“Cubs fans have grown accustomed to enjoying a refreshing Old Style while catching Cubs baseball at Wrigley Field. I’m excited as a fan of both organizations that the Old Style tradition at Wrigley Field will continue.”
You might be surprised to learn the source of the above quote. It is none other than Cubs owner and board member Todd Ricketts. Yep, he of the family ownership that this year officially ended the Cubs’ 63-year sponsorship history with Old Style.
I didn’t just dream this or make it up. Ricketts made the comment in September 2011, when his family made the decision to keep the “Old Style tradition at Wrigley Field.” It’s right here, in this press release dated September 7, 2011, on the Cubs’ own website, in an article with the headline “Chicago Cubs and Old Style continue to play ball.”
Two years later, the Cubs owner is drinking from a different cup. As has been widely publicized, the Ricketts family, under terms of a new exclusive sponsorship deal with Anheuser-Busch, has booted Old Style out of the Friendly Confines. So much for tradition.
If only I had known that that last sip of Old Style might be the last one I would take at Wrigley Field, I would have savored it a bit more and maybe swirled it around a bit and then spit it in the face of Todd Ricketts. The same way he spat out tradition in the face of all Cubs fans and Old Style fans.
The partnership between Old Style and the Cubs, which dates back to 1950, was previously described as one of the longest in professional sports. Does this new agreement mean that Old Style won’t be in the Cubs’ beer lineup for next season? Not necessarily. Pouring rights are separate from marketing rights and the Cubs’ concession management partner, Levy Restaurants, decides what beers to carry, including Old Style. The Cubs haven’t said Old Style won’t be served in the ballpark in 2014 but they haven’t said it will be, instead issuing a cryptic statement that they will have “a diverse beer portfolio that complements Cubs Baseball.”
What is certain is that the Old Style signs in the ballpark are out and more Budweiser signs are in. Not only will we be sitting in the Bud Light bleachers, we’ll be staring at a new Budweiser logo in right field as early as 2014.
Don’t be fooled: The sponsorship agreement is a jumbo-sized sign that the Cubs’ ownership first priority is money. Is it the only priority? Hopefully money equates eventually to winning, and we as Cubs fans will surely forget if two or three years from now the additional revenues turn the Cubs into something that they haven’t been since the early 1900s: a winning machine. But when Todd Ricketts makes a statement in 2011 about the importance of tradition and then sells tradition out two years later, it makes him not only appear to be disloyal but also dishonest.
There’s also a part of me that feels just a little bit dirty about this deal. Ultimately, we’re being asked to support a corporation, Annheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewer, which is trying to stamp out its competition in a city where it has yet to gain a strong hold. To make it all the more unsettling, it is a corporation that is closely aligned with the Cubs’ greatest nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals. Not only is A-B the former owner of the Cardinals, has a large presence in St. Louis (EDIT: changed to large presence rather than headquarters) and it continues to have the Busch name stamped on the baseball stadium. So aren’t we, as Cubs fans, in essence, only aiding and abetting the enemy?
Old Style, in contrast, is brewed by Pabst Brewing Company, which was headquartered (EDIT: previously stated that is was headquartered rather than was headquartered) in Woodridge, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. It’s a beer that has long and close ties with Chicago and with the Cubs. Even when it was brewed in Milwaukee, Old Style was a Chicago beer. It’s the beer I drank at the Cicero Avenue drive-in theaters in 1979. It’s the beer whose collectible Cubs cans are stowed away in a box in my garage.
The Ricketts family keeps crying about needing money, to rehab the stadium and to rebuild the team. This is the family of Joe Rickets, which, according to Forbes magazine, ranked #371 of the 400 wealthiest Americans, with a net worth of $1 billion. Obviously, it costs a lot of money to revamp an outdated stadium and to turn around a baseball team that hasn’t won a championship in 105 years. But these are folks that already have a lot of money. And the Cubs and Wrigley Field aren’t exactly cash drains. As bad as the Cubs have been, they are the fourth most valuable franchise in the major leagues at $1 billion – ranked only behind the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Boston Red Sox, according to Forbes. The magazine also estimates that the Cubs had an operating income of $32.1 million last year, making them the most profitable team in baseball.
So I don’t think we’ll see any of the Ricketts clan pan handling on State Street any day soon. I’m willing to sacrifice a new TV deal, even if it means dumping WGN, if all that money is reinvested into the team. But I am not willing to support every money-making scheme they concoct, just because they claim they need it to make this team and this stadium that they bought better. I’m certainly not willing to completely sell out tradition, as this ownership seems so willing to do. While there are few things I want more than a Cubs World Series, I also want those that have been a part of the Cubs for as long as I have been a fan to be there when it happens. When the Cubs win that World Series, I want to be toasting them with my cup of Old Style. Therefore, I am urging all fans of Chicago, the Cubs, and Old Style, to sign the petition launched by the Pabst Brewing Company to keep Old Style in Wrigley. In the three months since the petition went online, it has garnered barely over 8,600 signatures, which is about the actual attendance you see at Cubs games in Wrigley Field in late September. Cubs’ fans, this crud’s not for you. We can and should do better. For the sake of that tradition that Todd Ricketts spoke of in 2011, cast your vote to keep Old Style in Wrigley.
Randy Richardson is the author of the novel CHEESELAND and the upcoming revised edition of the Wrigleyville murder mystery, LOST IN THE IVY.