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LIGHTS, CAMERA ... MONEY? WRIGLEY'S NIGHT GAME HURDLES

8/6/2008
Is this the line for Kristofferson tickets? Getty Images

Check out our first night game at Wrigley Field package all week.

In 2008, with a team in first place, the issue of selling tickets at Wrigley Field for day games versus selling them for night baseball is moot. They're all going to be sold, either way.

So why are the Cubbies still the only team playing more than half of its home games under the sun?

"Initially, it was really just a good neighbor issue," said Dr. Allen Sanderson, of the University of Chicago, and one of the foremost sports economists in the country. "Of course, you need to remember that in the first place, they had to play day games at Wrigley in April and May or everyone will freeze. They still do, sometimes."

To play under the lights, the Cubs had to overcome a variety of financial, political and even baseball issues.

Politically, the team had to battle the very neighborhood that makes the park such a treasure. Many cities use stadium-financing (or holding local citizens hostage, depending on your point of view) as a part of "neighborhood rehabilitation." With Wrigleyville, that's not the case.

"The area around the park has continued to gain in wealth and affluence," says Sanderson. "So it's not like one of these situations where you can say, 'We need the added certainty of revenue from night games, because it brings good will to the neighborhood."

The team is now allowed 30 per season.

Then there is the TV aspect. For years, the Cubs were primarily televised on WGN, the superstation based in Chicago. Night games would interrupt their money-making 9 PM newscast. "That was a really lucrative thing for WGN," said Sanderson. Now, with TV rights spread among WGN, Comcast plus regular appearances on ESPN (at night) it's less of an issue.

And then there's the baseball element.

In 1984, when the Cubs played the Padres for the NL pennant (losing in five) it became a big issue. Anderson recalled that then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn said that in the event of the Cubs reaching the World Series, they would actually have to give up home field advantage because of the time situation (the Commish wanted night games for a national TV audience). The next year, new commissioner Peter Ueberroth said that if the Cubs made the post-season, they would have to play in another park altogether.

The Cubs obliged, and didn't make the post-season until the lights had been installed.

And while playing under the lights pays off for the Cubs—the night game schedule at Wrigley is often sold out months in advance for the better part of a decade, according to the team—it's not all about money.

"To the extent that people ask me, 'Tell me how a ballpark creates economic growth for the for the area,' I usually say that's nonsense anyway. But it's definitely so with Wrigley," said Sanderson.

"It's really a reverse. The neighborhood and the income level therein has just grown enormously, and the Cubs have been a prime beneficiary."

Now if the Cubs would only chip in for grief counseling.