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Buying or renewing Cubs season tickets is an emotional choice as well as a financial decision

Deciding to buy or renew your season tickets? Here’s some data you’ll want to look at.

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 09:  Fans cheer in the seventh inning during game three of the National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on October 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thursday, the Cubs sent out season-ticket invoices and I wrote this article detailing pricing. Some prices have gone down — bleachers are down about five and a half percent — and some are up as much as nine percent.

These prices appear to have been set to gain the maximum number of season-ticket renewals. With the bleacher pricing down, I would guess most bleacher season-ticket holders will renew.

Others might stop and think, especially those with a nine percent increase in 2018 on top of significant increases a year ago.

The decision to renew season tickets isn’t just financial, of course. Many people (myself included) have held season tickets for decades. 2018 will be my 26th as a bleacher season-ticket holder. I’ve held tickets through really bad years, and of course during a World Series-winning season. Others spent a long time on the season-ticket wait list before finally getting their chance to buy tickets within the last few years, and many of those people aren’t likely giving them up unless they simply can’t meet the cost anymore.

Which brings me to the remainder of this article, written by BCB reader Lifetime Cubs Fan. In it, he weighs several factors involved in buying season tickets — cost and emotional attachment to the team. It’s not just as easy as adding up the dollars, especially if you as a STH go to only a portion of the games in your season-ticket package.

It’s interesting analysis and thoughtfully done.

I will get straight to the point: For a large majority of individual season ticket holders (not companies or brokers), renewing your season tickets for 2018 is very likely to be a poor financial decision. For most of you on the season ticket wait list who get a call to purchase season tickets, choosing to sign up for tickets is an even worse decision (as you are likely presented some of the least desirable seats for a given section).

This is even with season ticket costs going down in 2018 for some sections (and only increasing 1 percent overall).

Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I will devote much of the rest of this article sharing the points that will support the statements above. But before I do, there are certain situations where it is ok to renew:

  • If the season ticket invoice is less than three percent of your gross income (or 0.25 percent of your net worth if you are retired), it is a luxury you can afford, renew at your leisure.
  • If you have a partial plan that you share with as many other parties as there are tickets, it is fine to renew as your risk is mitigated. For a Nights and Weekend package, four seats to approximately 14 games is much better than four seats to approximately 56 games.
  • If you go to almost every home game, like to get to the ballpark early, like to sit in the same location every game, can write off the cost of the tickets on your tax return, and write a blog on all things Cubs, then sure, go ahead and renew (If you go to 60+ games a year you fit in this category as well).
  • If you have some of the best seats in the following sections (as secondary market demand is still strong relative to STH price). It is not a coincidence that some of these sections saw the largest price increases in 2018.
  • Upper Deck Reserved (Infield and Outfield)
  • Field Box Infield
  • Terrace Box Infield
  • The ‘New Best’ Club Box Infield (near the edges of the new Club Seats)
  • If you own your own business and the goodwill you would lose with customers/suppliers that use your tickets is greater than the cost of the tickets, then it would be wise to renew.

There are likely many STH’s and those on the waitlist who do not fit into one of the above categories.

Below I outline the facts that explain why I feel this way and provide additional context to support. Though I give the Cubs some credit in how they priced tickets for 2018, in my opinion, they would have gained more political capital with STH’s by decreasing tickets by 1-2% vs. the slight overall increase of approximately 1%.

I once was a STH for almost 10 years with a buddy of mine. After the 2011 season, we did not renew, primarily due to the fact I did not live in Illinois anymore, and he was in the burbs. But even if we lived blocks from Wrigley, we would not have renewed at that time. Even though the quality of the team now is much better than it was in 2011, there are items today eerily similar to what existed back then:

  • Tickets are expensive (and have increased at a rate that far exceeds other benchmarks)

Check out the charts below as to how the pricing of bleacher tickets and Field Box Outfield have increased over the years. Additionally, I compared the bleacher percentage increase to other benchmarks:

It is interesting to note that bleacher seats decreased a little less than six percent in 2018. Prior to this year, from 1997 onward, the year after a playoff berth, Bleacher seats had increased an average of 18 percent.

To quote Carl from Caddyshack, that 29 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 was “a little harsh.”

It’s relatively sad that the median income in Chicago-Naperville-Joliet has not kept up with inflation, but let’s take a deeper look into that.

Say a median family of four in 1997 could earmark one percent of their gross income to watching Cubs games and they enjoyed seeing games in the bleachers. They would have had about $430 to play with. Given bleacher tickets averaged about $11 in 1997, when you factor in parking, concessions, and souvenirs, they probably could keep a game under $107, which would enable them to see four games over the season. Fast forward to today, they have about $650 to work with. If they wanted to see a Platinum game, it would cost them approximately $250 just for the tickets (with fees). Add parking, concessions and souvenirs and you can easily get to nearly $500 for the day — thus they could go to one game. If they are willing to see a game in colder weather, and skimp on concessions, they could probably see three Bronze games. And there lies one of the problems, the substitution effect is driving ‘median’ families to the Kane County Cougars and possibly even the White Sox because they can see multiple games for a price much less than one game at Wrigley. From anecdotal observations, the percentage of the crowd at Wrigley under the age of 21 is much less than what you see at Comiskey, I mean The Cell, I mean Guaranteed Rate Field.

