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It shouldn’t surprise you that attendance at Chicago Cubs games has been down this year. But the depth of the decline and the fact that MLB, as a whole, has seen a rise in attendance, might surprise you a little.

From Crain’s:

The team is on pace to finish with a final season home attendance of around 2.8 million fans, according to Colin Faulkner, the team’s vice president of ticket sales.

That would mark a seven percent drop from 2011, but would still rank among the top ten teams with the highest attendance in the league.

“It’s been a tough year on the field and for the fans,” said Mr. Faulkner, who is in his second year with the team. “But it’s still great. It’s a testament to the great support we get.”

The last time the Cubs failed to break the 3 million mark was all the way back in 2003. Indeed, the 2.8 million mark this year would put them in the range of the Milwaukee Brewers, who are expected to draw approximately the same. I can’t imagine the Cubs are thrilled about that.

Given a downward trend in attendance, which has tracked – precisely – the Cubs’ downward trend in on-field performance after 2008, there is little reason to believe that 2013 attendance will be any better, barring a shockingly competitive team. Per Crain’s, the Cubs are not expected to substantially cut ticket costs for 2013, despite currently sporting the third highest average ticket cost in all of baseball.

In other words, the Cubs may be content to keep ticket prices high, banking on the continued “destination” attendance associated with tourists, and folks like me who come in for games regardless of the performance of the team, or the relatively high prices of the tickets. That kind of price inflexibility is rare, and you can understand the Cubs’ unwillingness to drastically slash ticket prices.

But, that said, they will have to continue to be sensitive to the declining ticket sales (and even more starkly declining in-house attendance). Another 7% drop in 2013 (which is arguably conservative, given that the 2012 decline came on the heels of an extreme pro-Cubs fervor last offseason) would take attendance down to just 2.6 million. That could knock them down closer to the middle of the pack in attendance, and would shave millions off of the Cubs’ revenue.

Cubs fans will continue to come to games, but, in the last 15 years, one thing has become clear: only when the on-field product is compelling will those fans come out at rates near the top of the league.

The scary part, though? The financial incentive to fill up the seats by spending a ton of money on the payroll simply might not be there. In an extremely back-of-the-envelope kind of calculation, let’s say the average attendee spends $60 on a Cubs game (average $45 for the ticket, $15 in concessions). If the Cubs lose 200,000 in attendance, that’s a loss of only about $12 million. There are ancillary financial considerations that could balloon that number, and I’m basing the figures off of little more than the rocks rolling around in my head – but it’s enough to make me a little nervous.

(But then I remember that the Ricketts family actually cares about winning – truly, I believe that they do – and I’m mostly at ease. I don’t think they’re simply looking to cut payroll as much as possible while still squeezing out as much revenue as possible. If they were, they could probably spend $30 million on payroll for each of the next 10 years and make an absolute killing before things passed a tipping point … )

  • CubFan Paul

    Add this to my list of reasons why the 2013 team will be more competitive (80-85win April team before July trades) than people think.

    • TWC

      Holy CRAP! Were gonna win 80-85 games in April?! SWEET!

      • BD

        And then we’ll manage to blow our 65 game lead in May.

        • Tommy

          And then we’ll manage to blow our 65 game lead in May.

          LOL! Hilarious!

        • DarthHater

          No way. You don’t blow the lead until September, so as to maximize the heartbreak.

  • Mrcub1958

    The Cub Network is where the big money will come into play.

  • jim

    $45 per ticket? Upper deck reserved has more seats than i thot ;-)

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      That’s the overall average, per Crain’s.

  • EQ76

    Hard to tell what will happen.. I mean, if Castro and Rizzo have great all star years, Shark becomes an ace, Garza is lights out and a couple other guys step up, it’s still hard to imagine this team winning more than 70 games next year.

    Then again, how much money has come off the payroll last year and this upcoming year?? I don’t expect the FO to go on a spending spree this off season, nor should they, but I do think there is and should be a little bit of pressure to make enough moves to not jeopardize the “plan” and not suck this bad next year. I think fans, FO, players, etc. want to see progress next year and improvement. I expect a good move or 2 that will improve this team next year. I don’t expect Josh Hamilton, but would expect a move or two that could excite the fan base some.

