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.
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.