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Wrigley Games have Potential, but Northwestern Must Be Mindful of Concerns

by Kevin Trahan (@k_trahan)

Northwestern announced today that it will have a press conference Tuesday at Wrigley Field to make a “major business announcement” regarding NU and the Chicago Cubs. We’ll have coverage of the press conference on Tuesday, but Teddy Greenstein confirmed what most expected — NU will be playing more games at Wrigley Field in the future.

The deal, according to Greenstein, doesn’t include any games in 2013, but the partnership will begin in 2014. It will also include non-football games like baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse.

The last Northwestern game at Wrigley took place in 2010 between the Wildcats and Illinois. It was a national spectacle, with ESPN’s College Gameday in town and was praised as a massive success by both Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and NU athletic director Jim Phillips.

Obviously, a game at Wrigley is going to draw national attention and it certainly can be an outstanding event. However, there are some potential issues to take into account. After construction is finished, the field will be more conducive to holding a football field — the teams won’t have to go the same way again next time around — but there are other, non-logistical issues.

The most obvious question is whether games at Wrigley lose their allure if they happen every year. The first game was a spectacle, but could the novelty wear off? Eventually, the “it’s Wrigley” appeal might not be enough to counter the sight lines and high ticket prices.

The sight lines obviously aren’t fixable, and frankly, I don’t think those are a huge issue. The ticket prices, however, could be a factor. Season ticket holders could purchase tickets as an add-on last time, but for incredibly steep prices. Tickets ranged from $50 to $150, and even the best tickets had bad sight lines. As comparison, in 2013 sideline tickets cost $70 for the Ohio State and Michigan games, $50 for the Minnesota and Michigan State games and $40 for the non-conference games (Syracuse, Western Michigan and Maine).

This game is of the fans, after all  — okay, and the publicity and the TV rights — so NU must make sure it doesn’t leave its season ticket holders out to dry. You don’t want your fans campaigning against a game you’re trying to spotlight. Already, some fans voiced displeasure about the possibility of “frequent” games at Wrigley.

Obviously NU and the Cubs will learn as they go, but the ticketing situation must be resolved if this is going to be a regular thing.

The last issue is scheduling. There can’t be any games during October because of the possibility of the Cubs being in the playoffs — (LOL I’m sure your Cubs/playoffs joke is hilarious — so that leaves November. This year, NU had just one November home game, so there won’t always we a lot of choice.

We don’t know the 2014 schedule yet because of the recent additions of Rutgers and Maryland and the yet-to-be-realigned divisions. However, scheduling a game there each year could be tougher than it may appear.

NU doesn’t want this game to turn into an away game, and as ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg noted, that likely ruled out Iowa in 2010. If the Hawkeyes stay down, then maybe that could work in the near future, but in years when they’re good or on the upswing, it’s unlikely for NU-Iowa to happen at Wrigley. The same applies to Michigan and Nebraska.

However, the Wildcats will want the game to have some sort of significance, so not Minnesota, Indiana, Purdue, etc. Who are some likely opponents? Well, Illinois is an obvious one. Outside of that, maybe Michigan State or Wisconsin? Or maybe they’d try Iowa?

There’s also a delicate balance in that you don’t want to play your biggest game at Wrigley. For example, this year’s NU-Ohio State figures to be a big one, considering both are likely to be ranked for it. That game is in September, so it wouldn’t have worked anyways, but games like that should be on campus. They’re an opportunity to showcase Ryan Field, Evanston and the program without needing the allure of Wrigley to get the publicity. It’s hard to circle that kind of game, but in a year when, say, NU and Wisconsin are both picked to be contenders, a game against those two foes should probably be one campus

There’s a lot to sort out with a long-term deal, and there are a lot more concerns to take into account than if this were just a one-time game. However, a series of NU games at Wrigley has tremendous potential to be a success and get the Wildcats even more influence in Chicago. We’ll see how this plays out — before NU even steps onto the field at the Friendly Confines again, there are likely to be a lot more hoops to jump through that nobody knows about yet.