    • hansman1982

      I think there will be more action on the trade market this offseason in acquiring decent talent and not just “hey, we have garbage players, there’s a garbage player of yours, send him over”

      • JR

        I hope so. I would love it if they could move guys like Lake, and Vitters to aquire decent Minor league pitching. Until we get the young pitching we can talk all day long, but we’re not going anywhere..

      • Mick

        One team that’s in transition is the D-Rays due to payroll concerns which is unfortunate for them because they fight for the division every season but can’t sell out a game. They’ll definately be a team to watch this off-season for trades and I’d be interested in raiding that cupborad if I were Theo. They’ve got decisions to make on guys like Wade Davis, Jeff Niemann, and James Shields. Eventually, they’ll be forced to move David Price once his arb #’s get too out of control. That lines up pretty well with us if we’re making Vitters, Jackson, Soriano, Marmol, LaHair, Lake, Vogelbach, etc. available. I don’t actually think we’d trade Vogelbach now but eventually if Rizzo sticks we just wouldn’t have a place for him.

        • Featherstone

          Actually they are just the Rays these days, but yeah they will have tough decisions to make with their limited payroll. As much as I love our prospects, we would have to give up the proverbial farm for a player like Price. I’m talking our top 3 + throw-ins. I just dont see that happening right now until we can field a competitive team and a pitcher like Price puts us over the top. Maybe he sticks it out until FA and we can use our financial might to sign him then, but for now I just dont see it happening.

          • Mick

            David Price, yeah right. I just mentioned him because I was giving an overview of what the D-Rays, Rays, might trade. I think Niemann, Davis, or Shields are much better targets for the Cubs because they won’t actually cost us any of our developing AA and below prospects.

        • AB

          Sickels rated Archer and Hak-Ju Lee B/B+ prospects at the time fo the Garza trade.

          Considering Price is alot more talented, younger, cheaper, and more years under team control than Garza it would cost the Cubs alot more than the guys you listed, possibly either Baez or Almora.

  • jim

    Be aware! Cubs care only bout big bux folks attending. One tip is move to sheraton for convention. Tix price, specially boxes, are another

  • Kevin

    We have a ballpark built 100 years ago that needs major renovations and all the talk is about the players. Are people afraid to talk about renovating Wrigley Field?

    • TSB

      I’d rather sit in a lousy seat and watch a good team than sit in a good seat and watch a lousy team

  • P hertz

    Still draw more that the White Sox.

  • Spencer

    Can’t blame fans for not wanting to pay top dollar to see a shitty team year in and year out. But, it’s also hard to find a ground between which would make the team more money: cutting ticket prices and hoping more people come to the games, or keeping ticket prices the same and hoping the increased revenue from tix makes the team more money, even though fewer folks will come out to see them.

  • Patrick W.

    This assumes that 150,000 people don’t show up for Friday’s game. I think that’s unlikely.

  • JR

    I don’t see the attendance #’s falling as a surprise at all. And I am sure everyone including Ricketts knew this was going to happen when you put the product on the field the Cubs did this yr and will next. I am sure this was all discussed before Theo was hired, and it’s all part of the longterm goal to win a championship. By every account next year is going to be the most painful of ‘em all..

  • cubchymyst

    I though the Cubs have been increasing their revenue with the new electronic board in Right field and with all of the Concerts they have been having at Wrigley. I think those two sources make up for the drop in attendance this year.

    • cubchymyst

      Also I read that one of the Cubs television contracts expire after 2014 season which will be another source of increased income. I don’t think the Cubs ownership will worry about the attendance drop until it goes below 2.5 million for the season.

  • Fastball

    I don’t agree with much of this. I think Ricketts is taking his fan base for a ride. Since he has owned this team it has gone from bad to pathetic. But he does own a McDonalds now.
    I’m not down on the Cubs. I’m just highly skeptical of the trend and that it’s okay. Those rose colored glasses are not for me. The product on the field has gotten worse than I could have ever imagined. I can only pray that this plan works. I am not so sure. Just like I ain’t voting next month for 4 more years of this same crap.

    • TWC

      Yeah! Why restrict your comments to baseball when you can throw in a gratuitous political dig? Let it all out.

