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Elise Menaker / MEDILL

Opening day at Wrigley Field brought crowds to local businesses but future performance on the field could dictate register sales off the field. 


Cubs on-field performance drives off-field businesses

by Elise Menaker
April 11, 2012


Castro Dempster Jerseys

Elise Menaker / MEDILL

All authentic merchandise sold at The Cubs Store, like this $250 signed Starlin Castro jersey, is authenticated through MLB.com.

On The Cubs Store opening day, a 2011 game-worn All Star jersey worn by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro and his game-used hat sold for more than $1,000.

It's the latest manifestation of how heavily Wrigleyville businesses rely on the Cubs.

The shop is a new store across the street from Wrigley Field and is owned by 1060 Media, an investment group headed by the Ricketts family, which owns the Cubs. The retailer opened its doors April 2, selling a range of Cubs memorabilia, costing $2 to $1,500.

The shop sells game-used, signed jerseys and baseball gloves that cost anywhere from $750 to $1,500. Bats, balls and bases range in price from $200 to $400. Flags that hung in the ballpark are also on sale, for $100.

James Domine, general manager of The Cubs Store, said game-used prices vary and are based on who the team plays, what the score of the game is and how important the game is.

The Cubs Store partners with Cubs Authentics, a kiosk behind home plate selling authentic game-used jerseys, bases, foul balls and bats. Items that are not sold at the kiosk are given to The Cubs Store three to four days later to sell. The store currently is waiting for more gear to come in.

“There are a lot of collectors looking at that kind of stuff,” Domine said.

For non-collectors, these price tags might seem to be too high. Cubs fan Laurie Jorgensen stopped in the new store and said she is interested in the authentic gear but she would not spend the money on it right now.

“If I was going to buy it, it would be more for sentimental value,” said Jorgensen who would spend up to a couple hundred dollars on an authentic item. She would spend up to $500 if the item were for a friend.

Domine said he is selling between five and 10 authentic items on game days and maybe one or two items on non-game days. He estimated sales were over $1,000 a day just in authentic merchandise the first week it opened. But Domine explains business can take a hit if the Cubs on-field performance weakens.

“The better the team, the more tickets are sold, which means more people in the area which is gonna mean higher traffic, so it all correlates to the product on the field.”
Domine said he would like a star player to emerge, as those players tend to generate buzz, spiking individual jersey sales.

“We think Castro is on the cusp of emerging as that player,” Domine said, but until then he said he is counting more on former players like Ernie Banks and Mark Grace to drive business. Those authentic replica jerseys are marked $200 apiece.

Bar managers in Wrigleyville also are affected by on-field performance. There was heavy traffic for this year’s Cubs home opener, but future excitement about a team that is rebuilding has some bars preparing to adjust deals if business starts to slide.

In the first six games of the season, attendance was up 15 percent compared with the first six games in 2011. The Cubs have topped 3 million every year in attendance since 2004, but last season marked the lowest attendance in that eight-year span, less than 3.1 million.

If surrounding business drops with attendance, Patrick Curth, assistant general manager of O’Malley’s Liquor Kitchen, is willing to make adjustments to his business. For example, last year, Curth said, he lowered the price of beers and ran $5 stadium cups.

“Initially, going into the year, we always shoot for the moon and hope for the best, so there are no plans to do that at this moment,” Curth said. “If needed to again, yeah, we would definitely be open to it [discounting merchandise].”

Sluggers bar on North Clark Street has no intention of changing its game-day price of $6 for a can of beer, compared with $5 bottles on non-game days. Similarly, Dugout Wrigley does not anticipate altering prices in reaction to the Cubs’ performance even though General Manager Russell Byrd estimates about half of his business comes from Cubs fans.

“For us, it only takes 50 to 75 people to fill it up and we get a lot of regulars so it doesn’t take a lot of us to fill up,” Byrd said, regarding the size of his establishment.

Besides the regulars, local bars thank out-of-towners for business. For a bar like O’Malley’s, Curth estimated they make up about one-third to one-half of his business. But last year, as the Cubs’ playoffs hopes dwindled, Curth saw a drop in these numbers.

“You don’t see people traveling to watch them any more,” Curth said.

Milwaukee Brewers’ fan Timothy Poisl made his first trip to Wrigley Field to watch his home team take on the Cubs Wednesday. He traveled about 80 miles from Racine, Wis. Poisl spent just under $100 on game tickets and transportation, not including money spent on drinks and food at the stadium.

“We’ll find out today if it’s worth doing it again,” Poisl said.

Poisl said he'll find out if a trip to Wrigley is cheaper than a Cubs games at Miller Park. In Milwaukee, Cubs-Brewers games are tagged marquee games, so tickets are more expensive. Those games cost anywhere from $15 to $80 while non-marquee games top out at $55. At Wrigley, tickets for the first series between the Cubs and Brewers cost $8 to $111. However, in August, the same match up goes up in price -- $12 to $166.

The Cubs are off to a slow start. How they end up and the impact their performance will have on surrounding businesses remains to be seen. According to Forbes magazine, the Cubs value, $879 million, ranks fourth of Major League Baseball’s 30 teams. The Ricketts family bought the team for close to $900 million in 2009. The Cubs’ sales increased 3 percent in 2011 over 2010, but operating income jumped 20 percent to $28.1 million from $23.4 million in 2010, according to Forbes.