A Rant Against The Bud Light Bleachers

By JCB on Thursday, March 30, 2006

Say What?!?

Well, there is going to be a lot of indignation over the Wrigley Field bleachers being knighted the Bud Light Bleachers. That's right, friends, Anheuser-Busch has sent its marketing gallantry out from St. Louis abroad to conquer and pillage, and the Wrigley Field bleachers are officially plunder. The press release has been issued. Expect lots of indignation, that's for sure, and I'm writing now to say one thing: it's righteous indignation.

To be honest, it didn't occur to me that it was this bad until KJM pointed out to me that Bud Light is, of course, an Anheuser-Busch product, which is of course a St. Louis company, so much that they just built the new Busch stadium to replace the old Busch stadium. I can see the t-shirts already . . . Cardinals fans wearing "Busch Stadium Lite" when they visit the bleachers. Our bleachers. And we'll have to suck it up and take it because our team's ownership, the Tribune Company, sold out. Plain and simple, and as literal as literal gets: this was a sell-out. It's worse because our rivals will be the ones rubbing our noses in it.

Screw this.

These days the role of being a fan blurs. As people get more skilled at running a fantasy baseball team, they learn the ins and outs of general managing, and they become more insightful at criticizing GMs like Jim Hendry. (Or they do it anyway.) Then there's the players themselves, guys like Corey Patterson or LaTroy Hawkins whom critics jump on and pummel until there is no more pummeling one can do. Or there's the manager, where anyone's little sister can tell Dusty Baker that double-switching a better hitter out of the lineup in a tie game is going to come back and bite you.

Of those areas, like a lot of people, I tend to align myself with the critics of the manager most often. Most of what I ask of the players is that they play hard, and take it personally, to play as though it's not all about money. I'm willing to give GMs more than a year or two to let a plan unfold, rather than bail too early, because serial plan-changing is a recipe for disaster, I would argue. So, in my own little fan world, I identify most with the managers, and therefore that's my favorite angle to criticize, as much to help me learn the game better as catharsis.

But now there's ownership rearing its head again, and man did they piss me off on this one. It used to be - a few years ago - that all you asked from ownership was the green light on a large enough budget to keep your best players, and maybe pick up a few quality free agents along the way. That, and don't act like your number one priority is the premium clientele, high corporate society. At least pretend like you still care about Joe 29th-Row, that you appreciate his support and want to allow it to be possible for him to enjoy that to which he has become addicted: Cubs baseball. Don't forget who dug that revenue stream in the first place.

I didn't like it when ownership put in colorful Sears scoreboards, because I don't want to be tempted with distractions. I hated it when ownership put that awful advertising board behind home plate, because it does nothing to improve anything except advertising revenue - they can't even pretend like it's giving fans more information, etc., whereas at least those colorful little Sears scoreboards added the pitch speed. I lean towards being anti- on the issue of more night games, although I do like a balance because some nights Wrigley takes on an electric atmosphere that it does not conjure during a day game, and those nights are special. I was not against the bleacher reconstruction even if it cut off the view from some of the surrounding houses, mainly because whether you realize it or not, all those houses have been purchased by companies and they're nothing but three-story ticketing clubs now. If they can make the bleachers a little easier to get around such that I can leave to take a leak and buy a round of beers and I won't have to miss an entire half inning to do it, that's fantastic.

But they've gone too far. They've given the Bud Light Brand ownership of something that - at least to me - was not theirs to give away. Technically, legally, and every other way, the Tribune Company owns the bleachers, but that does not mean that they own the bleachers, if you get what I mean. I feel like they should have asked us, except of course for that old Nixon-ism that it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

The bleachers became what they are, the most popular ticket in the ballpark if not all of baseball, because of the culture that evolved among them. I can get over it that they stopped reserving bleacher tickets for walk-ups, even if I don't like it, because that's just a sign of the times, and there are laws of supply and demand, and who's to say that if they had kept walk-up bleacher tickets that the crowd wouldn't have devolved even worse than it is out there the last few years anyway. It might have been insanity trying to get tickets, waiting in line for 18-hour marathons, with drunkenness and fighting and at the end of it all you're too strung out to enjoy the game anyway.

Maybe not, but it's possible, so I can concede that selling bleacher tickets ahead of time probably had to be done, even if I wish the whole set of circumstances were different.

Bleacher culture was changing, for better or worse, and that just is what it is. Maybe we gave them much more than the inch, but now they've taken the mile, and this is not our fault.

Did they have to go this far?

