- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - It’s enough to make a Cubs fan shout “Holy cow!” _ seats that cost up to $175 per game and aren’t even inside the ballpark.

Of course, they’re not just any seats. They’re on a rooftop, across the street from Wrigley Field, and they include food and drinks.

The recession has forced companies to scale back-back-back on corporate outings and entertainment, so the owners of one rooftop are getting creative _ packaging them as season ticket deals to individuals, rather than corporations.

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Skybox on Sheffield last week began offering 12- and 18-game packages. The packages, which range from $1,740 per person up to $3,150, include admission to the rooftop overlooking right field, plus hot dogs, beer and fancier fare.

The Cubs haven’t won a World Series in 101 years. Yet their “Lovable Losers” persona has made them one of the most popular teams in all of sports, and Wrigley Field is a large part of it.

Built in 1914, Wrigley is the second-oldest ballpark in the majors, two years younger than Fenway Park in Boston. Tucked in the middle of a residential neighborhood, ivy covers the brick outfield walls, and the massive scoreboard is still changed by hand.

The rooftop phenomenon started a few decades ago, when neighborhood residents would invite friends to watch Cubs games on the roofs of the brownstones and apartment buildings.

The small parties gave way to corporate bigwigs paying up to $200 per person for a chance to see the game without buying a ticket to Wrigley. Bleachers _ two and three decks of them _ replaced lawn chairs.

The Cubs became a partner, getting 17 percent of the gross revenues.

“There’s usually more of a camaraderie, party atmosphere on the rooftops than in the ballpark,” said Terie Kata of the Wrigley Rooftop Association, a group of 12 rooftop owners.

Skybox, just to the centerfield side of the first base foul pole, offers a clear view of home plate and obstructed views to deep right and the deepest part of center.

There are two outdoor levels with a set of bathrooms on each; a beer garden; two bars; a grilling area; and a state-of-the-art sound system. The third floor has an 1,800-square-foot “clubhouse” with pool table, game room and another bar.

“It’s like an extension of the bleachers, since we’re pretty much right on top of the field,” said Rich Zasiebida, one of Skybox’s managing partners.

The homes behind Wrigley also are getting high tech, with plasma TVs and indoor space with Internet access _ even fax machines for those playing hooky from work.

Most of the rooftop business comes from corporate entertaining; Zasiebida said Skybox was used for company outings for as much as 75 percent of last season. But corporate bookings for the 2009 season are down about 10 percent, and he said the group thinks the season ticket packages will help fill the gap.

Skybox offers three packages for both the 12- and 18-game plans, all of which include tickets for opening day. The platinum package, the priciest at $175 per game per person, allows the holder to pick any game on the Cubs schedule, while the others block out the popular crosstown series with the Chicago White Sox and the July series with the rival St. Louis Cardinals. Season ticket owners also get priority for non-baseball events at Wrigley, such as concerts.

While this sounds extravagant, consider that lower-deck seats in Wrigley range from $70 to $350 for the best games. And that’s before peanuts and Cracker Jack.

“When you think about it, if I’m bringing clients there, it’s $30 to $50 a ticket, plus beer and food, so it’s really coming out to be the same thing,” said Bill Olson, who bought four of the 12-game platinum packages.

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