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kid-watching-tvThe 2013 Chicago Cubs haven’t been winning enough games to convince anyone that they’re a contender, and that lack of faith is reflected in flagging attendance and reduced television viewing.

Crain’s Danny Ecker reports that, when compared to this point last season, attendance at Wrigley Field is down 14%. Then again, at about 32,600 per game, at least the Cubs still have the 12th best attendance in baseball.

Equally alarmingly, the ratings for Cubs games on CSN are down 15% when compared with this point last year. Ecker’s piece is worth reading for some caveats on the declines, including a notation that the Cubs’ TV ratings are actually up in the 25 to 54 age demographic.

The attendance decline is both lamentable and expected. With a fourth consecutive non-competitive team – particularly one that was not expected to be competitive from the get-go – I would be surprised if the Cubs were surprised at the slip in attendance. When the Cubs are good, attendance will shoot back up through the roof.

When the Cubs are good.

As for the television drop, that, too, is largely attributable to the Cubs’ lousy play. But, unlike the attendance drop – for which the long-term ramifications are probably limited to some lost dollars this year – I fear that the drop in television ratings could impact the Cubs’ upcoming efforts to shop the expiring WGN portion of their television contract, which is up after 2014.

Half of the Cubs’ games are available to the highest bidder, subject to some reported restrictions on the entities to which the Cubs can shop them, and that bidder is going to want the security of a long-term deal. The Cubs’ bargaining position remains strong, but an annual ratings decline spanning multiple years might be enough to give bidders pause. Maybe they ask for a discount. Maybe the Cubs don’t have a choice. Those rights were expected to be shopped/discussed/negotiated as soon as this offseason.

That all said: as with attendance, I doubt any of this is a surprise to the Cubs, and I expect that they’ve been planning for it in ways I can’t even anticipate. It’s just an unfortunate complication to a process that is critical to the Cubs’ long-term success. Let’s hope the business guys are as effective in practice as the baseball guys are in theory.

  • Rich

    but viewers up for 25-54 for the Cubs … which is good …

    par for the course…when the win more – attendance will rise..

  • KidCubbie

    Could the TV ratings drop be due to the emergence of MLB.com?

    • Rcleven

      Has more to do with Black Hawks Cup run, Bulls playoff, and the Cubs just being bad.

    • cms0101

      Anything is possible, but I would guess that the team being hard to watch has more to do with it. Last year they got a bump right about now when they called up Rizzo. There really isn’t a player they can call up that will give the broadcast numbers a bump, short of Soler or Baez. Neither of those guys are getting the call anytime this season.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Not likely – local games are blacked out on MLB.tv, so you’d have to watch them on CSN even if you had MLB.tv.

      • Cubbie Blues

        And “local” games is a really loose term.

      • Cubbie Blues

        Speaking of, if we lose WGN, any clue whether the blackout restrictions would be lessened at all?

        • hansman1982

          Nope, just those of us without CSN on our Cable package will be blacked out forever.

  • Cedlandrum

    The weather could account for some of the drop in attendance as well. Lots of wet rainy days that could lead to less walk up crowds.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I seem to recall really bad weather early last year, too. Might be wrong.

  • The Dude Abides

    Losing money is never ok with the finance guys. Theo must have done a hell of a sales job on Ricketts during the interview.

    * You will lose games
    * You will lose revenue
    * You will increase capital expense
    * You will increase headcount & payroll for all areas excepts players

    I can’t tell you when we will be competitive but you will know when you see it.

    • Timmy

      This is wrong, they’re using the team as scrap metal to fund other projects and pay back their loan to themselves. It’s ridiculous. Theo is a baseball guy and they’re for-profit businessmen without a sense of sportsmanship. Once they ruin the park and build a walmart at the entrance they’ll feel like the team is just ridiculously profitable enough that it may be worth their while to treat their stock in Chicago’s team, a public trust, with some respect.

      • cub2014

        So Timmy you dont like the idea of signing free agents
        to 1 year deals and then trading them for prospects?
        Would you rather sign long term contracts to lets say:
        Soriano,Hamilton,Pujols?

        • Timmy

          This is a false argument in bad faith against the Cubs. We could easily have signed Mark Reynolds, Prince Fielder, or Torii Hunter and had a great return. Naming the worst contracts as evidence to deliberately lose is just business logic and defeatism and has nothing to do with baseball.