Advertising matters: it's the most significant element of our culture, whether one realizes it or not. Culture is the set of patterns, traditions and limits to which a society or community adheres, and nothing preserves, enforces, impinges, shapes or otherwise tests our culture today like advertising. Many of us believe that there is more at stake here, then, more than simply a meaningless name flimsily attached to something like the Wrigley Field Bleachers.

Whether advertising's increasingly prominent cultural role is good or bad is outside the scope of a column like this one, but certain applications are clearly healthy or unhealthy. At least a few of us still believe that there are elements of culture that are sacred, and that deserve their stewards to preserve them as such.

I wouldn't have realized that I thought the Bleachers was one of those sites, mainly because it never occurred to me that their sponsorship might be for sale. Even in their recent climate of being the place to be, and even in their new renovated form, the bleachers still hearken to times past. Why invite distraction from this cultural role? Why try to draw attention elsewhere?

Selling off the naming rights does absolutely nothing good. It doesn't help the players play better, it doesn't help the fan appreciation, it won't help Dusty Baker figure out who to start at second, and it makes the ownership look sleazy.

Check that: it demonstrates that the ownership is sleazy.

If they were this desperate for cash, then they ought to have just sold the team. I hate that we're going to be sitting in the Bud Light Bleachers because the Tribune Company should not have bought the LA Times. And if they would have sold-out anyway, even worse.


This is not so grievous IMHO, unless they stick up some tacky sign over the back entryway (visible from the Red Line) shouting BUD LIGHT. Surely it won't affect play the way the addition of some of the new dugout area seats and the advertising sign there can with its sometimes-strange caroms. Because it's just a section,rather than the entire park, that's been sold for naming rights, fans can much more easily avoid using the offensive term--unlike "The Cell'' or other corporate names attached to stadiums, which become part of the team's official nomenclature. Who's going to say, "Meet you outside the Bud Light Bleachers?'' I suspect, no one...the St. Louis connection doesn't gall me that much since Budweiser is such a national product, I barely think of St. Louis and if the storied Card-Cub rivalry is reduced to level of beer jokes, it's pretty lame. (I was somewhat surprised the company sprang for naming rights at the new St L baseball stadium, but they got a lot of mileage out of the old deal even after the brewery sold the team)....The worst offense would be additional large signage out there visible at a distance on TV, and in person (I will go sit in bleachers one time to see this all these "enhancements'' for myself), but I've got used to that by now at Wrigley and can tune out most of the signage/distractions... This did not lead to a price break, obviously, as corporate sponsorship should (let's home some digging reporters on the biz side if not sports reveal the terms of the deal, how much is A-B paying for this privilege and what exactly do they get out there?? An exclusive to sell their product against no competitiors??). I still think of "Old Style'' in connection with the Cubs. I used to romanticize the bleacher experience, but it's become so hugely overrated and overpriced that I now chalk it up to where the wannabe trendy-noncore fan wants to be. They can have it, tasteless suds and all attached.

So maybe I'm overreacting? Hmm... Good points, although I still feel like if nothing good comes from it other than extra revenue for its own sake, they ought to abstain, even if it's ultimately proven to be neutral. It seems like a kind of a slippery slope sort of thing... where should they draw the line? How much advertising revenue is enough, and what is off limits? It's an argument structure that doesn't stand up to logic -- A does not imply slipping to B -- but it's still my instinct in this case.

And it still just feels like a sleazy thing for them to do. I can't shake that. After all, if it's no big deal, why spring it on us at the last minute before the season starts? They put it on the tickets over a month ago, according to this brief report:


(Also links to a story of a similar sort of thing with the Red Sox, except Larry Lucchino is quoted as saying, "the anticipated revenues from these new seating areas were a decisive factor in our ability to hold ticket prices on more than 70 percent of the seats in Fenway Park for the 2006 season." I'm curious too as to the actual numbers... )

I agree with JCB on the silliness of the naming rights for the bleachers. If Bud Light really wanted to name something they should have gotten the naming rights to the troughs in the mens bathrooms. That would have been a much more appropriate and funny thing to sell naming rights to.

What I find ironic is Wrigley Field is probably one of the first stadiums named after someone that also happened to help advertise a product, but for some reason that seems to get a free pass since naming rights were not sold at that point and time. I would guess that everyone thinks of the Wrigley Building downtown as being related to Wrigley gum, but for some reason there is less of a connection to Wrigley Field and gum.

Now as for springing this news on at the last minute, that is along the same lines as the restaurant only being available for private parties and covering up the knot hole that has been mentioned various places previously.

