I'm going to open the proverbial can of worms with this post, but what the heck, I'm going to do it anyway.
Please note: I do this with no agenda, simply pointing out a fact. I know there are going to be those who are going to suggest boycotts, rail against the Tribune Co. (and yes, for certain things they absolutely deserve that), tell people to stop spending their money on the Cubs, etc. etc. etc., and please, go right ahead.
Fact: The Cubs are, despite the terrible season they're having on the field, very likely going to set a season attendance record in 2006.
There are two reasons for this: first, the ballpark has approximately 1800 more seats than it did in 2004, the year the previous record was set, resulting in a possible 145,000 more tickets sold if every single one of them were sold for the season; and second, something related to part of the point above, the overwhelming majority of tickets sold for the 2006 season were sold before the season even began.
Here's a look at the raw numbers: the club record for attendance in a season is 3,170,184, as noted above, set in 2004. The average per date in that record year was 39,138. The Cubs have twice drawn 3 million; in addition to the record year in 2004, they also broke the 3 million barrier in 2005 with 3,100,262, an average of 38,753 per date.
Including yesterday's game, the 2006 Cubs have drawn 2,473,903, which is 39,901 per date, and it ranks sixth in the majors (fifth is the Angels, quite a distance ahead with 42,370 per date). The Cubs also ranked sixth in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and eighth in 2001 and 2002.
To break 3 million again in the 18 home dates remaining would require an attendance of 29,228 per date -- I'd imagine that many tickets have already been sold. To break the record would require 696,282 more tickets sold in the 18 remaining dates, or 38,683 per date. Some of the remaining games -- most likely the Giants series, and the Reds series -- are already sold out or close, and the last game of the season usually draws a near-sellout crowd, as long as the weather holds up. It will be very, very close.
Now, having said all of this, you can spend the rest of the day debating whether this is a good or bad thing. I will say this -- next year, unless the Cubs make a big splash in free agency, or make major acquisitions by trade, ticket sales will be markedly lower. I wouldn't expect there to be a lot of season ticket cancellations -- and even if there are, there is, as you likely know, a large waiting list which would fill in for whoever leaves. Where the Cubs are going to see this decline is in February, when single-game tickets are put on sale. This year, in part because of the larger capacity, and in part because there was still (as it turned out, misguided) hope for playoff contention, the Cubs set a record for first-day ticket sales, nearly 600,000. I'd expect that number to be cut in half in 2007, unless off-season moves re-engender some hope.
There has been a rumor floating around that the Cubs are going to increase ticket prices by 7%. I have also heard this rumor debunked. Given the terrible performance this year, I think the club would be well served to hold the line on ticket prices.
Now -- should a club set an attendance record in what is likely to be a 90-loss season? Of course they shouldn't. Most clubs wind up setting their season attendance record the year after they win a championship, because in such years, everyone wants to jump on the bandwagon. I've noted above the reasons why such a record is likely going to be set this season.
The Cubs and the Tribune Co. should NOT take this as any indication that they can sit on their butts and do nothing and the turnstiles will keep spinning. For as I also note above, unless they put together a better team for 2007, these numbers are going to decline drastically.