          • cub2014

            Fielder is the only long term deal success
            story (ut we have Rizzo) RA Dickey has been
            a bust. Reynolds is someone the Cubs i am
            sure looked at but they went with Stewart.
            Tori Hunter was a short term deal, we instead
            went with Schierholtz. So if you cherry pick you
            can easily say you would rather have Reynolds
            and Hunter compared to Schierholtz and Stewart.
            But the key is avoiding bad long term deals.

            • Timmy

              No the key of management has been to avoid any contracts of worth at all, instead sabotaging the team from competing whatsoever. We’re in terrible shape for the future. Other teams have built the farm and signed solid players.

  • pondorotravis

    Hey Theo and Jed…. Does it help that I watch every game, well except those on the crappy local only. Grumble Grumble Grumble

  • ETS

    I feel personally responsible for this one. I moved last january and never got around to setting up a new satellite/cable package and I have been enjoying the “tv free” house. I have listened to pat and keith more this year, though.

  • DarthHater

    You mean there’s actually a downside to deliberately fielding a crappy team?

  • mudge

    I tune out when Marmol comes in and check the box later. There must be thousands like me.

  • Bill

    We can thank Theo/Jed for the drop in attendance and TV viewing. They have put a bad team on the field the last two years, so less people are watching. If Theo wouldn’t have punted on FA’s before the 2012 season he could have a competitive team on the field this year and more people would be watching. It helped him get a higher draft pick but it might cost Ricketts a lot of future money. If you are running the team as a business, what Theo did before the 2012 season didn’t make much sense.

    • Jay

      Not for 2013 it didn’t–from a BUSINESS standpoint. But these guys are committed to building a foundation that allows us to be competitive year-in and year-out. Too bad they changed the rules for spending on draft picks—even Theo admitted he didn’t see that one coming.

      • frank

        Jay–I agree, especially with the point you make about 2013. The plan is for long term competitive success, which in the end, will equal greater business success. If it works.

        • Bill

          I agree this was their plan, the question is was the pain necessary? Could they have signed some short term FA’s, keeping the team still competitive, without hurting the long term success. Kyle has laid out a great case why this wasn’t the best plan, and I concur. All you have to do is look at FA’s we signed this year, like Schierholtz and realize if Theo wouldn’t have thrown in the towel before the 2012 season he could have had some decent short term assets to make this a competitive team this year.

          Not sure who pointed it out but the FA class of 2012 was a great one for WAR value. Theo missed a good opportunity and that lost revenue (from lower TV, attendance, etc) is going to hamstring him in executing his plan in the near future.

          • mike

            ok but getting that FA would probably cause to loose our draft pick which do wouldn’t make sense since their building for the future.

          • Kyle

            I’ve begun to fear that while this has been a bad plan/situation all along, Theo and Jed’s hands were tied by decisions made before they got here. I beileve them when they say they didn’t leave any money unspent.

            • Timmy

              This is correct. The Ricketts’ told Theo that if he wanted the job that they planned to take revenue as profits for other outlets for a few years but that he was welcome to build for the future.

              I’ve thought about it and there’s no way that Theo is so untalented that he can’t balance managing a fun if not great team while building for the future. The sabotage the present by bottoming out talent move is due to a required low payroll.

              If Theo doesn’t get this rolling by the end of next year he’ll be to blame though. You can’t average under 70 wins a season with a projected potential 160m salary cap for 3 years and not be a goat or revealed to have just been very very lucky in the past.

  • Jay

    Ricketts knew this day was coming and he’d have to eat it for awhile while J & T put their “plan for sustained success” together. Regardless of the numbers that some of the more saber-metric minded on this board may throw out, the team on the field is not a good one and even before you look at their won/loss record you don’t need to be Bill James to figure that out—the average fan can do that for themselves.

    • Cheryl

      Ricketts may have known this day was coming, but the question he has to face will be if the fans will come back when the team improves. The fans may very well not come back. . This flipping of players doesn’t provide for long term commitment with following particular players, which happened before Theo & Company came on the scene. What has been done with the farm system is absolutely necessary. But, I for one, don’t know who to identify with on the cubs any more.

  • Bric

    You’d think the Cubs’ brain trust would learn from the TBS-Atlanta Braves fallout and stick with WGN. Without national coverage for at least some of the games the Cubs are in danger of losing their national market appeal.

    Even when the Braves sucked, they and the Cubs were still the only teams people in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and other places without a team of their own could watch and become fans of. Fans that live 10 miles from Wrigley have the option of going to a game when the Cubs are winning. Fans in Kentucky plan a vacation to Chicago to go to a game regardless of the record. No national TV, no new national fans. Its not that big a mystery.

