This weekend, we discussed the (le sigh) reemergence of calls to move the Chicago Cubs from Wrigley Field. This time around, having already received the approvals needed from the City, the Cubs would be moving because the owners of the rooftop buildings that outline the outfield at Wrigley are arguably standing in the way of a major, and necessary, renovation of the ballpark. Forgetting for a moment that the rooftop contract ends in nine years (at which time the Cubs can presumably block the rooftops to their heart’s content, making the rooftops businesses something of a depreciating asset with a finite life (i.e., they’ll want to sell at some point)), and forgetting the inherent value of Wrigley/Wrigleyville as it relates to getting casual fans to come out to games.
I’d like to point out one very simple issue with moving the Cubs to the suburbs, which is probably among the primary reasons teams simply do not move away from downtown areas anymore*.
*(The lone exception in recent memory is the upcoming Atlanta Braves move, which has a great deal to do with the unique character of Atlanta, as a city, and the location of Turner Field, specifically.)
That issue? When your product requires the physical presence of customers, it’s nice to be as close to the largest customer pool as possible. That is particularly true when you’re trying to attract marginal customers (in the Cubs’ instance, we’d call them the casual fans or corporate groups).
Using this census tool, I’d like to offer some population numbers for you to consider:
- Population near Rosemont, within a 3-mile radius: 100,756
- 5-mile radius: 366,340
- 10-mile radius: 1,900,062
Because of an earlier offer of land (next to O’Hare International Airport), Rosemont is among the most frequently mentioned suburban options for a Cubs move. As you can see, you don’t capture much of the population until you move into the 10-mile radius, which means, realistically, driving or taking the Blue Line will be the primary methods of reaching the ballpark for a large portion of the fans. Traffic in the area is already horrible from, say, 4pm to 7pm, as folks head home from work downtown. Care to guess how that traffic would look if you tossed on another 30 to 40,000 people going in the same direction at the same time?
- Population near Arlington Heights, within a 3-mile radius: 123,877
- 5-mile radius: 321,969
- 10-mile radius: 912,772
In Arlington Heights, a northern suburb also mentioned from time to time, you capture more of the suburban population, to be sure. But without having a large chunk of your potential market within 10 miles, you’re asking the majority of your patrons to come from significant distances (fighting traffic) on a daily basis.
- Population near Wrigley Field, within a 1-mile radius: 87,965
- 3-mile radius: 417,818
- 5-mile radius: 993,657
- 10-mile radius: 2,290,310
There are nearly as many possible customers within a one-mile radius of Wrigley Field as there would be within three miles in the other locations. At three miles, the current Wrigley location nearly quadruples the other locations. At these distances, and arguably at five miles, as well, the realistic options for getting folks to the ballpark are numerous. Even at 10 miles, because of Wrigley’s proximity to downtown, there are more – both in variety and volume – transit options than in a suburban location, meaning that the possibility of actually engaging a meaningful portion of that population base is greater. (And we haven’t even mentioned the suburban commuters who come to work in the City.)
Is the density of Cubs fans in the suburbs greater than the urban areas? Maybe. Hell, I’ll even give you probably. But for the math on a move to work, we’d have to be talking about the average suburbanite being 5 to 10 times more likely to be a Cubs customer than, for example, someone who lives in Lakeview (the area surrounding Wrigleyville). Is that realistic? I have no data to answer one way or the other, but it seems like a stretch.
This isn’t earth-shattering stuff, and it isn’t designed to be the be-all-end-all of the “move” conversation. But this is another layer for folks to consider, which doesn’t even rely on the “special” experience of Wrigley and Wrigleyville. It’s just a plain old distance and customers thing.