Finally, is the extra revenue being used to hold down prices. I would hate to see bleacher prices otherwise as $40-$60 already seems a little steep for outfield seats. Or maybe they are using the extra revenue to help pay Rafael Furcal's salary, oops I mean resign Juan Pierre, oops I mean cover other Tribune Company debts. That being said, I am guilty of being one of the lemmings and will be in the bleachers for Marshall's major league debut against the Cardinals Saturday, April 8th. Look for pictures in the Eye of the Beerholder section shortly thereafter.

Seriously, is it really that big of a deal? And why the outrage now? Let me toss a few more points out there.

First, just one to think about, what if they named the bleachers the "Goose Island Bleachers"? Would there still be the same outrage? Is the outrage stemming from naming the bleachers at all or because they gave it to Bud Light?

Secondly, they have been adding more and more advertising to the stadium every year for the last many years. The scoreboards along the foul lines, the stat board under the centerfield scoreboard, the panel behind home plate, cup holders, the marquee outside the stadium by Clark and Addison even runs ads non stop now. So what does it really matter that they are adding one more thing to the stadium? It's well known that the Tribune Company is not doing the best financially and at this point I'd rather have them do everything they can to keep the field, keep it named Wrigley Field and keep the Cubs contending. The other option is to sell out and sell the whole thing to a Southwest Airlines or example and who knows what would happen then. A new stadium? A new name for the field? Maybe the team would even get moved out to St. Charles?

Let's just be happy with what we have going right now.. It's a good thing and let's hope the Tribune Company can keep it a good thing as long as possible.

One more thing.. are they still going to sell Old Sytle in the Bud Light Bleachers? I sure hope so!

I read somewhere this AM that the price was really low--$1 M or less for the naming rights...not a very shrewd move for that kinda money, but indicative of what a small-time deal it may be...Not going to get much mileage out of it beyond this initial wave of criticism. You'd think they could and should have extracted more if Bud Light getting an exclusive on the bleacher concession. (Come to think of it at a cart at base of bleachers they used to sell Corona's and other imports, hope that option remains but maybe it won't.) At least if Cubs had gotten $5 M or something in that neighborhood we could hope it might be plowed back into payroll; $1 M might pick up an extra bat or arm for stretch run, if we're still in it by then.

Encourage folks nearby to check out bleacher construction progress this weekend with a week to go before Opening Day, it still looks like a long way to completion.
I think I might miss and bemoan the juniper bushes in CF supplanted by the glass/batter's eye/restaurant for high rollers more than anything.

Good points as well. Thinking about it, I'd be upset if it were the Goose Island Bleachers, although not as upset. In part because Goose Island is a local company with a local face and presence, whereas Bud Light is a faceless corporate international brand. (Read: capitalistic, consumeristic, heartless, and therefore at least partly evil.) So part of it is who they sold the name to, and part of it is that they sold it at all.

I don't get as upset about Wrigley Field being named after the gum company, because the company was named after William Wrigley Jr. Same with Busch - Adolphus Busch married an Anheuser, and there's the company name. That differentiates Wrigley's corporate moniker from U.S. Cellular or PacBell, etc., at least to some extent.

For further reading, a good take on it is at http://www.suntimes.com/output/couch/cst-spt-greg31.html, link courtesy KJM

Does anyone think that Anheuser-Busch's sponsorship of the bleachers will actually lead to increased sales of their products? This is what I've never understood about the naming rights phenomenon. I'm a lifelong Tigers fan, and I never once considered doing my banking with Comerica. I'll never understand this.

I don't think their aim with something like that is to increase sales at the street level, ie selling cans of beer to guys like us. I think its value is in schmoozing with other execs, wooing them with an official primo suite that they bought along with the naming rights, and so on. Maybe another suit is impressed, and maybe that leads to millions in mergers and acquisitions and so on, and the naming rights to a stadium catalyzes a conversation with the other suit that wouldn't have happened otherwise. At least, that's how I have it figured.

What upsets me most about this isn't the company or that something at wrigley field was sold. it is WHAT was sold. when people think of wrigley field its the bleachers the ivy and harry caray that come to mind. I'm sure it is only a matter of time before the seventh inning stretch is sponsored by cracker jack. and soon thereafter i will die when i hear

"The ivy on the outfield wall is sponsored today by calamine lotion. Calamine lotion, for the ivy you won't find in the friendly confines."

why don't the call it the matchmaker.com friendly confines.

i guess what i am saying is that i am upset trying to figure out where it is going to stop.

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Sincerely, JCB

I founded Agony & Ivy about five years ago for two reasons. First...


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