Since Sloan Park opened in 2014, the Chicago Cubs have been crushing home attendance records for Spring Training … even their own.
So it was again this year, as the Cubs drew 226,933 fans for their Spring Training games (not counting games against Team Italy and Team Japan), breaking their own record of 226,163 set last year. Last year, the Cubs were at 15,078 per game. This year, that mark was 15,219.
To put that number in context, the Tampa Bay Rays drew 15,878 per game in the regular season in 2016. That’s right: nearly 2,000 miles away from home, the Cubs drew nearly as many fans per exhibition game as another big league team drew at home for its actual regular season games. To be sure, that says as much about the Rays as it does the Cubs, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
And the Cubs are appreciative of all of those fans:
We're feeling the love this spring.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) March 29, 2017
The Cubs also set the single game home attendance record this spring, when 15,523 fans saw the Cubs host the Royals on March 20 (Tribune). In fact, the Cubs’ spring home holds each of the TOP TEN record home attendance slots.
Why do the Cubs continue to draw so well in Spring Training?
This year, of course, had the lure of the reigning champions, but obviously Cubs attendance in Arizona is historically always strong, even relative to other large franchises.
I’m sure the difference in weather advantage of Arizona/Chicago over, say, Arizona/Los Angeles is a huge part of the reason – Chicagoans and other Midwest Cubs fans can easily come up with a Spring Break excuse to escape.
A still-new stadium sure doesn’t hurt attendance, either. And, of course, the large market fan base (of Chicago) has a lot to do with the attendance, as well.
Another important reason, I’d argue, is that the heightened interest in Cubs prospects over the past few seasons has been a big draw for fans who can’t otherwise catch a game at AA Tennessee, or don’t feel like making a trip out to Iowa to watch the AAA Cubs. In Arizona, fans get the opportunity to see the future on the field, before their very eyes. And, after 2015, fans learned that the “future” becomes the “present” very quickly, making a trip to Spring Training all the more exciting (the prospect of seeing short-term, future Major Leaguers just before their big league debut). Even after a championship, fans can still see a youngster like Ian Happ blow up in Spring Training, and know that he might be the guy they’re watching in the playoffs in six months.
All in all, big attendance numbers are good for the team. It means increased revenue, sure, but it also indicates that fan interest has not slumped after the Cubs finally did the thing.
My guess is we’re going to see the team getting an attendance bump at the big league park, too, starting on April 10.