Cub Win the Series: The Blessing to Break the Curse?

Isabella Very ‘17, Staff Writer

 

Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs in the mid-1930’s, scrutinized the team’s books, his eyelids weighing heavy on his cheekbones. As he looked wearily down his long nose at the papers scattered across his desk, Wrigley slowly, reluctantly, came to the realization that in order for the team to fill their renowned stadium at this time, they had to win games. He actually resented the talent of the team in the past, who had conditioned the Chicago public to expect victory.

But the chewing-gum mogul would not be deterred. Determined to recondition their patrons to simply attend games because they wanted to watch a game, not necessarily to see their team win, Wrigley imagined an advertising campaign that would focus on the experience of a day at the ballpark rather than the expectation of a winning team. He reimagined the park itself, planting ivy along the outfield wall and implementing the construction of a huge hand-operated mechanical scoreboard. Otis Shepard, Wrigley’s gum company’s most renowned advertisement illustrator, was hired to design new uniforms, the standard red “C” and the cub-face patch, the flag with “W” flown above the scoreboard after a win, and the new official game program, which now featured fans enjoying a game as opposed to players, fitting in with Wrigley’s vision.

Finally, the Cubs’ owner capped his reconfiguration of the team’s image with a marketing ploy aimed at television and radio stations, who would be allowed to broadcast the games free of charge as long as the announcers mentioned the “beautiful Wrigley Field” as much as possible.

Wrigley’s theory worked so well that even when the team fell to the bottom of the leaderboard in 1948, nearly a record number of customers came to the park during the season. Although he was pleased with the success of his plan, he was disappointed by the team’s inability to win during the season. In an apology he wrote to fans he said, “Your loyal support when we are down is a real incentive…to give all of us a winner,” however, in the case of the Cubs, fan loyalty could potentially be the reason behind the 108 year losing streak and may even be damaged by their victory in the 2016 World Series.

Wrigley’s comprehensive rebranding of the Cubs in the 1930’s is still ever present in the “win or lose” mentality that pervades the fan mentality of Chicago in 2016. Before their World Series win, fans were “numb to the outcome,” reported Mike McQuade. They expected the team to lose, however they weren’t upset about it and still bought tickets and came to games. The Cubs would only lose 6% in attendance after a 10% drop in winning percentage, the lowest statistic in the major league.

With the underdog’s win in the World Series, effects on the team and fanbase abound in the short term. Ticket sales, merchandise revenue, and sponsorship offers are predicted to continue to increase, while the value of the franchise is expected to do the same, by at least $300 million. In terms of social effects and the team’s exposure, the Cubs topped the major league in their numbers of social media interactions, leading the second-most team, the LA Dodgers, by about 90.6 million interactions during the playoffs alone. During the World Series itself, the Chicago team saw a 387.6% increase in interactions.

According to academic study of fan psychology, as examined by several social scientists, because city sports teams are so integral to many citizens’ identities, fans feel the success of their team as though it were their own success. The psychological effects can extend to that of a brief improvement to mental and physical health, even a measurable improvement to the immune system. While these ameliorations only last for a short time, pride, experts say, is longer lasting.

With the Cubs, these benefits of the World Series win were intensified by the generations of family ties to the team, which are a contributing factor to the constant loyalty exercised by Chicago fans, as well as the 108 years since a World Series victory, which made the win all the more inspirational, exhilarating, and liberating. It is undeniable that these rewards have permeated headlines and hearts as fans stormed the stadium and celebrated in the streets of Chicago.

But what about the other side? The detriments of the long-awaited victory? Do they even exist?

Experts are predicting that the answer is, in fact, yes. The team may actually suffer from its win. With their exceptionally long World Series drought combined with Wrigley’s conditioning of the Chicago fanbase to attend games win or lose, fans learned to expect nothing for the team and their low standards were what kept them coming back, simply for the phenomenal and renowned experience of a day at Wrigley Field. Their victory, however, now means that fans have a higher standard, which could have one of two effects: it could incentivize the team to keep winning or it could cause fans to stop buying tickets when the team loses. Only time will tell.

One thing is for certain, however, the win has caused fans to lose their identity as the “ultimate loyalists,” the “lovable losers,” the ones sticking with the underdog team even through the long, grueling, 108-year dry spell. This, in and of itself, could mean the end of the undying loyalty exercised by the Cubs Chicago fan base. This World Series Victory has the potential to change the face of a fanatic entity which has remained largely unchanged in its behavior for the last eighty years.