New safety measures focus of Wrigley talk

January 17th, 2016
The netting behind home plate will be extended to the inside edge of each dugout at Wrigley. (AP)

CHICAGO -- The business operations portion of the Cubs Convention has drawn a concerned crowd over the past few years as the club moved forward with Wrigley Field renovation plans, including the installation of video boards at the historic ballpark.

The 2016 version featured no such angst.

One year after most of the conversation focused on video boards and whether the many offseason construction projects would be complete, Saturday afternoon's session at the Sheraton Grand Hotel focused on fan safety and the promise that Opening Day 2016 won't be nearly as chaotic as 2015.

That's not to say there won't be dust and "Cubstruction" signs throughout Wrigley Field. But unlike last season, the major projects -- including the home clubhouse and left-field terrace -- are on track to be completed.

There still will be construction on the plaza, new office building, hotel and behind-the-scenes updates, but it shouldn't affect the game-day experience for fans.

What will be noticeable are improvements to fan safety. The netting behind home plate will be extended to the inside edge of each dugout, high enough to protect seats that are 70 feet away from the action.

In addition, and in response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the Cubs will install metal detectors at each entrance.

"We take the security issue really seriously. Large venues like Wrigley Field are targets," said president of business operations Crane Kenney, who encouraged fans to plan for longer waits to enter the ballpark.

The Cubs also have asked the city to shut down street traffic on Clark and Addison Streets during games to heighten security. Waveland and Sheffield Avenues already are closed during games.

"Our preference would be, let's control who's driving next to the ballpark," Kenney told reporters after the question-and-answer session. "Because as you know, on Addison you're six feet from the ballpark. We would love to know who's driving what and who's doing what as the game's going on."

Kenney also told reporters the Cubs are "100 percent focused" on creating a Cubs Network once their current TV deals with WGN, Comcast Sports Net and ABC 7 end following the 2019 season.

"As we have conversations, which are ongoing with all sorts of partners, if somebody offers us something dramatically better, we'll of course look at it," said Kenney. "But at the moment, what we control is the idea of launching our own network."

Kenney said the club would begin such a network in 2018 to create a two-year runway. It has not yet been decided if the Cubs would build studio space by Wrigley Field or share it elsewhere, but there is a showcase studio planned in the new office building that the Cubs' current TV and radio partners will use once completed.

Other notable issues discussed:

• Kenney said the club decided to do away with 3:05 p.m. CT Friday games this season after talking with manager Joe Maddon, who wanted more consistency in game times for players.

"Our No. 1 goal is to win games, and when Joe said, in his view, consistency of schedule would help us win games, it became easy," Kenney said. "Not easy to tell our fans we're not giving you what you want, but what they ultimately want is winning. It's a tradeoff."

• Fans who previously purchased bricks as part of the Cubs' paver program needn't worry about their investment. Carl Rice, vice president of Wrigley Field restoration and expansion, said the club has purchased new personalized bricks, which will be located outside the bleacher walls. The bricks already are installed and will be unveiled on Opening Day.

• With recent progress by MLB and its cable partners, Kenney said he's "finally pretty confident we're going to have [in-market] streaming in 2016."

• After a fan praised the Cubs for their video board content and asked if they intended to add a "Kiss Cam" or similar entertainment, senior director of marketing Alison Miller responded, to loud applause: "We do not have any plans in the near future to add any of that. ... Over 80 percent of you said you liked it, so you'll see more of the same."