The NUmbers Guy: Northwestern Has Finally Become “Chicago’s Big Ten Team”
Former WNUR Sports Director Jim Sannes (@JimSannes) explains why Saturday’s Northwestern baseball game at Wrigley Field has cemented the university’s status as “Chicago’s Big Ten Team.”
This Sunday, I was lucky enough to attend my first ever game at U.S. Cellular Field. A couple of things there surprised me: my Minnesota Twins won and are now 8-7 on the year (suck it, Trebek), and Northwestern dominated in the college apparel department.
Everywhere I looked, I saw purple. Based on my unofficial count, there were more people in Northwestern garb than Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan and even Notre Dame. This scene is far different from how it would have looked just a few years ago.
When the Northwestern baseball team played the Michigan Wolverines on Saturday, it was the beginning of a new era. It signaled the transformation of “Chicago’s Big Ten Team” from being a slogan to being a reality.
The results have been evident since the announcement of the marketing campaign in the fall of 2011. Ticket sales have been up across the board, as have corporate sponsorships, according to ChicagoBusiness.com.
However, until recently, those results hadn’t been obvious by just walking through the streets. That is starting to happen. And Saturday’s game will only further that progress.
It was the perfect scenario for the Wildcats. Luke Farrell, the son of the manager of the Boston Rex Sox, John Farrell, was on the mound. He took a no-hitter into the fifth. His curveball was devastating. Farrell went nine innings, allowing only three hits and zero walks while striking out nine batters. Jim Phillips could not have written a better script.
The team’s two superstars, Kyle Ruchim and Zach Morton, flashed play that drew the attention of the fans. Several fans sitting near me behind home plate said, “Wow,” when they saw Ruchim’s .418 batting average. He followed through by recording six put-outs in center field and scoring the game’s first run on a Morton double. Morton finished 3-4 with a pair of doubles and two RBI’s – the offensive star of the game.
When you can put on a display similar to the one Northwestern exhibited Saturday, the net gain is grotesquely positive. The exposure for the baseball team is one thing. The exposure for the entire athletic program is a whole new ball game.
It starts with the fans at the game – who doesn’t want to pay $7 to see a game at Wrigley? Not everyone in attendance was a Northwestern fan. Many there just wanted to watch a ballgame. Farrell’s performance certainly had to impress them.
Then you add in the youth baseball and softball teams that made the trip. Watching a local, prominent university dominate their opponent at one of baseball’s most historic venues will certainly leave an impression on a large group of teenagers. Next time they go buy a hat, you have to assume the ‘Cats will be in mind.
Finally, there’s the Northwestern fans. One of the biggest knocks on Northwestern is their lack of fan commitment, and it’s blatantly true. A showcase of Northwestern’s talent against one of the top teams in the Big Ten will go a long way. The increased success of the football team has translated into drastically higher ticket sales – the attendance at Northwestern baseball games has nowhere to go but up.
In the end, it was only one game for the Wildcats’ baseball team. The implications of that game, though, will be far-reaching. As the ‘Cats bring more sports and more talent into The Friendly Confines, this exposure will only increase exponentially. Northwestern used the phrase “Paint Jacksonville Purple” prior to the Gator Bowl this year. It looks as though they’ve finally accomplished that feat close to home and cemented themselves as truly being Chicago’s Big Ten Team.