We are starting to see the effects of the Cubs' poor play this month in attendance figures from the homestand completed Wednesday against the Reds and Astros.
Date Announced Crowd In-House Estimate 8/9 33,397 21,000 8/10 36,891 29,000 8/11 40,602 38,000 8/12 35,461 29,000 8/13 31,452 18,000 8/14 33,376 24,000 8/15 33,714 26,000
None of the seven dates sold out -- the closest, 40,602, was a few hundred short of official capacity -- despite the presence of many thousands of Reds fans who came to Chicago for the weekend. The Monday date against the Astros had the lowest announced tickets-sold total of the season, likely due to the bad weather; that probably reduced the number of walk-up sales to zero. That date and the rain-delayed game on August 9 had the smallest in-house estimates of the homestand (and some of the smallest of the entire season), understandably.
The Cubs passed the two million mark in announced tickets sold during this homestand; the total of 2,143,030 averages to 36,949 per game. If that average holds for the rest of the year, they'll come up just short of three million: 2,992,852. For this homestand total tickets sold were 244,893, an average of 34,895; my estimates for this homestand total 185,000, an average of 26,429, so there were about 8,000 no-shows per date.
For the season, my in-house estimates total 1,689,000, an average of 29,120 per date, down slightly from the last time I wrote about this topic August 2. That makes average no-shows (by my count) 7,829 per game; if this holds, they'll have about 635,000 no-shows for the season.
After the jump, further thoughts about this year, and next.
Last year, the Cubs had a schedule they considered unfavorable, and it was: 33 of the 81 home games were complete by June 1, 2011. Besides that early-stacking schedule that was before most kids are out of school, the weather in 2011 was atrocious, with multiple rainouts, rain delays and games played in cold conditions.
So the Cubs asked for a better schedule in 2012. They got one, to some extent; the weather this year has been better (although quite hot in July), but now, with the team playing poorly, the Cubs face two upcoming 10-game homestands -- the longest of the season -- including series against the Rockies, Pirates and Astros again, teams that traditionally do not draw well. The only upcoming series that figures to draw really well is the one against the Cardinals on Sept. 21, 22 and 23, presuming the Cardinals remain in wild-card contention (they currently occupy one of the two wild-card spots).
The three games against the Astros on Oct. 1, 2 and 3 are likely to see a quite-empty Wrigley Field, especially Monday, Oct. 1 -- because on that night, the game is up against Bears vs. Cowboys on Monday Night Football.
I've talked a lot about lowering ticket prices; we've had some fairly intense discussions of that here. It's my opinion that they cannot sell a product like they have on the field now at these Red Sox-level prices. Now, we can debate what sorts of acquisitions the team is going to make over the winter in a reasonable way, but the fact is, if they do the same thing they did a year ago -- and I have no reason to think they won't -- season-ticket prices will be set long before the free-agent and trade seasons begin.
So how can they do this without a mass exodus by season-ticket holders? Yes, I am well aware there is a waiting list that still tops six figures. Does anyone here really think that people on that list will pay current prices for season tickets? Some did this season -- but how many of those will renew, after eating the cost of tickets they couldn't sell or had to sell at a loss?
This year -- and I'm talking bleacher tickets only, because tickets in what they call the "bowl" were split out a bit differently -- the Cubs broke down tickets this way:
Marquee games: 13
Platinum games: 9
Gold games: 21
Silver games: 27
Bronze games: 11
That's way too many marquee games. Saturday games against the Astros, Diamondbacks and Reds did not sell out -- likely due to the high price. There were six games, in my estimation, that should have qualified in that category this year: Opening Day, the Red Sox series and the Saturday games vs. the Cardinals and White Sox (and the latter of those, this year, maybe not).
It's too few bronze games, especially early and late in the year. Weeknights against the Braves in May were termed "silver", but those didn't draw well. At the same time, the series against the Tigers was in the "gold" category, and those games all sold out, drawing huge crowds. The Cubs appear to be pricing games based on the way things were in 2007 or 2008, not current conditions.
Since I have not yet seen the 2013 schedule -- it should be, if the last two years' practice continues, out in about a month -- I have no way of knowing who the Cubs are playing when, which would help me make a proposal for change that would help the season-ticket holder (and allow the Cubs to keep a high renewal rate), and also allow me to suggest a true dynamic-pricing system.
Instead, I'll have to guess. Here's my suggested breakdown of games by tier for 2013:
This would still give the Cubs a large number of games they could sell at relatively high prices, but also slightly increase the number of games in the lower two tiers. Even if the Cubs kept individual game prices the same as this year, that would in effect give season-ticket holders a price reduction.
This season, for bleacher tickets, the Cubs gave season-ticket holders a small price break over individual game tickets -- it amounted to about four percent. What I'd suggest is this: reduce the single-game price to this year's season-ticket price, in other words, an average four-percent reduction for individual ticket buyers (or those who buy the small multi-game packs they are likey to offer again in 2013). Then, give a further break to season-ticket holders, maybe another five percent on top of that.
Once you do that, you can actually float the ticket prices in a true dynamic pricing system like this one that the San Francisco Giants use. You can see how prices vary based on opponent and day of the week -- and the Giants, still in the afterglow of their World Series title, are still pretty much selling out every day (averaging 41,751 for 61 dates). The Cubs' so-called "dynamic" system wasn't really that -- the prices seemed to go only up from face value, not down.
Doing something like that would protect the season-ticket holder from having his or her price undercut by too much (or at all), and it would allow the Cubs to sell more tickets to games that have been nowhere close to sellouts this year. It has the added advantage -- as you can see in the Giants' pricing scheme -- of being able to sell tickets for games against rivals (the Dodgers, in the Giants' case) or games if the team gets better, for much higher prices. This would also put more butts in the seats to buy food and drink; the Cubs have lost tons of that kind of money this year from having so many no-shows.
Look, I get it. The Cubs are trying to maximize ticket income, particularly since they don't have things like Jumbotron advertising or a huge local TV deal as many other teams are beginning to have, reaping large revenue dollars every year. But given the current state of the team -- and yes, the possibility there will be a $60 million payroll put on the field in 2013 -- the Cubs can't continue to charge Red Sox or Yankees prices for tickets. Many think the huge waiting list will save the season-ticket base -- but now, I don't think that's guaranteed, unless prices are cut.
I see I've gotten quite wordy here, but I wanted to get this all out while there's still a fair amount of season -- 23 home games -- remaining. The empty seats we are likely to see at Wrigley as the team gets worse and the weather gets cooler will be a warning to management. Let's see if they heed it.