Still recovering from turkey poisoning here. Cubs news has been relatively scarce since the 40-man roster was set before the holiday. Next deadline is in a week when contracts have to be tendered. That should be exciting and/or frustrating, especially for all the Cubs fans who think Ian Stewart is the devil. It got cold today (28 degrees F!) and I thought about busting out the old ice skates and going a few rounds at the local rink. Which brings us to the rink at Wrigley Field…
Carrie Muskat says that the rink opening was delayed because of the unseasonably warm temperatures. I don’t think I’d skate there anyway, because it doesn’t seem worth it. For one thing, it’s in the parking lot next to the stadium. It’s nice to skate in sight of the iconic scoreboard, but somehow it just seems kind of lame to not actually be inside the park. If you’re paying $10 a head to skate (which seems a bit higher than what you would pay at an indoor rink), it seems you would want to skate in a venue nicer than a parking lot, even with the nice view.
For another…look at the presentation. There’s exposed tubing and other stuff along the ground, which I assume are the conduits to send coolant to the ice surface to maintain the ice. The walls of the rink look like they took the sides of a Costco bulk set of Rubbermaid bins and just duct taped them all together. Considering that the rink cost the Cubs and other investors about $300K to build, it seems like they didn’t get the best return on investment. I’m not an engineer or building planner, but I think if someone gave me $300K I could build a much cooler backyard rink than that.
So this got me thinking about the 2009 NHL Winter Classic, which predated the sale of the Cubs to the Ricketts family. Actually, it was something else that got me thinking about the rink and the Winter Classic, because the NHL is stupid and doesn’t want to make money. But I digress.
The NHL and the Cubs were able to fit a hockey rink inside Wrigley Field (easily, because a hockey rink is smaller than a football field). The hometown Blackhawks didn’t win, but it was still an enjoyable game and experience for all. Attendance and TV ratings for the game were pretty good. I couldn’t find out exactly how much the construction of the rink cost, but if it’s anything like previous Winter Classics, it probably cost more than $1 million and maybe more depending on whether they needed to pipe in coolant to keep the ice frozen during warm periods (this was a source but their source link is broken). But at that price the rink sure looked nice and was definitely playable.
Why not just keep the rink before and after the Winter Classic? Well, for one (if the NHL weren’t in the middle of a lockout), the Winter Classic rotates between teams and you can conceivably only have one per season or else it’s no longer “classic” because it loses novelty. Another issue is field condition. During the winter I’m sure the field suffers due to the cold weather, snow and ice conditions etc. I couldn’t find out right away how the Wrigley Field grounds crew maintains the field, but at Target Field (home of the Twins, and usually much colder and harsher than in Chicago), they protect the field with heated blankets until the heavy snow season is over. I’m not sure how the grass manages to stay so green after so many weeks of not seeing sunlight, but I guess it works. But the bigger issue is how the weight of a well-maintained rink would affect the underlying grass during the winter. I’d like to find out whether the groundskeeper just says “screw it” and lets the grass die during the cold months, and then re-sods the whole field when the weather gets warmer, as that may make the issue irrelevant. However, during the past season, there were various concerts held at Wrigley Field during Cubs road trips and the field conditions went to hell by the time the Cubs came home.
I guess it boils down to whether it makes sense to invest that much money in a nice rink (somewhere between the $300K for the ghetto parking lot rink and the $1MM+ for the nice NHL-style rink). At $10 a pop for adults, you need about 30000 patrons to just break even each season. You would need more patrons and possibly need to charge more in order to justify a rink inside Wrigley. I’m sure the smart business folks working for the Ricketts family have figured out the numbers already, and honestly it’d be really difficult to justify opening up Wrigley Field to winter skating, especially with the manpower needed for security and guest relations. But I also can imagine the revenue generated by increasing the entry fee for the chance to skate inside one of the historic ballparks in MLB, with the option to lounge in the seats in between sessions and to feast on hot dogs and hot chocolate.
I think I wouldn’t do this just for the hell of it every winter. But if Chicago ever got a chance to host the Winter Classic again at Wrigley Field, I’d consider building the rink a bit earlier and getting more use out of it than just a one-and-done.