The Filth and Disgusting Health Behaviors at Wrigley Field

Posted on October 23, 2012 | in 5S, Baseball, Concession Stand, Lean Tools, Maintenance, Root Cause Analysis, Safety, Sports, Standardized Work, TPM (Total Productive Maintenance), Training, Visual Management | by
wrigley field chicago cubs trash black slime health code violations gross disgusting ballpark urine feces

(Photo from With Leather)

I came across this little op-ed piece on ESPN.com’s Playbook about Wrigley Field being the grossest sports stadium in the four major North American sports leagues, sharing a little bit of humor and some sad reminders of the failures of the on-field product:

You have to wonder about the stadium. Like a pet fish that gets sick from old, feculent water, you have to wonder if Wrigley Field, pungent with the stank of defeat and seven-dollar Old Style, is haunting these Cubs teams, if the ghosts of 104 years of crappiness are mouth-breathing on the players’ necks, moaning, “You guys are gonna suck so baddddd, and why shouldn’t youuu??? No one has any expectatttttions.”

But what’s even more fascinating about the article is there is actually some objective evidence from an independent organization demonstrating this fact.

UFE.com – standing for “Urine Feces Everywhere” – is an organization that took the time to visit all 30 Major League Baseball parks and conducted studies on cleanliness of anywhere a person would visit and/or touch. Bathrooms, turnstiles, seats, vendors and their equipment, all were evaluated. And the Cubbies took home the top prize in something they’d rather not celebrate.

Absolutely disgusting. At this point, I’m not going to pile on with more words of disdain for what is already known. I will, however, share similar articles and opinions from various outlets:

- Chicago Sun-Times
- With Leather
- Yahoo! Sports’ Big League Stew

I’m not piling on because there’s no need – the problem is known. What isn’t known? The solution!

And that’s where I come in. It’s very easy to say how it got to be this bad for consumers and vendors alike (they have to touch everything too) – it’s a whole lot cheaper to ignore the problem or to make health inspection occurrences convenient for the club and the inspector. The fans will keep continuing to come to the ballpark.

What teams really should be doing includes implementation of some Lean thinking. Without being prescriptive and without knowing every single piece of problematic evidence found by fans, workers, or the UFE team, here are some strategies teams should consider.

- 5S strategies: Sorting out what is and is not needed in a concession stand for full operation, setting everything in order where it is needed, generating cleaning standards and shining down to basic conditions, and bringing everyone using the areas to the same standard so they’re doing things the same way and keeping everyone as healthy as possible. This requires some offseason planning and thought – what better time than now to kick it off?

- TPM strategies: Total Productive Maintenance includes an element of autonomous management on behalf of the users of a process or piece of equipment. Users maintain cleanliness levels to the absolute basic condition – anything outside of basic condition is an anomaly that must be fixed immediately – but they also maintain performance through inspection of equipment and improvements/lubrication/routine maintenance as necessary.

- Visual standards and proper training: Sports organizations are of the opinion that they can hire anyone off the street to properly run a concession stand with little training. Yes, that’s correct, pretty much anyone can operate a grill and cook meat, and complete value-adding activities. However, what about the other non-cooking functions like cleaning and storage and operation and safety? It takes proper training and organization to make a stadium function optimally – you create the optimal condition and train others to maintain conditions to that optimal level.

- Root cause analysis: This is probably the one that has to come first, but it’s also simple to kick off. Figure out why the stadium is so filthy and dig down to the genuine causes. Use the five-whys approach. What should the optimal condition be and ask why the stadium isn’t there. Why are folks not washing their hands? Why are operators undertrained? Why are facilities hard to clean? Dig into those reasons to find what needs to be fixed to alleviate issues.

Is it hard? No! It takes a little time and some resources, but the Cubs have six months (October-March) to figure it out before Opening Day 2013.

Full disclosure: the Chicago Cubs are far and away my favorite Major League Baseball team and have been ever since I was a child in northern Indiana. My bias lies in trying to show clubs how to do things right, whether I am a fan of those clubs or not. In fact, my work has made me essentially agnostic when it comes to my fandom.

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6 Responses to “The Filth and Disgusting Health Behaviors at Wrigley Field”

  1. Before any Lean methods or strategies, leaders have to give a shit first… not sure if that’s true of the Cubs organization, as much as I have enjoyed going to Wrigley over the past 20 years…

    • Tony says:

      There is no money making in sanitation. There is plenty of money to add 56 new premium seats that are being installed as we speak. Priorities my man

      • Chad Walters says:

        I look at this problem in two ways: what the club HAS to do to survive, and what the club SHOULD do (the right thing for humanity). The failures of health inspections conducted during production is shameful and there will come a day when the public outcry will be significant enough that a club will have to address these issues.

        I think the Cubs are an example of an outlier organization that will (pretty much) sell lots of tickets regardless of the quality of customer service or product on the field. While extremely selfish, ignorant, and shameful they certainly lack a burning platform because of their continued sales. Until someone holds their feet to the fire (and I really like UFE’s efforts) and holds the team accountable they are unmotivated to move and that’s sad.

        However, there are some clubs that need to find an edge or additional path for dragging fans into the stadium. These are the teams that should be clamoring for help in optimizing the fan experience. Specifically for MLB, low-payroll and low-drawing teams like the Pirates, Royals, A’s, Rays, and the like have more of a burning platform to get folks in the door and keep them instead of scaring them away with gross facilities.

        Anyway, Tony, this is less about sanitation and more about optimizing team customer service and business processes. You can’t make money in sanitation but you can certainly lose it. I recommend you check out some of the tabs up top of the site – it will help shed some light on how optimized business processes using Lean philosophies and principles will make an organization more efficient and help them not only save money and time but function as a revenue driver. Lean principles go a long way to helping establish a viable and powerful business model for any organization, not just sports organizations.

      • tom says:

        Money can be made in sanitation. Look at all the petro in the form of recyclable plastics lying around in the picture. Now if Wrigley Field were to contract out for real time garbage removal allowing the contractor to recycle this resource. At the same time management could apply for grants as these contracts could be offered to minority or disadvantaged persons, thus guaranteeing a return on their investment. This is a monetary profit plus an opportunity for good PR as well.

  2. Joseph C. Stapinski says:

    Any updates on this story now that opening day is just weeks away. I too grew up in NW Indiana and loved going to Wrigley Field as a kid. Sad to hear of the poor sanitary conditions and I know the stadium has had issues recently for needed structural repairs. I hope ownership has addressed these issues or at least some improvements have been implemented.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Hi Joseph -

      No, I am unaware of any updates on this story. I will follow up with the UFE folks to see if/when they provide a follow-up rating of the stadiums.

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