First, the facts. Then, some opinions.
Here are the announced tickets-sold figures, and my in-house estimates, for the final homestand of 2014, 10 games from September 15-24.
Date Announced Crowd In-House Estimate 9/15 33,134 15,000 9/16 33,812 15,000 9/17 33,500 15,000 9/18 33,649 22,000 9/19 33,322 24,000 9/20 34,334 29,000 9/21 31,933 25,000 9/22 28,893 16,000 9/23 29,754 18,000 9/24 33,292 25,000
The Cubs announced 2,652,113 tickets sold for the 2014 season. That's 9,431 more tickets than were reported as sold for 2013, or 116 more per date. The average for 2014 was 32,742 per date; the average for 2013 was 32,225 (the 116 number doesn't quite match due to rounding).
The Cubs currently rank 10th overall in announced attendance. The Texas Rangers, who rank 11th, have four home games remaining and would have to draw 70,389 for the four dates, an average of 17,592 per date, to pass the Cubs in tickets sold. As bad as the Rangers have been this year, they are averaging 33,529 tickets sold per date, so it's likely they'll pass the Cubs and the Cubs will finish 11th overall in total tickets sold.
The Cubs' average of 32,742 ranks 11th, about 300 behind the Rockies, whose home season is complete, and about 900 ahead of the Nationals. The Nats have six (!) home games remaining, including split doubleheaders both Thursday and Friday. It's conceivable, but not likely, that Washington could pass the Cubs if they draw well for these six games. Most likely, the Cubs also finish 11th in announced attendance average.
For this homestand, my in-house estimates totaled 204,000, or 20,400 per date. For the 2014 season, my in-house estimates totaled 1,949,000, or 24,062 per date. The Cubs thus had an estimated 703,113 no-shows for the season, or 8,680 per date. Last year, I estimated 1,822,000 were actually in the house, or 22,494 per date. That means there were an estimated 820,682 no-shows in 2013, or 10,132 per date.
So this year, more people did actually show up to the games, which corresponds to published reports I've seen over the last few days; the total estimated no-shows were down by over 120,000 this year, or almost 1,500 per date. That's a good sign for the Cubs as more people were actually in the park this year, by my estimates, despite truly horrific weather much of the year. Rain delays were frequent and many night games, even in July and August, were played in chilly weather.
Now, some opinion.
I've been doing these Attendance Watch articles for three years, and making an in-house estimate every day. That amounts to over 240 games, and I think I've gotten pretty good at those estimates. In addition to estimating the total in the house, it's generally pretty easy to tell what the announced total will be, based on how full the corners are, how far back the terrace section is filled, how full the upper deck and bleachers are, etc.
There were, in my view, several late-season games for which the announced tickets-sold total seemed way out of whack. The three night games against the Reds -- shown above -- are some of them. It makes no sense at all for those to have sold more than 5,000 tickets per game than three comparable night games in August against the Brewers (shown here). Very few Reds fans showed up for that weeknight series.
It seems clear to me that the Cubs wanted word to get out that "we sold more tickets than we did last year" and, as shown in in the headline to this Crain's article, attendance was "up" for the first time since 2008.
Now, based on my estimates, yes, more people entered the gates at Wrigley Field than did last year. But did they actually sell more tickets to real ticket buyers?
I stress that I have no source nor any way to prove this hypothesis; it's nothing more than an opinion, based strictly on my own in-person observations as noted above. Did the Cubs manipulate those numbers? I don't know, but I think they could have done so in some way to put them "over the top" of the 2013 season tickets-sold total and thus create the media narrative that "attendance is going up." Again, this is simply my opinion, nothing more.
It's also clear that things are beginning to look up for the Chicago Cubs baseball-wise and they could very well have stronger ticket sales in 2015. They've kept most season-ticket prices flat (yes, I'm aware that some went up considerably, mostly by the creation of two new ticket tiers) and that ought to help renewals and new season-ticket sales.