The 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.