Northwestern, Cubs hit home run with deal

Two historic institutions—the Chicago Cubs and Northwestern University—are each in the midst of a critical business venture. In an effort to improve each brand, a group of close friends gathered together and ironed out a mutually beneficial deal that can simply be called a home run.

Over the course of several winter days, a group of friends gathered together and worked toward a deal. There were plenty of laughs, lunches, and eventually an agreement. No lawyers were needed for Northwestern and the Chicago Cubs to form a beneficial business partnership.

"It was really based on friendships," said Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney. There are a lot of ways [NU and the Cubs] can help each other. Mostly, this was done with a handshake and a thank you."

It marked a milestone when executives from Northwestern and the Cubs gathered at Wrigley Field on Tuesday to announce their newly-formed five-year partnership.

Standing at a podium before the assembled media, Kenney and Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, two longtime friends, alternated at the microphone to explain their business relationship. Behind them, a large banner stood with the two logos—the iconic Cubs emblem and purple ‘N' logo.

It's a new day for the business efforts of both Northwestern and the Cubs. Both are involved with critical ventures to enhance their respective brands.

From the perspective of ‘Chicago's Big Ten Team,' the boundless marketing efforts have enriched its name. Ticket sales continue to rise and the product of NU athletics is in high demand. Their efforts are persistent.

"We have to do innovative things," Phillips said. "We have to do creative things."

So Phillips reached out to his close friends, Kenney and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts.

The Cubs are struggling to fill the seats in Wrigley Field as they once did. The team is in a rebuilding phase while ownership must work to preserve their 99-year-old ballpark, all while creating methods to draw new fans.

One of Wrigley's greatest days came in November of 2010, when it hosted a football game between rivals Northwestern and Illinois. The festivities started with a nationally-broadcasted pregame show outside of the ballpark's main entrance. On Sheffield Ave., Northwestern held its Wildcat Way street party, which brought fans together for various activities.

The Cubs ownership continues to fight with local government for the right to host close-off street festivals, similar to the Wildcat Way event.

"I hope that gives you some ammunition moving forward," Phillips joked to Ricketts.

Inside the landmark ballpark—decked out in purple—the game was a tremendous success. The seating bowl was packed to capacity and the national spotlight was centered on Chicago's north side. It was all about Northwestern and the Cubs (and Mikel Leshoure, too).

But it wasn't just Northwestern alums filling Wrigley Field. There were alums of Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin, seeking a new football experience.

"We want to bring interesting and meaningful opportunities for fans—fans all over the Big Ten," said Phillips.

Nobody can attest to that like Tom Ricketts. A native of Omaha, Neb., he grew up on Nebraska football before moving to Chicago in 1983. He has since adopted Northwestern as another favorite team, frequently attending games in Evanston. That is precisely what Phillips and Northwestern's marketing minds hope their local advertising campaign can accomplish.

"It's just a great organization to be associated with," Ricketts said of Northwestern.

There's more to the deal than just Northwestern football, baseball, and lacrosse being held at Wrigley Field. The deal's primary purpose is to promote both brands at their uniquely different venues, located just nine miles apart.

The Cubs will have their widely-recognized logo seen all over Northwestern's Evanston campus, where the university's heavy out-of-state population can be exposed to the events at a historic.

"The geographic proximity is the key," said Ricketts. "You can hop on that [CTA] train right outside the field and end up on campus. I think it works great. I think it also works in that Northwestern has made such a great marketing campaign and really grown their fan base."

And that's why the cross-promotion is mutually beneficial. Northwestern's brand will be coated throughout the beautiful ballpark, being seen by the three million fans that pass through its gates each season.

"It shows the partnership," NU head football coach Pat Fitzgerald explained, "and our motto of being Chicago's Big Ten."

The celebration on Tuesday marked a momentous occasion and historic relationship offering such great benefit. It's a perfect partnership formed by great friends.

"For the proximity," Phillips said, "and for what this is—the Cubs brand, the Northwestern brand, for what the Wrigley Field brand is and this facility—it may be the very best moment we've had."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers for Big Red Report, and currently covers the Northwestern Wildcats. He resides on Chicago's north side.
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