A Marketing Story 116 Years in the Making

| Reputation Management

This November morning, 2016, Chicago wakes-up with a hangover they are infinity joyful to have.

The story came full-circle.  The curse is broken.

cubs marketingIn 1945, a goat got kicked-out of the World Series.  William Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, bought his pet goat Murphy a ticket to bring him in for good luck.  The goat was not permitted, and Sianis protested all the way to Cubs owner, P.K. Wrigley, who stood by excluding the goat “Because the goat stinks.”

“Them Cubs, they ain’t gonna win no more” the insulted Sianis declared.

And they did not.  They lost that series and continued to lose –  in a streak filled with mistakes and mishaps that re-enforced the curse legend – for a total of 116 years:

Watching Cubs fans cringe became part of baseball lore (one of their own fans even contributed to a loss by interfering with a play, which was the moment the curse was most certain).  But through all their curses, freak plays, and losing, something else happened.

They became one of the most beloved teams in sports.

The Power of the Story

The curse of the goat and the uncanny history of losing in big moments came to define the Chicago Cubs.  In a sporting culture that worships winning, you’d think their futility would have made them the most unpopular team in the league.

But in fact, the opposite happened.  The curse of the goat and the heart-wringing pain of the fans became an endearing story.  Perhaps most important was the loyalty of Cubs fans though all those losing years.  Instead of giving-up on the team, the Cubs actually became more popular.  Each year they came close, the drama of seeing the long curse finally lifted built intrigue and tension into every game.  The Cubs’ reputation as a lovable loser became a marketing story better than anything an agency could have invented.

Last night came the final act.  As it had to be, the Cubs got ahead, seem to have their plan in place, then nearly blew it.  You could almost see the shadow of  Murphy looming behind manager Joe Madden as his ace reliever – which Madden had arguable overworked in prior games – fell apart and gave up a big lead in the bottom of the 8th.  It took 10 innings – and a rain delay that will also become part of Cubs’ lore – for them to finally pull it out.

Taken by itself, last night’s game was fun to watch with some exciting plays.  But the century-long story of the Cubs (going up against a Cleveland Indians franchise also stuck in championship drought since 1945) created a drama that will never again be matched, at least not in any of our lifetimes.

That’s the power of a story.  It’s a power more businesses are tapping into with the publishing tools available to them online.  If you do it right, a product in plain brown box becomes magical.  That wisp of magic is what gets the attention of the modern consumer.

Quite a party last night in Chicago.  I’m sure somebody bought a goat a drink.  No hard feelings.

Cubs win!  Cubs win! Cubs win!