- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The Chicago Cubs achieved step one in the quest to have fans back in Wrigley Field.
Now their focus shifts to safely implementing the details they presented to the city. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Monday the Cubs and White Sox can have a 20% capacity at their respective stadiums.
For the Cubs, that equates to 8,274 fans per home game. President of Baseball Operations Crane Kenney told the Tribune on Tuesday that the team asked for a higher capacity, but the city and state wanted to take a “walk before you run” approach, which Kenney said the Cubs are “completely in agreement with.”
“We know that if there’s any sort of transmission tracked back to a baseball game, we’re going to be closed again and we’re not gonna have any fans,” Kenney said. “So safety was absolutely first in everyone’s mind. The 20% seems like a good starting point for all of us. We do hope to graduate up beyond 20%.”
20% capacity is roughly the break-even point for the team, Kenney said, when accounting for the cost to operate Wrigley and be fully staffed.
Successfully navigating the first homestand is a key to reaching a higher stadium capacity. After opening the 2021 season with six home games, the Cubs embark on a six-game road trip before returning to Wrigley on April 16. That two-week window should reveal whether there have been any incidents of transmission. The hope is should they get through without any COVID-19 issues being traced back to the first week of Cubs games that conversations on increasing stadium capacity could follow. The increase in people becoming vaccinated, which is expected to continue in the coming weeks, can help lead to more fans in ballparks too.
“Between now and opening day, you’re looking at another 16 million Americans who are going to get a vaccine and between the first homestand on the second homestand, you’ll have several million more people in this country vaccinated,” said Dr. Robert Citronberg, a medical advisor from Advocate Healthcare the Cubs have worked with during the process.
“We won’t relax any of our safety measures. But what it does is provides an extra layer of protection that then allows you to gradually increase the capacity because it becomes a safer environment.”
The team is confident fans can safely be welcomed back into the ballpark. The Cubs highlighted the Super Bowl (with 33% capacity) and the World Series (30% capacity) as examples of leagues hosting outdoor events without COVID-19 spread. They also believe the protocols followed during the 2020 season and how they implemented safety measures provide a track record for success.
One of the biggest challenges that awaits: mask-wearing enforcement in the stands. Fans are allowed to remove their masks if actively eating or drinking. Otherwise, masks are to worn at all times; gaiters and masks with exhalation values are not allowed.
David Cromwell, the Cubs senior vice president of operations, expects it to be a combined effort in enforcing the mask protocols, including training the Wrigley staff to be vigilant that fans are appropriately masked in the stands and when walking around the concourse. Raising awareness is part of the plan too, both pre-visit on the Cubs website and via signs around the ballpark.
If there is a mask-wearing issue, Cromwell said fans will be approached and asked to put on their mask for their own — and others’ — safety.
“If there’s someone who’s just unwilling — and you see this on airplanes where they don’t have their mask on and the flight attendant comes by and says you need to put your mask on — but at some point, if someone’s just unwilling to comply, they’re asked to leave,” Kenney said. “So we’re going to take it seriously. But again I think people will be given a chance to comply before they’re expelled or something like that.”
Gates will open 90 minutes before first pitch, but tickets will have assigned entry times and gate locations to mitigate foot traffic and maintain adequate spacing in and around the ballpark. There also are going to be 20 designated zones within Wrigley, which will have their own concession stands and bathrooms. Despite not being at full capacity, all concession stands and bathrooms will be open to ensure social distancing throughout the ballpark.
The remote parking lot at DeVry University will not be available to start the season as a safety measure but could return at some point during the season.
Colin Faulkner, the Cubs executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the “majority” of available tickets will go to season ticket holders. Faulkner estimated the Cubs’ season-ticket base at well over 20,000.
“Over half of our fans have left their full money on account with us for over a year,” Faulkner told the Tribune. “So our season ticket holders will be who we prioritize in our access to tickets, so we’ll go to season ticket holders first. But it’s also important for us to have general fans to be able to access too so we will still hold back tickets for the general public through this presale drawing that we’re doing.
“Even with the tickets that we have, we won’t be able to take care of all the fans who have left money with us, so it’s a big number.”
The Wrigley Field Presale Access Program is expected to launch Tuesday afternoon. If there are tickets remaining after the presale drawing they will go on sale to the public.
Sign up for our Cubs alerts on your phone, desktop and inbox to stay current with the latest news
Sign up for our sports newsletter, delivered daily each morning