      • DarthHater

        Commie. ;-)

    • Mick

      I can’t tell from your post if you think Ricketts is an idiot or you think Cubs’ fans are idiots for buying into the rebuild?

      Put yourself in Ricketts’ shoes when he bought the Cubs, what you have done? Poll industry experts, owners, executives on how to build a winner? He did that. Hire a talented executive? He did that. Improve minor league training and development? He built an academy in the Dominican and a new Spring Training facility in Mesa. Maximize every possible resource available to enhance the product? Work in process but you mentioned a part of it with buying property surrounding the stadium. Also, working with the CIty for stadium upgrades, renovations, and advertising potential. Possibly setting up their own TV network or resigning a much more lucrative deal soon.

      What else can Ricketts’ do right? I’ve yet to see one thing he’s done wrong. It sounds to me like you’re the type of person that just likes to bitch to hear himself speak. Oh and I’ve got one more thing, 4 MORE YEARS!!!

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

        (May that be the last even remotely political comment/portion of a comment on the site…)

        • DarthHater

          To forbid political comments is itself a political comment. ;-P

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            I don’t “forbid” them, but I do discourage them strongly. This just ain’t the place, and it yields nothing but nastiness. It’s like a law of the Internet, sadly.

            • TWC

              I’m a very political person, and I’m not at all shy about it. But it’s really nice to be able to have a politics-free zone, especially over the next couple of months.

              • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

                Bingo.

              • DarthHater

                How bourgeois. ;-)

        • Cubbie Blues

          Good luck when the Wrigley renovation talks start back up.

          • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

            There’s a post on that coming soon …

            • hansman1982

              I think, so far, we have done a good job of keeping “political” commentary relegated to the philosophical realm and not the party realm.

              Agree with TWC, I LOVE that this place is diet politics…lord knows we debate the Cubs hard enough…no sense in dragging that crap in here.

      • cubs1967

        what has Ricketts done wrong…………hmmmmmmmmm:

        1. pissed off Sandberg(yes JH did not hire him, but Ricketts OWNS the team)
        2.losing record 3 yrs in a row; each year getting worse; 1st time since the 1940s.
        3.team will lose 100 games. very few cubs teams are this bad.
        4.did not sell out the convention; only owner in 25 yrs to do this.
        5.lowest attendance in a decade. loss of 500,000 fans from top attendance. at $65 per person, that is $32.5M. not how a business should run; lower revenue.
        6.NO progress or any formal renvoations done on wrigley or the triangle bldg. in fact, pissed off Czar Rham (or his family did-real owner of team papa Joe).
        7. raised tix prices since took over ownership.
        8. did not offer anything to fans like lower beer prices (angels owner), parking incentives like rays owner(yes i know they have NO parking-so do something similiar), lowered food prices like dodgers new owner.

        real question; what has he done right?

        • Ricketts

          what has cubs1967 done wrong…………hmmmmmmmmm:

          1) Did not outbid me.

          • DarthHater

            Hey, everybody! He’s here!! Get your pitchforks!!!

          • Cubs1967

            your response is only outdone by your ignorance and moronic intelligence……..have a grown up conversation or shut the fuck up!

            Next!

            • Drew7

              Just a tad hypocritical, wouldn’t you say?

            • Carew

              woah there fella. Let’s all just keep calm

          • Professional_High_A

            +5 for this

            • Professional_High_A

              To the comment made by Mr. Ricketts, not the foul language.

        • Mick

          What the…Ricketts didn’t sell out the Convention!?!

          • TWC

            Yeah yeah yeah, and if he did, you’d all be calling Ricketts a sellout. Guy can’t win. ###

      • Dave

        Three years of deciining payroll and wins under Ricketts ownership awhile having one of the highest average ticket prices in basbeall. Is it any wonder that fans of other teams look at Cub fans as fools.

    • Chris

      The product on the field is not that much off the pace of the last 2 seasons. This front office has gutted the team to start over fresh, yet the record is similar to what was happening previously. That tells me there is still a lot of work to be done. I’d love to have a team over .500, but if they are going to spend money, it should be done efficiently. No sense in taking a chance on a bad contract when this team is so far away from winning, realistically. But if they can cobble together a bunch of short term contracts to get us through the first half of 2013, I’d be happy to see that. If that works and they are competing at the deadline, maybe you consider making moves to improve the club. But long-term goals have to be top of mind, always. And if they aren’t competing, you move some of those short term contracts for long term assets, meaning prospects.