    • DarthHater

      I think the Cubs should just have separate TV contracts for day games and night games. For night games, go with whoever will pay the most. For day games, stick with WGN and continue to nurture the next generation of young, nationwide after-school Cubs fans. Daytime advertising won’t pay that much anyway and, in the long run, the nationwide following will pay off.

      • JulioZuleta

        That’s actually a cool idea. Probably not possible/practical/feasible/at-all-realistic…but I’d be 100% on board if it was. Love me some WGN. But love me some Cubs-having-more-money even more.

        • Bric

          I agree the money is going to be the deciding factor. That’s pretty much a no-brainer. But the question of what the money is going to be used for is the real question.

          The point of the article was discussing the lower attendance which basically means lower interest in the team in the last year or so. I get that the Blackhawks and Bulls and to some extend the Sox have drawn local interest away from the Cubs. That’s going to happen. But the point is if Ricketts decides to use this bargaining chip to cut ties with WGN in order to pay down the debt or improve the facilities themselves he’s taking a dangerous assumption that if you build it they will come. That’s like floating up the river and thinking about hocking the paddle.

      • The Cleanup Poster

        Excellent idea! I live in Kentucky, and without WGN in the mid 80’s I would be stuck with the Reds as my favorite team (my Mom and Dad are Reds fans) We need to keep at least a few day games on WGN!

    • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

      That’s actually a really good point that I haven’t thought about before. As someone who needs to travel far to get to Wrigley, I’m never going to go on a whim but will go 2-3 times a year regardless of performance. Keeping a national fanbase is going to be important.

  • Justen

    If the Cubs do happen to completely leave WGN do they change the words to “Go Cubs Go”?

    • http://www.justinjabs.com/blog/ justinjabs

      “You can catch it all on CCN” …. (Chicago Cubs Network?)

      As long as they end with an N, they should be good.

    • Cub-fan-man

      You can scrap that whole stinking song. I can’t stand it!

  • Tom A.

    Should we start a movement ? Get the word out, tune in to the Cubs !

    Turn them on your television or radio and go about you normal daily activities. Turn them on every chance you get and think that by doing such you will be contributing to the signing of a future key free agent. Who cares about this year’s all-star game ? Who cares about this year’s pennant race ? Instead, start to really care about the Cubs teams of the future and turn them on your television and radio consistently beginning now !

    • Cubbie Blues

      We could even come up with a nifty slogan like “Committed”.

    • Scott

      If I turn on the game on all the TVs in my house do the ratings get an extra boost?

  • dan

    I am taking the same approach the Cubs are they said they will spend money when their good. Well I will start going to the games again and spending money when their good

    • Tom A.

      You really are missing out. Games still are great to experience and beer tastes the same. And, you can get great seats at good prices. When they are winning, you will not be able to do the same.

      • Al1969

        Is there a reliable guide to determining which are the good seats at Wrigley? Last time I went I couldn’t see the scoreboard due to grandstand overhang.

        • Tom A.

          I have never seen such. But, in my opinion, anything you buy in the lower level, down the third base line, up through the terrace box seats will give you a complete view of the playing field, scoreboards and skyline. Obviously, as you get closer to looking straight down the first baseline you get some of your closer views of the players. Also, as you go into the terrace reserved levels you start to lose views of the playing field, scoreboards and/or skyline and as you go into the upper deck you start to add distance to your views.

          There is nothing like a beautiful day at Wrigley Field with a complete view of everything !

          I know others may disagree with this response and that is why I said in my opinion.

          • Al1969

            Thanks

        • cjdubbya

          Here’s a nice primer on how to find good (or at least non-obstructed view) seats at Wrigley:

          http://worldseriesdreaming.com/2013/02/25/picking-your-seat/

    • DarthHater

      Do the Cubs have to be good before you start learning English grammar, too?

      • willis

        LMAO. That’s funny.

        • Jp3

          Lets eat grandma will go to they’re house and do it over their

  • Tom A.

    Not so good if it is just the Cubs that are “Committed” and maybe great if it is us that are such. Cubs marketing should do things to get us fans committed. Ticket or promotional give-a-aways to the tenth caller to the television or radio station whenever Len, Keith, Pat or Jim say some magic word. Anything basically that gets people to watch and/or listen.

  • TommyK

    On the plus side, maybe this inspires the Cubs to speed up the process. And the thought that fans won’t come back is nonsense. If the Cubs are in contention, people will come and watch. Hardly anyone has stopped being a Cubs fan; they are just spending less time on it right now.

