I’m sure Rick Renteria was thrilled that the Gregory Polanco promotion yesterday meant he once again had to address Javier Baez/Kris Bryant promotion questions. He did a pretty good job of brushing them off (Tribune), and I don’t blame anyone for asking the questions – the prospects are kind of an important storyline in the Cubs’ world right now. It’s pretty simple to address, though: Baez isn’t yet dominating AAA consistently in every phase of the game, and Bryant is still at AA playing in just his 100th professional game. There’s time for these guys, and that time isn’t right now. The Polanco/Pirates situation is entirely different – it just happened that the Cubs were in town.
Speaking of which, something of import to those who make the argument that any financial considerations involved in the timing of the promotion of top prospects would be more than offset by the uptick in attendance: after months of kicking and screaming to get Polanco up to the big league team, Dejan Kovasevic notes that Pirates fans came out last night … to the tune of 6,000 tickets shy of a sellout. Of the 31,567 in attendance, 10,000 were complimentary tickets given to military families. Pittsburgh is smart sports town, and Pirates fans really do love their Pirates. They’re basically in the race, and yet the Polanco bump – in his first game – barely registered.
That bump will last all of a day or two, and underscores something I try to remind folks of from time to time: regardless of in-season promotions, or off-season acquisitions, over the course of a season, fans do not come out to see individual players. Hardcore fans? For a game or two? Sure. But the fans that make up the marginal difference in ticket sales are not hardcore fans. The casual, incremental ticket buyer might come out to see a Baez or a Bryant – see what all the hype is about – but then they remember that it’s baseball, and players tend to show you their awesomeness only over the course of several weeks, with many ups and downs. With one game and one ticket, you might not see anything at all. So they don’t come back to see Baez or Bryant again.
One thing and one thing only gets the marginal ticket buyer out to the ballpark consistently over the course of a season, such that there is an actual, meaningful uptick in attendance: winning games and competing for a playoff spot in August and September. History bears it out again and again. Wanna sell more tickets and generate more revenue on ticket sales? Win more games.
This is a particularly frustrating discussion for the Cubs, I’m sure, given that their sales staff has been charged with buoying ticket sales as much as possible during a rebuilding process that everyone knew would not generate very much winning. The Cubs are as reliant on ticket/concession revenues as just about any team in baseball, so you can see why they beefed up their sales efforts in the last few years. And you can also see the commitment, on the business side, to the rebuild: putting together a mediocre team will sell a lot more tickets than a rebuilding one. So, the rebuild, strictly-speaking, hurts the organization’s ability to sell tickets and generate revenue in the short-term.
But, long-term, even if just from a financial perspective, it’s gotta be worth taking the hit now for a consistently competitive team down the road. That’s the approach the Cubs chose, and I still applaud it. Just so long as everyone knows that pulling the trigger on an early call up for any of the prospects involved in that rebuild is not going to move the needle on attendance in a really meaningful way.