Updated: Evanston, Northwestern agree on caveat in Wrigley pact

Patrick Svitek, Reporter

Northwestern has promised Evanston it will keep six football games a year at Ryan Field under a recent agreement to play more at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the University confirmed Saturday.

A day earlier, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl announced there’s a “new twist” in the NU pact with the Chicago Cubs to slate as many as five football games at the Friendly Confines over the next five years.

“If Wrigley is reconstructed and can accommodate a football game, that’s a big if,” Tisdahl said during her State of the City address at the Hotel Hilton Orrington, according to prepared remarks. “Then (University) President (Morton) Schapiro assured me that Evanston will keep six home games a year at Ryan Field. Only when there is a seventh home game will one be played at Wrigley, and it will not be against a marquee team that sells out.”

Schapiro, who attended last year’s State of the City luncheon, was meeting with NU trustees in Chicago during Tisdahl’s speech Friday afternoon.

NU spokesman Al Cubbage said in an email Saturday afternoon that Schapiro said Tisdahl’s account of the promise is accurate.

In an interview with Daily editors last month, Schapiro downplayed the potential impact of the Wrigley games on Evanston businesses, some of which stand to lose gameday customers to Chicago’s North Side. He said the athletic department attracted more season ticketholders when NU played Illinois at Wrigley in 2010, and “everybody was better off” because those same fans also flocked to home games on Central Street.

“People get worried and … you always hear the same stuff,” Schapiro said. “No matter what you do you’re going to hear this.”

At a news conference announcing the NU-Cubs partnership last month, NU athletic director Jim Phillips said his department “has not been bashful” about promoting Wildcat sports outside Evanston. That mindset has irked some business leaders along the Purple Line.

Dick Peach, president of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, said Monday that Evanston businesses are still concerned whether those six games will be the conference match-ups that reliably pack Ryan Field.

“They’re the virtual sellouts,” he said. “We lose those, we take a financial hit.”

It remains unclear if Peach and Tisdahl’s hopes will come true. Phillips said the Wildcats’ opponents at Wrigley “won’t be any school that we’re just going to write in that we play them every year at a place.”

Any football contest at Wrigley would be considered a home game, and NU usually plays six to seven home games a season.

Phillips also noted NU fans would have to bear with all parties involved as the Wrigley deal takes shape. The Cubs’ front office is currently wrangling with Chicago aldermen and City Hall over some regulations it would like to see eased before moving ahead with a $300 million renovation plan.

“When we’re going to start, it will really depend on the Cubs’ schedule, Northwestern’s schedule, and most importantly, the construction schedule,” Phillips said, referring to the proposed Wrigley revamp. “So we don’t have a definite date. It won’t be in ’13. We’ll work closely with the Cubs to find out when that’ll be.”

This post has been updated to reflect additional remarks from Peach.