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The Role of Heritage for the Chicago Cubs

November 1, 2016 • Jason Dressel

This is a photograph of the Chicago Cubs' W flag waving proudly in front of the Wrigley Building.
The W flag waves proudly in front of the Wrigley Building.

The 2016 World Series was an exceptionally historic one, featuring two teams who had failed to win a championship in a combined 176 seasons. Predictably, news coverage after the Cubs and Indians won the National and American League pennants featured ironic historical narratives to fully contextualize just how long fans in Chicago and Cleveland have suffered. Yep, it’s been a long and bleak history for the Cubs and Indians.

The Cubs franchise has actually used its history and heritage effectively to sustain interest and loyalty during its 108-year drought — and 71-year absence from even winning a pennant. We often point to sports franchises as effective heritage management case studies, and in our 2014 white paper we pointed to the Cubs as an especially unique case. Heritage management is part of a winner’s playbook, but the Cubs have defied this logic. You can’t miss the energy in the Windy City — or the W flags that are literally everywhere.

This is a photograph of the Chicago Cubs' W flags lining the iconic Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue in Chicago.
W flags line the iconic Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue.

The W flags first flew in Wrigley Field in the late 1930s as a way of letting passers-by know the outcome of the game. Today, those flags are an icon of Cubs heritage in addition to Wrigley Field’s iconic ivy wall and manual scoreboard. Other rituals and traditions such as P. K. Wrigley’s refusal to install lights, throwing opponents’ home-run balls back onto the field, and having guests lead the crowd in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” helped the Cubs cultivate a heritage and culture that managed to make losing tolerable.

Congratulations to the Cubs on becoming World Champions after 108 years and bringing winning back to its culture. It’s time for us to update that white paper. 

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