Friday, April 01, 2011

Stop Looking At Me!

Stop Looking At Me!

(Editor's note: Erik was right in the middle of writing this week's column when he was floored by a migraine, so we are reprinting a column from 2003.)

Say what you will about them, the Chicago Cubs have always been a perennial baseball favorite. Maybe it's because they haven't won the World Series since 1908. Maybe it's because whenever anyone says "tradition," they point to the Cubs. Maybe it's because everyone loves an underdog, and the Cubs are about as underdoggy as you're going to get.

Let's face it, a winning season for the Cubs is about as elusive as an Academy Award for Ashton Kutcher ("Dude, Where's My Career?!"). But that's why everyone loves them. They're the Average Joe, the little guy, the team everyone loves to love, whether out of pity or because they want to say "I knew them when. . ."

So what's going on with them?

The Chicago Cubs are suing 13 business owners whose rooftops overlook Wrigley Field, because the owners are selling their own tickets so people can watch games from the roof. The Cubs claim these owners are stealing from the team.

The suit was filed by the Cubs organization in December 2002, and charged that the business owners were violating copyright laws and competing with the organization for ticket sales.

Cubs president and CEO Andy MacPhail said, "They do nothing to contribute to our efforts to put a winning team on the field."

Apparently neither does the organization, considering they haven't won a division championship since 1945, or the World Series in nearly a century.

MacPhail says the owners are making "millions of dollars a year," but they're not giving anything back to the organization.

Personally, I don't see what the problem is, since the fans are sitting so far away from the action, they need a live hookup to the Hubble Telescope to watch the game clearly.

Okay, not really. The Hubble Telescope is actually used for scientific research, like watching sunbathers on the roofs of university science buildings around the world.

However the business owners are actually allowing their customers to watch the games on TV, since they ARE so far away from the action. But no one knows if they have the express written consent of Major League Baseball to do that, so I won't say anymore about it.

Not too surprisingly, the Cubs are worried that they're losing valuable revenue. And they are. They're losing the ability to charge $12 to $36 per ticket for most games. They're losing the ability to charge $5 for a dubious-looking hot dog or lukewarm soda or $8 for watery beer. They're losing the ability to charge twice as much for a baseball cap than your average sporting goods store. But those fans probably wouldn't have come to the game anyway, so why worry about it? Why not figure out new ways to get more fans to attend the games instead?

One would think the Cubs would focus on fielding a better baseball team, which would increase fan interest, which would then increase revenues, and MacPhail could worry about something other than phantom "lost" money.

But that's just me. I don't actually know anything about running a baseball team. Putting together a winning team to increase fan support may just be a crazy idea that other baseball experts would laugh at. They would tell me to leave baseball to the real experts, like George Steinbrenner, who spends almost $126 million on his players' salaries, and then cuts his front office employees' dental plans to save $100,000.

So how is watching a game from the roof stealing? The game is already being played, and I could pay $12 to watch it from the cheap seats, or pay $36 to watch it from a slightly better seat. But no matter how much I pay, the Cubs will still play the same baseball game no matter how much I paid, or whether I watch or not.

But the Cubs are undeterred. They are seeking compensatory damages, some of the profits, and a ban on those businesses marketing Cubs products without their permission.

No problem. If I were one of the business owners, I'd start holding parties on the rooftop for free, and charge $10 for a bratwurst, and require a two bratwurst minimum. The parties would only be held on certain days, and at certain times. And if the Cubs happened to be playing at the same time, then that's just a happy coincidence.

And if anyone is interested, you can watch the games from my house through a magical box, and I'll only charge $10 per person. Just don't put your feet on the couch.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on Amazon.com, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

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