  • Ross Wallace

    This is the first year with the Len & JD team. While I don’t believe they have been bad or lack chemistry, they aren’t able to carry a broadcast when the product on the field is subpar the way Len & Bob could.

  • Cubfanbob

    I’ve been to at least 8 games this year. From my experience the following factors are in play in lower attendance.

    1. The talent on the field isnt worth the third highest ticket price in MLB. Especially when you have to pay 7:50 a beer.

    2. Weather: It feel’s like it wasnt as cold this April and May from last year but it was way warmer by this time last year. Wind hasnt been as nasty but it has rain far more these first two months than last year.

    3. Two home afternoon Weekday games vs the White Sox. Not sure who had the bright idea to schedule the most expensive ticket games on a Wednesday and Thursday afternoon before college and high school graduation but they should be fire.

    4. Bulls & Blackhawks playoffs in May. Seems like every night game had one of the two other playoff teams playing.

    It’s interesting that the White Sox decreased ticket prices and parking prices increasing attendance by 10%.

    • Tom A.

      Four points to state after reading your write-up.

      (1) Yes, I think many of us season-ticket holders also feel the prices are high for what we are getting this year. However, we still bought and will continue to buy on the promise of a brighter future.

      (2) I hope you did not overpay for your single-game tickets. They really are readily available on StubHub at more affordable prices.

      (3) Let’s all tune in the Cubs any way we can — television and radio ! (I want them to get their viewership up, so they make lots of money through the next television and radio deals and can use such to make investments in Wrigley Field and the team !!!)

      and

      (4) Yes, the weather has not yet cooperated with us fans — too chilly and too windy. Let’s hope it soon changes to the better.

      • Cubfanbob

        I am a season ticket holder

        • Cubfanbob

          Just to add I feel the Cubs go out of their way to give perks and great customer service to their season ticket holders. I cant speak to other professional sports season ticket holders but from early ticket purchases to Wrigley Field Concerts, events etc to private season ticket holder family events at the park etc they seem to find ways to make up for the higher price tickets.

  • Melrosepad

    Living in Iowa I don’t have the ability to watch the Cubs on MLB.TV and the part of Iowa I’m in gets FSN, so I’m stuck with Twins baseball on there. So the only way I can watch the Cubbies is WGN or national games. Even then, I can only watch the ones after 5:30 central due to work. Any game on WGN when I’m home is on the big screen. Even got my wife trained to automatically put it on there. Only time it wouldn’t be is like last night when the Tony Awards are on, then I get kicked to the basement TV :-)

    I’m hoping they don’t get rid of WGN, as that would remove all ability for me to watch the Cubs unless it was a Fox or whatever national game.

    • Scott

      Is there a wife training course you can recommend? Not an issue for me. My wife is just as fanatical as I am about the Cubs. Just thought you could help some people out there.

    • YourResidentJag

      I would suggest getting Directv then. For most if not all of Iowa, the primary market is CSN Chicago.

  • auggie1955

    A lot of times recently for me it has come down to a choice between watching the Blackhawks or the Cubs. Sorry, Cubs but you lose.

    • Dynastyin2017

      You mean you would rather watch a team going for a championship than one that is really bad? How dare you. Btw, the Cubs are, apparently, not as bad as their record.

  • Bob Johnson

    I know we need to do things differently to be competitive each year but I think some of us are over the top with this flipping of players. As soon as a player does something good before we savor the accomplishment, we’re wondering what we can get for him. I like what Cheryl had to say about into being able to identify with the players.

  • Frank

    The mistake Theo and company made is they announced that there would be a number of crappy years. When Wrigley owned the team, he kept his mouth shut and watched his turnstiles turning two million times a year. I can’t wait until next year when they decide to sell off in July again.

    Maybe when attendance drops to 50%, they might get the message that enough is enough. I just hope their not as stupid as the Pirates owners.

    • TWC

      When Wrigley — any of the Wrigleys — owned the team, attendance never broke 1.76 million.

      But whatevs, right?

      • Timothy Scarbrough

        Well, you should never let pesky facts get in the way of a good argument.

        • TWC

          Yeah, and I looked at the wrong column, too. Wrigley-owned teams never broke 1.65m in attendance. Pfft, facts.

    • Scott

      Frank, would you really be surprised if we are sellers next year? I know the no one wants that, but would you be surprised?

  • Charles

    Advertisers care less about overall ratings and more about the key demographics they are selling to. If the 25-54 year old is my target and that is up, and the Cubs brand does not negatively impact my brand, I’ll advertise with them as the market I’m not targeting is not tuning in..who cares. The sweet spot for advertisers is ther sov the money will come.

