Wrigley Field Attendance Estimates: What Do They Suggest For 2012?

Gulls invade the bleachers in right field during the 11th inning of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field in Chicago Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

As I mentioned a while ago, I decided to start keeping track of my own estimates of how many people were actually at Wrigley Field starting with the Houston series on July 22. When you look at the numbers after the jump, remember this: it's just a guess. I could be way off, but I think I got at least close. I waited until about 30 minutes after game time to account for late arrivals, and tried to err on the high side of estimates.

The dates listed are the last 28 games of the season, or about ⅓ of the schedule. It does not, therefore, take into account the White Sox and Yankees series, where there were very, very few no-shows. On the other hand, it also does not take into account the Diamondbacks and Padres series in April, where attendance was low and no-shows were high due to bad weather. In fact, the bad weather lasted into May, and so did the small crowds. For example, on Saturday, May 14, the boxscore attendance figure was 39,706. The game was played in cold temperatures and a moderate, steady rain. There couldn't have been more than 15,000 people in the ballpark, maybe not even that many.

So even though I've only got data for ⅓ of the schedule, I believe it's a pretty good reflection of the no-show percentage for the entire season. Numbers and analysis after the jump.

Date Tickets sold In-house estimate
7/22 39,855 29,000
7/23 40,486 33,000
7/24 40,406 32,000
8/5 42,245 38,000
8/6 41,978 40,000
8/7 39,619 32,000
8/9 37,109 30,000
8/10 38,010 32,000
8/11 34,733 19,000
8/19 42,343 40,000
8/20 42,374 42,000
8/21 39,420 34,000
8/22 37,061 27,000
8/23 36,639 20,000
8/24 37,098 23,000
8/25 36,136 26,000
9/2 35,153 21,000
9/3 36,628 24,000
9/4 40,469 34,000
9/5 41,341 32,000
9/6 35,297 16,000
9/7 36,797 19,000
9/16 35,318 18,000
9/17 39,377 31,000
9/18 36,250 20,000
9/19 35,076 19,000
9/20 36,571 30,000
9/21 30,965 20,000

The total attendance for the 28 dates is 1,029,678, an average of 36,774 per date. That's about 1.5% below the overall season average of 37,259, but essentially, I believe we have a snapshot of the whole season from this ⅓ sample. There are some dates over 42,000 (which occurred because of the increased seating capacity plus standing room on some dates), and others in the low 30,000s. If anything, my no-show estimate might be too high, because these figures do not include two games in April that drew fewer than 30,000 fans (the first such crowds since 2002), and those two dates probably had no more than 10,000-12,000 in the house.

My estimates of in-house attendance for the 28 dates totals 781,000, or 27,893 per date. That means there were -- approximately -- 248,668 no-shows for the 28 dates, or 8,881 per date, which is 24.2% of the total tickets sold.

I believe this is a reasonable estimate. Note that the table shows four games that had an essentially full house; this would translate to seven more such games over the entire season, and had I been counting at the time, I believe I would have had at least six more such estimates (the White Sox and Yankees series).

Thanks to the McCourt divorce case, we have this published record of no-shows for the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010:

The Dodgers' no-show rate was 17% two years ago, according to records filed in the divorce case of owner Frank McCourt and his ex-wife, Jamie, and 21% last year, based on Arenson's testimony that the Dodgers' 2010 turnstile count was 2.8 million.

That no-show count was noted elsewhere to be "not abnormal" for baseball as a whole. But the same article says the Dodgers are going to have a 25% no-show rate this year, which is considerably higher. A logical conclusion to draw would be that the Cubs had a similar increase in no-shows for 2011; if that 8,881 average no-show figure were extrapolated for the entire season, that would mean 719,361 no-shows, a number that I believe to be fairly close to reality.

The Cubs sold three million tickets this season, but did not draw three million fans to Wrigley Field. Granted that many of the high-priced dates did sell out -- but others, and not the lowest-priced dates, had to be heavily discounted for the Cubs to reach that figure, particularly bleacher tickets, which were sold for many games at 50% off face value.

The bottom line -- figuratively and literally -- is this: 700,000 no-shows is about 25% of this year's attendance figure. The overwhelming majority of those no-shows are going to become "no-buys" in 2012 unless pricing is significantly adjusted downward. Can the Cubs afford that?

The Cubs constantly reference the Red Sox in their pricing schemes and rainout policy. The latter also needs to be changed; the Red Sox don't allow exchanges primarily because they sell out every game and have no inventory! Even the wealthy Yankees usually generously allow fans to exchange rainout tickets -- and when they played a game on Sept. 6 after a four-hour delay, they announced that anyone holding a ticket to that game could get another one free anyway. What a concept: being nice to your fans.

Meanwhile, the Cubs try to sell "the Wrigley experience" and pretend they're the Red Sox. The fact is, Fenway Park is sold out every day because the Red Sox have had a winning season every year since 1998, have made the playoffs eight times since then and won two World Series.

Until the Cubs can match that, they're going to need to lower ticket prices -- particularly for season ticket holders -- and institute a more fan-friendly rainout policy, especially since they're so proud that their team draws so many out-of-state fans, who likely cannot plan a return trip to Chicago if the game they've bought tickets for is rained out.

The empty seats this year are a warning shot. When the Cubs return to be a winning team, as they were most of the time from 2003-2009, fans will return. Until then, they'll have to be enticed. The next move is up to the front office.

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