Chicago Cubs fans are still riding the high from Wednesday night’s World Series victory.
Longtime fans might wonder, though, whether something was lost with that long-awaited win.
On my first trip to Wrigley Field, at 5 years old, we sat in the bleachers and watched Doc Gooden and the Mets smoke the Cubs. The Cubbies lost big time; I was addicted.
Decades of Cubs futility later, I would spend eight gloriously drunken years living within a heaved baseball’s distance from the park. I met my wife in Wrigleyville and, as an editor and sports blogger, watched firsthand the happiness and heartbreak the team could inspire.
There are many other fans’ poignant stories. They include the guy who listened to Game 7 on the radio from his father’s grave, fulfilling a promise; countless tributes to family members who lived amazing lives without ever witnessing what happened Wednesday; and Harry Caray, the iconic voice of the Cubs.
Baseball’s magic makes you believe in the afterlife, because it’s impossible to consider that all this happened without Harry watching.
The glory of this week can’t be overstated, but what will become of this beloved franchise now that it’s tasted victory?
A soft spot for the underdogs
A full quarter of Cubs fans in a Yahoo Sports/YouGov poll said that they’d actually miss rooting for lovable losers—the team’s identity for roughly the past 108 years (give or take a few division titles along the way).
In that same poll, 86 percent of Cubs fans said they found camaraderie in constantly losing. This means a hefty chunk of Cubs fans would have been bummed had they lost Wednesday (or Sunday or Tuesday) but would have been OK if the Billy Goat Curse had continued.
It’s not just commiseration with other Cubs fans. I’ve spoken to sports fans around the world, and when I would describe the Cubs’ woes, they invariably would have a comparable team in the sport they follow. The sentiment: “They break our hearts every time, but I love them.”
I know many diehard Cubs fans. I wonder how they will respond to being winners now. How will the Cubs brand evolve? The nostalgia of the team’s history translates to dollars in the form of jersey, ticket, memorabilia, concessions and you-name-it sales.
At today’s parade and rally to celebrate the World Series victory, there will be no shortage of Cubs caps and jerseys. Newly minted “World Series champions” regalia will abound, as well. Longtime fans will mingle with recent converts; the bandwagon is large and lucrative.
Making the transition
The Cubs’ president, Theo Epstein, previously orchestrated the reverse of another franchise’s curse. As general manager in Boston, he built the Red Sox into champions and perennial contenders.
From afar, it appears Beantown’s fan base has grown accustomed to winning. They’re now more like the Yankees, whose fans expect excellence every season, so the franchise—with its big-business approach—will churn through players, managers and front office personnel to achieve it.
By contrast, the Cubs have always felt like a mom-and-pop shop—even when Tribune Co. owned the team.
Once the expectation of winning sets in, it changes a sports brand; we can see this, too, in the business world with startup culture.
It starts with a dream to make something that will improve peoples’ lives. In the Cubs’ case, it’s to make people happy. Once a level of success is attained in business, things become commoditized in a way that pulls the brand farther and farther away from its mission.
Look at the major social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat, Tumblr and more have detoured away from what made us love them in the first place.
I hope that doesn’t happen with the Cubs. I want them to play baseball at Clark and Addison forever—and, hopefully, to keep winning.
The Cubs have the right pieces in place to assure they’ll stay competitive for the foreseeable future. Las Vegas has even picked them to repeat as World Series champs in 2017.
As for the team’s brand identity, maybe it’s best if Cubs fans savor the win a while longer and forget that we entertained being OK with losing.
What do you think, Ragan readers? Do you think the long-awaited victory will alter the team’s brand identity? If so, for better or worse?