  • CubsFanSaxMan

    Hey Brett & Others,

    I am a long time BN follower, first time commenter. I enjoy the writing styles of Brett/Luke and also enjoy (most of the time) reading the interesting and informative views/opinions of the BN bunch. I thought it time to join the fray, so to speak. I will no doubt keep my comments to a minimum and just peruse the opinions of the others. When I do comment I will try to follow Brett’s guidelines of writing grammatically correct sentences, and will also attempt to spell correctly. After all, this site isn’t for the uneducated.
    Here goes . . . . as a youngster I grew up following the Santo, Williams, Banks, (and others) era (now you know how old I am). Dad would take the family to one Cubs ballgame a Summer. We never knew when this would be, although it was always a Sunday. After church he would surprise us by saying “get in the car” and off we went to visit Wrigley. We lived about an hour away in the Northwest suburbs. By the way, you can’t drive to Wrigley from there in an hour anymore. We would leave at noon and arrive just in time for the 1:20 p.m. start. We were able to do this until 1969. That Summer (of ’69) all of a sudden the Cubs were winning!! That was exciting!! But when we made our annual trek to Wrigley there were no tickets available. Eventually we were able to find tickets in “the nose bleed seats.” That was the last time that we ever went to Wrigley as a family. Dad liked to do things at the spurt of the moment, so to speak. And he didn’t like crowds.
    My point being, when the Cubs start to win, the people will return. For now, may I suggest that you take advantage of the situation and plan some “spur of the moment” trips to Wrigley. I am willing to bet that your family will love it, and if there are kids involved they will remember those days forever. They might also become lifelong Cubs fans. That is a good thing. We can always use more people to commiserate with.
    Thanks for letting me bend your ears.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Welcome SaxMan (or can I just call you Saxy?), and thanks for the thoughts. Definitely great advice on taking advantage of the down time – when the Cubs are good, the spur of the moment stuff is going to be nearly impossible/massively expensive.

    • TWC

      All this and no mention of Dick Tidrow? ::shakes head::

  • Mr. P

    I’m wondering if they end up keeping Sunday games on WGN and maybe keep some of the day games. The rest will likely just go to CSN until 2019 when major changes could be made. Just a hunch.

  • Die hard

    Closing rooftops via lawsuit wouldn’t help … Building Jumbotron may see temporary spike … Change philosophy to 1959 go go White Sox may work until sluggers arrive from minors as fans like the attack mode of running til cows come home

  • YourResidentJag

    Can we just say that the crappy viewership on tv is just CSN? Sorry, but it sucks.

  • Frank

    TWC, I was closer than the Cubs are to breaking 500.

    The point I was trying to make was that Wrigley didn’t care if the team won or lost, because he would make a ton of money either way.

    As long as Cubs fans keep going to the games,there’s no incentive to win. Correct me if I’m wrong, but did the Cubs break the 3 million mark last year again even though they said they’d put a shitty team out there?

  • michale

    Ever think that people are bored with baseball. That kids no longer play it or watch it. Walk around a park some day . How many kids you see playing baseball . Not talking little league which is something parents force their kids to do. But playing on their own. When I do see kids outside they are skateboarding , basketball, lacrosse etc. Rarely do I see a group of kids playing baseball.

    As for your attendance numbers thats probably paid so a lot of season ticket holders etc aren’t going to the games. So how many people actually show up to watch a game. .

  • kyle

    In my opinion the Ricketts are ruining the experience. Cubs fans like early day games (not 3:10) plain and simple. The owners are pushing for more night games and more late day games to get the revenue on TV contracts up. You can make money on the TV contracts, but the number of empty seats will be a lot higher too. Its all about the money for the owners but the fans are starting to dislike all the changes. People go to Wrigely Field because the experience doesn’t change. You can imagine your father and grandfather had the same experience as you even if the calendar is different by 30 or 60 years.

    • DarthHater

      In my opinion, this attitude is one of the main reasons the Cubs haven’t won in 104 years.

    • Jono

      Don’t later games get more attendance? Most Cubs fans I know (I won’t make assumptions and generalize about a entire group, just speaking to personal experience) like to actually watch the games and not simply check the score after work

      I agree about the traditional feel point. If the tribune company renovated Wrigley, I’d be opposed to the video screens. But i’d rather have the renovation with the video screens than a stadium that’s literally falling apart with the traditional feel. And since the city refused to help the team renovate, those are the options

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