barry, has pointed out, it is an age-old tactic dating back to Thomas Jefferson when he wrote the Declaration of Independence:
"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's god entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind require that they should get some sleep. Because I have been up for two nights now, declaring independence, and I may be a lanky Virginian but I am not a machine, for heaven's sake, and it just doesn't make sense to sit here scrawling away these complex-compound sentences when I just know nobody's going to read them, because nobody ever does read all the way through these legal documents. Take leases. You take the average tenants, and you could put a lease in front of them with a clause halfway through stating that they have to eat toasted moose doots for breakfast, and I'll guarantee you they never read it."
He's betting no one is reading at this point so that it will be an optimal time to slip in some information that won't necessarily be popular along with some confusing plans that are being spun as good news for season ticket holders. Tom is crafty. It is time to start talking about:
2011 Ticket Pricing
The other question I get regularly concerns our ticket pricing for 2011 and beyond. Overall, our average ticket price will be flat in 2011 compared to 2010. Before going into greater detail on that topic, let me provide some background.
Translation: The amount of revenue we generate from ticket sales on an average per ticket basis will remain the same, but it will change for you. I won't say how yet because I'm going to try to confuse you with more words here in a second. (Hint: it probably isn't going to go down for you, but I'll try to make you think that it is.)
My family is committed to providing ticket pricing that allows families to enjoy Cubs baseball. In so many ways, our children represent the next generation in the Cubs family. We want to invest in providing families with opportunities to experience Wrigley Field, including such things as running the bases, which will be continued in 2011.
This is nice. Families can come and watch the Cubs and enjoy the same experiences as the Ricketts FAMILY that now owns the team. They understand the importance of families and they understand that giving children the opportunity to come to games at an early age is important so that they can get addicted and continue buying tickets for the rest of their lives.
To this end, we will continue the policy of keeping many of our tickets in the sub $10 range-in fact, we will offer a substantial increase in sub-$10 tickets next year compared to 2010.
As long as the families are content sitting in the 500 sections of the upper deck in the outfield (and like to see the Pirates a lot), they can get into the park for less than $10 per person. I'm sure it is only a coincidence that these sections probably have the fewest season ticket holders since season ticket holders generally want a halfway decent seat if they are going to sit and watch a team lose 81 times per year.
In addition, we are increasing the number of bronze games (our lowest ticket pricing tier) from 6 games in 2010 to 15 games in the bleachers and 11 games in the grandstand in 2011. As a result, there will be 77% more tickets priced at $20 or less in 2011 than there were in 2010. Stated differently, a total of more than 550,000 tickets will be available for $20 or less next year.
This is great news to the single-game ticket buyers because there are now cheaper options available to the games that the Cubs had trouble selling at the end of the year last year (and therefore would probably be a tough sell in 2011). It could also end up lowering a season ticket holder's cost overall as long as they don't jack up prices to the games they know they are going to sell out anyway. Let's cross our fingers.
Again, our average ticket price next year will be essentially flat compared to 2010 (actually it is fractionally down vs. 2010). This does not mean all ticket prices will be the same as last year however, as pricing was adjusted based on location and our schedule. A little background might be helpful.
See what I mean about a bunch of words? He already said this, but he really wants to hammer home the message that the average ticket price won't be going up so he'll repeat it again here and then go into some more background (translation: more words to distract us).
To set our pricing in 2011, we examined approximately 5 million transactions from our primary and secondary ticket markets from 2005 through 2010. Our goal was to keep our average ticket price flat overall but improve the alignment of pricing for games and seating sections with actual demand. The result is a market-based ticket model that reflects our fans' buying patterns.
They are segmenting their fanbase based on past ticket buying patterns and splitting the stadium and games into appropriate categories to maximize their profit from every segment. There is nothing sinister about this and they are actually being very smart in not lumping all Cubs fans into one massive group. The duplicitous thing they are doing is talking about a few segments being helped by their price adjustments as if it was benefiting a large percentage of the season ticket holders, which is just not true.
The highlights include: (1) reducing the average ticket price for all gold, silver and bronze games, (2) separating the bleachers and grandstands in the pricing tiers, as the buying patterns vary significantly for each area, and (3) adding a new fifth tier of pricing (Marquee Tier) for our highest demand games.
2) That's a highlight?
3) Uh. Oh.
Cutting through it all, the net result for our season ticket holders is that some will see a slight (in all cases, less than 3%) increase, others will see a reduction as much as 6% and some will see virtually no change at all.
Oh ho! There's the increase snuck in there amongst all the good news and tier talk. You have to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak that by us in Aisle 424, Tom.
So let's take Tom's approach and cut through it all. I would be shocked if the percentage of season ticket holders that actually see a drop in their overall price from 2010 is over 20%. I'd actually be surprised if it was higher than 15%, but I'm being conservative.
Folks holding tickets in the infield portion of the stadium are mostly full plan holders, so they will benefit slightly from an increase in the number of cheaper Crappy Level games, but that will get negated by the boost of including the new Mega-Maxi-Super-Duper-Snazzy-Marquee-alicious Tier in the package. They also will not benefit from those 550,000 tickets that are under $20 that Tom mentioned before.
The folks who will benefit are the Bleacher season ticket holders (Yellon and his three friends), and the folks who sit way down the lines and/or far under the upper deck in the Terrace Reserved sections. Like I said before, the percentage of season ticket holders in these sections is small. This new pricing structure is actually much more beneficial to the single game buyers like the families Tom talked about a million words ago.