      • Mysterious4th

        Chris- you’ve said it perfectly. It is like raising a child in a sense got clean up the crap until they’re potty trained (clean up hendry’s mess)
        And look at the long-term and not just make people happy for the time being. Let’s make everybody that calls themselves a cub fan by winning a championship the right way and sustain it!

  • The Dude Abides

    When Ricketts feels it the plans will move up faster? From what this reads the losses will easily be off-set by loss of payroll so I don’t think that will be a factor, ballpark renovation is being hammered out by the city and Ricketts for a favorable deal, correct? I don’t think any of this will give pause to Ricketts from continuing to cut quality of team he puts on the field, like they mention it is still a destination point for tourist and prices for concessions & tickets remain higher than average. Let’s see how much they raise prices for 2013, corporate season ticket holders will continue and that is a huge chunk of sales.

    I think anyone should question Ricketts motives and they would be within their rights. The only saving grace in my eyes is that he hired Theo and even though Theo got a better job title and more money (he wouldn’t have taken the job just for that??) he is here to build on his legacy and give the Cubs a World Series Championship. Theo is the only reason I believe the Cubs are truly attempting to win, Ricketts not so much.

  • Cubbie Blues

    The part that bothers me is the fact that Epstein’s budget comes from the previous years revenue. I realize the budget rolls over, but the surplus can only last for so long before Epstein doesn’t have the money available to go after the big name guys when it is finally time to “go for it”.

  • MightyBear

    I will say this, while I agree with Theo and Jed’s plan, there will come a point where the priority will come back to the major league club to stop the bleeding of empty seats. They will have to show improvement at the major league level at some point and that point will be before the 5 years is up on their contracts. While Cub fans are the most loyal in sports and they still lead the national league in road attendance, second in baseball to only the Yankees, every sports franchise has those that jump on the bandwagon and those that jump off and every owner doesn’t want to see fans jumping off.

  • Ogyu

    Nothing to do with Cubs attendance, but here’s a link to what may be the most interesting baseball story of the day:

    http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/baltimore-orioles-promoting-top-pitching-prospect-dylan-bundy-091912

    • Cubbie Blues

      Yeah, I saw something earlier on Bundy. They used a lot of relievers in the extra innings games yesterday. I don’t believe he was on the 40 man yet so they are also starting his clock.

    • FFP

      I stopped to read this today, too. Very interesting. We’ve come a long way since Doc Gooden’s meteoric day. I’m optimistic about this development. Also keeping an eye on Deep Blue Dan Duquette’s moves is wise.

  • Kyle

    Keep in mind that most of an owner’s profits from a sports franchise comes in resale value. Teams don’t usually tank and collect the profits because that would destroy the resale value of the franchise, while winning significantly enhances it.

    • Chris

      Exactly. While there may be some money going towards the debt service associated with purchasing the team, I don’t believe we can look at the situation as a money grab by Ricketts.

  • 1060Ivy

    A significant issue that hasn’t been discussed is the significant difference between paid attendance and actual attendance. With a paid attendance estimates, the Cubs get the revenue associated with ticket sale ($45) but none of the revenue associated with concessions.

    For example, the paid attendance for the Pirates – Cubs game was 33,000. My guess would be that actual attendance was less than 8,000 so let’s say it was 6,000 and that’s being generous. Using paid vs actual attendance would overstate concession revenue for that single game by $400,000.

    The estimate of $12 MM loss due to attendance issues is significantly understated by using paid attendance due to significant overstatement of concession income.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Concession revenue – rightly or wrongly, accurately or inaccurately – was included in the estimate, but I see what you’re saying. Even if the Cubs lost 200k more in “paid attendance,” they could lose even more concession revenue because the actual attendance would decline even more.

  • SirCub

    People tend to be overly price-sensitive to some products (ie- gas, plane tickets, baseball, etc.) rather than others imagining that those that set the price are trying to “screw them.” The reality of it is that in every single free economic market, the seller is selling their product at a price that maximizes their net gain. That’s it. If you decide to be a “nice guy” and charge a price less than what maximizes your net gain, you will not stay in business in an open market (which whether the MLB is or isn’t is up for debate). Point being, you shouldn’t get madder at Tom Ricketts than you do your local grocery store, car dealership, favorite restaurant, or utilities provider. They’re all “screwing” you.

