Chicago Cubs Win World Series: 3 Lessons in Community Engagement

World Series: Game Seven. Chicago Cubs vs. Cleveland Indians. It’s being hailed as the best game in baseball history. It’s sure to be made into a movie: The lovable losers with the longest drought in all of professional sports, a lead-fall-lead game series, culminating in a lead-tie-rain-delay-win finale. Sorry for the spoiler, we have to assume you’ve already seen the game and the hours of highlights. Good guys with great values and glowing smiles. Amazing culture of sportsmanship by both Midwestern teams. Record-breaking attendance at the Cubs’ celebration rally in Chicago.

Besides the Cubs-centric elation, there are some essential planning takeaways for us and for anyone involved in program planning, event management, and community engagement:

1.    Game Seven on November 2!? Plan, but be flexible. No organization in Chicago would have blocked out dates in early November when putting together its annual calendar. Schools look at the first three weeks of the month as a good time for open houses, recruitment events, and parent-teacher conferences. It’s usually great timing for fall events and film festivals. We plan around national holidays, religious holidays, and maybe a handful of events that captivate a large portion of the country, like the Super Bowl. But Chicago hadn’t had a vested interest in the World Series in 71 years.

And so the events were scheduled. And many were cancelled, postponed, or where possible, rescheduled. Some organizations chose not to cancel their programming, but created community celebrations in honor of Game Seven, complete with food, large screens and celebratory spirit elements, hats and t-shirts. Organizations adjusted, they accommodated, and they reached out to members, supporters and staff with informative notes and humor to let their communities know about prospective conflicts and planning priorities. Where possible, professionals were thinking outside of the (batter’s) box to make accommodations to enable their programs and events to take place around the serious Chicago fandom.

2.    Lifelong Fan vs. Bandwagon Fan: Community Engagement. The Cubs have a lot of lifelong fans – generations of them – who suddenly were joined by bandwagon fans. Bandwagon fans, is a term communities affectionately use to define fans who have shown no past loyalty to a team, and who only support them only when they are doing well. Was that a bad thing? For the franchise, no doubt, it was a welcome combination.

Organizations need to plan for both the long time members and the newbies, the long time, major-gift donors and the new associate level givers.  Those of us who have been involved in an organization for years need to open our arms to newcomers and make them feel at home. Engage them with facts, history, and dedication to make them feel as if they’ve been with us not only all season, but since the beginning. Share enthusiasm, hopes, and dreams. Absorb their added energy, and enjoy the savings of buying celebratory items in bulk!

3.    A Rain Delay: What We Didn’t Anticipate. Take heart when things aren’t going smoothly. Anything can happen. In the ninth inning of Game Seven, the Cubs had lost their once-significant lead, and they were tied 6-6 with the Indians. Then it started raining, and we’ve heard in post-game recaps that the players basically hit and went back out refreshed for the tenth inning.

Has a winter storm ever added unanticipated snow-clearing expenses to your event’s budget? Did your venue ever go bankrupt, or worse, flood, forcing you to move your program elsewhere? Anticipate challenges, but don’t dwell on them. Discuss possible problematic planning scenarios with your team, imagine backup plans, and create a protocol and a plan of action in case the event needs to be canceled or altered. Remember to keep the faith: If the Cubs can pull out a victory in added innings, after a 108-year wait, you can make the best of a challenging set of circumstances. We never know what may be a blessing in disguise, so we may as well treat every twist as a gift.

Cubs fever is contagious, and the lessons we can learn from the team’s performance – and attitude – will help us rise to unexpected heights. Remember that good planning means being prepared for change, that people choose to engage for different reasons, and that being responsive to preferences and group moods can convert a potential defeat to a surprise victory.

Photo credit: Chicago Cubs via Google Images