It's all very simple. Oh, there's a separate pricing structure for bleachers now too?
Dude, we just want the team to fucking win. Seriously. Do that and I'll volunteer to let any member of the Cubs organization punch me in the ding and take a dollar from me. You can form a line. It will be totally worth it.
For 2011, there are a number of new benefits that I think you will find interesting. Among them is exclusive access to our players, coaches, manager, front office and ownership through Cubs Insider Webcasts that will occur throughout the year. In addition to updates on everything happening inside the ballclub, these webcasts will provide you the opportunity to ask questions on topics of your choice. A Season Ticket Holder Benefit page follows this letter and you should ask your Cubs representative about any of the items listed there.
Finally! A chance to have my question answered about what brand of chewing gum Justin Berg prefers!
Actually, as a Cubs blogger, the Webcasts would probably be pure gold as they shove more contrived crap into our consciousness than the people at Vineline could possibly dream. Get ready to learn way more about Starlin Castro than any normal human being should ever want.
The long and short of it is: the Cubs have lowered prices on games you either don't want to see or can't see because you have a job, and on the seats that you don't want to sit in unless you have to because all of the other good seats are sold. They have raised ticket prices on all the really good games because they know they can and they will still sell them out. I'm actually shocked at their restraint in how much they've bumped them.
They can talk about families all they want and how much they care about us, but when it comes down to it, this was about adjusting the single game pricing structure to maximize those revenues while still collecting the full amount of revenue from season ticket holders that they count on each and every year.
Part 5 - The Final Chapter
So, if you have been following along, Tom Ricketts' letter to the season ticket holders has now reached epic proportions. He has used many, many, many, many words to explain things that really shouldn't be that hard to succinctly discuss:
- Cubs fans are important to the Ricketts family
- Families are important to the Ricketts family
- The Cubs were disappointing in 2010, except for the end part when they were awesome
- 2011 will be a continuation of the awesome part
- Some ticket prices will go up for some games and seats, but not others, when they may go down, or not
- The new ticket prices make it easier for families to go to Cubs games
- Twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a-swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings!, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree
Like you, we love Wrigley Field and are committed to winning a championship at the Friendly Confines. We all need to recognize, however, that our wonderful Wrigley Field is fast approaching 100 years of age and is in need of substantial improvements. We committed over $10 million to that effort last year, largely to improve restrooms, add new food options, recast concrete, upgrade steel and other general maintenance. We will continue this effort in 2011 but again the focus will be more tactical than strategic.
Yes, the urinals and the bison dogs, how can we forget? Sounds like more of the same little tweaks that they will herald later as grand sweeping changes are in store for us in 2011. Seriously, did anybody notice an appreciable difference in the bathrooms? The one change I noticed was that the sign above the sink that said "sink" to differentiate itself from the troughs was not there when the season began and then re-appeared at some point in the middle of the season.
I honestly have no idea if this is a Before or After picture.
The bison dogs were tasty from what I remember. I didn't have one after the month of May because I had stopped buying anything in the ballpark as a personal protest. But whatever, they didn't suck, which was nice compared to what we were offered on the baseball field while we ate the damn things.
So who knows what will come next. Ketchup and mustard packets instead of the dispensers that always cause a log jam at the condiment/napkin stations because everyone is trying to unwrap their food to be able to apply some mustard? Miller Park and a few other ballparks have little kiosks that serve freshly roasted nuts with cinnamon and sugar. Those are awesome. Maybe something like that? I might even buy some of those even if the team sucks next year.
Whatever it is they have planned, it doesn't sound like it will be of much consequence in the grand scheme of things, so you have to wonder why Tom bothered to bring it up at all, but he was on a roll.
We spent much of the 2010 season assembling a team of renowned architects, engineers, designers and project managers to develop a master plan for a more significant Wrigley Field overhaul and Triangle Building development. Our planning will continue in 2011 and your involvement through the quality assurance surveys mentioned earlier is very important. We look forward to completing the analysis phase and getting underway with the construction and occupation phase.
The Triangle Building! Bet you had forgotten all about that with all the noodles and Toyota signs and the team sucking and all, but there it is still getting planned. Look at them plan. Plan, plan, plan. They should charge money to have fans be able to watch them plan.
They are looking forward to turning the plans into reality though, as should you because there will be all kinds of different ways to separate us from our money in the Triangle Building. They just have to finish planning how. Hopefully their plans for the Triangle Building are more solid than their plans for building a World Series contender.
I guess as long as it isn't the same people that designed the Soldier Field spaceship thing, I don't care that much, but it sure was nice of Tom to keep us informed that nothing specific can be divulged at this time.
We were in Year One when this started, what year is it now?
Thank you again for your incredible support of Cubs baseball and the Ricketts family. We have spent our adult lives sitting next to you cheering for our team. We now have the responsibility to improve not only the play on the field but also to protect and save our summer home, Wrigley Field. With your help we will accomplish both.
It is pretty incredible that so many people love this team so much when they never, ever fulfill that love and devotion by ending a season with a playoff win.
Think about it, Tom openly admitted that payroll is going to go down (and therefore the realistic expectations of being a contender also go down), and at the same time they've said they'll pretty much be charging us the same rates as last year (which was supposed to be a contending team). I haven't seen much backlash about that. We, as a fanbase, seem pretty much OK with it since they aren't actually raising the rates (except when they are for some people).
That is incredible. It really is.
I did notice a slight clerical error at the end though.
Fixed. You're welcome.
Thanks, Tom. Do you take personal checks?