  • cubzforlife

    Where do I sign up to be the guy doing the screwing? I work for a car dealer and our income is 60 percent of what it was four years ago. Yet the owner just bought a 150 foot yacht. And he’s a Sox fan. Yuch.

  • Randy

    I disagree Sir Cub. I have to have utilities, gas food on my table and so on. What I dont need is overpriced tix for a team that blows ass. I get the economic format. I own a business but I do not screw my people. The main problem is fans still pour into the stadium no matter what. The Ricketts know it and take advantage. If they were drawing like some other markets you can bet your rear end they would be putting a product on the field.

    • TWC

      The main problem is fans still pour into the stadium no matter what.

      You know, your point is somewhat contradicted by the article on which you’re commenting, dontchathink?

    • SirCub

      I own a business but I do not screw my people.

      My point isn’t really that all businesses screw people with their prices. Rather, all businesses set their prices according to the demand for their products. If the demand is elastic, the supplier cannot change raise prices without suffering a drop in demand. If the demand is inelastic, then the supplier can and should raise their prices in order to maximize their profits.

      The main problem is fans still pour into the stadium no matter what.

      Yea, that’s called price inelasticity. It happens. And when it does, prices go up. It’s not anybody’s “fault” and nobody is getting “screwed.” It’s simply the way that markets stabilize and become more efficient (in terms of profit).

    • Tommy

      What I dont need is overpriced tix for a team that blows ass.

      What a curious chose of words.

  • MichaelD

    “In other words, the Cubs may be content to keep ticket prices high, banking on the continued “destination” attendance associated with tourists, and folks like me who come in for games regardless of the performance of the team, or the relatively high prices of the tickets. That kind of price inflexibility is rare, and you can understand the Cubs’ unwillingness to drastically slash ticket prices.”

    I think it is less about who is actually coming to the game than the season ticket holders. The Cubs may be getting to the point where their attendance cannot fall too much further without season ticket holders not re-buying their seats. The Cubs must think they will re-buy (or be replaced by someone who will) and therefore are not dropping their prices.

  • Stu

    People seem to forget the special “status” of baseball with its anti-trust exemption. It doesn’t work under the same rules as other businesses. There is price collusion all over the place to stifle free market economics.

    The Cubs will benefit from a new TV contract which will more than offset a drop in actual attendance. Do they really care? Maybe they know that at some point it is silly to charge people $7,10,…for beer that a fan can get at the store for a couple of bucks.

    The real issue is that do you want to continue to support bad entertainment on the hope that 4 years from now you can say to yourself that you were there when it all started? Does it really matter? Is that what your life is all about?

    Here is a little clue. The Cubs don’t care about you personally. Never have. Never will.
    Put your emotions in your family. That’s ALL that matters.

    It is only a game.

    • Frank

      What’s this??? Perspective???

      • DarthHater

        Either that or bitterness posing as familial righteousness.

  • Fastball

    Well since they are getting a new TV contract maybe they should just go out and get some damned players who don’t suck. Then they can fill the seats too. Then they can still charge full price for seats, hot dogs, beers and all kinds of stuff. Re-invest that revenue money right now. You gotta spend a little to make a lot. Not spending is upsetting the balance. Damn It Ricketts start spending so we can feel good about the money we are handing over to you.

  • Joe Hesh

    After 54 seasons as a Cubs fan, this year was a clear move from mediocre to pathetic. We all believe that the movement is what is necessary, but no one believed that the product on the field would or could be taken seriously. I love the players. But a team might be in place in 2014.

  • Bob Okroi

    As long as the organization takes the year off, so do I. After being a fan since the collapse of ’69, I may be fool enough to follow them when they try to win and fail; but not quite fool enough to support the organization when they don’t even try to win, any more than I would patronize a bad restaurant who promises they’re gonna get better. When the good food is on the table, I’ll support the restaurant; and anyone who supports the Cubs sub par efforts deserves the sub par product they get. When do the Cardinals or Yankees ever rebuild anyway?

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