Increasing your total ticket sales by 0.36% in a given year is probably not something that you would typically celebrate.
But when that increase comes in the face of a fifth straight losing season, and at the tail end of five straight seasons of ticket sales declines? Well, then, it’s a little more notable.
Still, how do I get from “notable” to the “pretty big deal” referenced in the headline?
Well, consider that the Cubs sold 2,652,113 tickets this year after selling 2,642,682 last year. The year before that? The Cubs were 240,000 higher. The year before that? Another 140,000 higher. And so on. It should be no surprise, then, that both external punditry and internal projections had the Cubs continuing that decline this year.
Given the Cubs’ disproportionate reliance on ticket revenue, then, you can expect that the projected budget for baseball operations heading into 2015 was probably looking like it could take a modest hit back in January. How much of a hit? The Cubs’ average ticket price is about $44 and the estimate I’ve heard for average concessions is about $17, which makes the lost revenue about $61 per ticket.* Let’s peg the projected drop at the middle of those three figures above, and say the Cubs outsold their initial projections by 300,000 tickets. A little math, and you come up with $18,300,000.
That’s $18,300,000 in additional revenue the Cubs picked up on ticket sales this year, which was presumably not projected to be available to the organization before the season started. And that’s how I land on “pretty big deal.”
Sure, that revenue comes with some modest additional expenses (sales? staffing at events?), but, for the most part, it’s probably close to an addition net of revenue. And, given that the Cubs’ stated protocol is to make all revenue – after organizational expenses – available to baseball operations, that’s a significant extra chunk of money that is now available to baseball operations for 2015.
Couple that with the significant money coming off of the books after the season, the money the Cubs saved at the Trade Deadline, the money rolled over from the failed Masahiro Tanaka pursuit, the additional revenue from Spring Training, and the additional revenue from corporate partners, and there should be a relative geyser of financial wherewithal to do what the front office wants to do this offseason.
No, that doesn’t mean the front office will – or even necessarily should – go out and spend $60 to $70 million this offseason, increasing payroll into the $130 million range. But, even when forgetting about the anticipated revenue from the renovations and additional signage at Wrigley, the coming increase in ticket sales (yeah, it’s coming), and the mega bump down the road from the TV deal, the Cubs should be able to do whatever they want in the near-term future, in terms of spending. Contracts for players always still have to make sense, but there should be no player the Cubs want that they simply cannot afford.
As for the ticket bump, itself, I say kudos (1) to the Cubs’ sales staff, who undoubtedly worked hard to make this happen over the last 12 months; (2) to the fans who came out to see a more interesting team than in recent years; and (3) a schedule that was conducive to floating ticket sales a bit, complete with a good slate of visitors, a party for Wrigley Field, and contenders down the stretch.
Next year, let’s hope the buoy to ticket sales comes primarily because fans are eagerly watching actual winning baseball.
*(To which you say, “But Brett, you can’t count concessions on every single ticket, since there are no-shows.” And I respond, “Yes, but we’re talking about additional incremental tickets sold throughout the season – the majority of which, you would presume, involve people who actually go to the game. And, hey, even if you clip off 50% of the concessions revenue, you’re still left with more than $15 million in extra revenue.” And then I ask why you’re talking to me in a parenthetical. Get out of here.)