I would imagine the Cubs pricing department set 2018 season-ticket prices to get a renewal rate of over 90 percent. They know if anyone is ‘priced out,’ that a playoff caliber team combined with a lengthy STH waitlist (118,000, of which 100,000 are likely looky-loos) will backfill any seats vacated (and they are right). They’ll pitch that the season-ticket price will be lower than single game tickets, but what they will fail to mention is that this difference is sometimes as little as a few dollars.

  • The pricing tiers make selling tickets on secondary market at a high profit much more difficult. Given the game / pricing tier structure (Marquee, Platinum, etc.) the Cubs have made it very difficult for a season-ticket holder to arbitrage and make a significant profit on any game. Look at the range of bleacher seat costs. It is $23 for a cold weeknight game in April and $89 for a potentially warm summer weekend day game in July. That is a wide dollar and percentage range for the same seat. In 2005, I believe the spread between the cheapest upper deck reserved infield seat was $9. We used this to our advantage by selling some of the most desirable games on the secondary market to subsidize the games we attended. For example, when the Cubs played the Red Sox at Wrigley for the first time in forever, we sold four seats ($18 tickets) for $180 each (10 times face value). Fast forward to today, that same seat would be $64 ($53 more than cheapest tier price) and I am sure it would not go for 10 times face value ($640) in today’s market. I would be interested to hear from STH’s who sell multiple games on the secondary market. How many games did you sell in 2017 at twice the price you paid? With the exception of Opening Day, and the Ring Ceremony game — which I believe was a silver game for STH, I would imagine that would be a very low number.
  • 81 games to attend is a LOT of games. Assuming the Cubs are still making new season-ticket holders buy all 81 games when their number is called, I want to make sure you are aware of the following:
  1. 20-30 of the games could be played in less than ideal weather (cold and/or rainy).
  2. Some homestands are 10 games. There are very few of us who could go to every game of a 10-game homestand (and the games friends and family members want to go to will probably be the same games you will want to attend). The most games I went to in a single year was 28 games (2004). It was a lot of fun, but it was very close to my limit.
  3. You might wind up ‘eating’ some tickets (not use or sell). Though we allocated / sold most games before the season started, we did have a few games where tickets went unused over the years. I remember how I felt wasting four $12 tickets, I can’t imagine what wasting four $50 tickets feels like.
  4. The Cubs, though popular, are less interesting to the casual fan now versus what they were in 2016
  5. Attendance patterns: In 2016 there were only 14 games under 38,000 announced attendance, and none after June 2. In 2017, 21 games were under that level and 13 of those were after June 2.
  6. Though tickets increased about 20 percent for the 2017 season over 2016, the final demand pricing on dropped when compared with 2016 final demand pricing. How do I know this? I captured the final pricing for every game in 2016 and 2017. Check out the chart below that illustrates the squeeze that has occurred.

There were almost twice the tickets available on Stubhub in 2017 vs 2016 (some games had more than 7,000 tickets on Stubhub). Some of this is attributed to the MLB Ballpark app, some due to speculators trying to make a buck, but another key factor was that some season-ticket holders needed to sell games because they could not go to them all. At the end of the day, the demand wasn’t there to support the supply and secondary market prices were frequently well below STH prices as games approached. I am confident that a non-season ticket holder could have obtained a bleacher ticket to every home game last year (including playoffs) and paid less than a STH.

Friends and family could be less interested in the regular season tickets in 2018 for a few reasons:

They are more of a casual fan vs. the devoted fan you are, and the allure and a buzz of an organization on the brink of ending a 108-year drought is no longer present.

They are savvy and have noticed that they can get better seats than what you can offer at the same, or cheaper price from the secondary market.

  • Playoff games (Wildcard / NLDS / NLCS) are not the cash cows they once were

Raise your hand if you sold your NLCS Game 3 or Game 4 ticket for face value or below (once fees were factored into the equation).

When the Cubs were down two games to none to the Dodgers in the NLCS, there were seats in every section for Game 3 of the NLCS that could be purchased on Stubhub (with fees) for less than what a STH paid. Below are some examples of what tickets could be had in certain sections.

  1. Bleachers (STH – $156 vs. Stubhub, $106)
  2. Club Box Infield (STH - $356 vs. Stubhub $291)
  3. Upper Deck Box (STH - $196 vs. Stubhub $130)

Many people on this blog indicated that selling some of the 2016 playoff tickets paid for much of their 2017 invoice. That windfall of excess cash is likely much smaller (likely unused playoff ticket credits) and some of youare staring at a ticket invoice that ranges from $4,000 to $15,000 and don’t have those discretionary funds available in your bank account.

Public Service Announcement: If you can’t pay the credit card statement that has the Cubs season ticket payment on it in full, by the due date, you are not in a financial position to afford them.

At this point I probably have some of you season-ticket holders and those on the waitlist thinking very hard right now (that’s why I wrote this). If you are wondering what scenario I think needs to occur for renewing your tickets to be a wise financial move, it is simple, the Cubs need to get to the World Series and win it at home.

You might agree that renewing the seats is a poor financial decision, but whether to renew or not is an emotional decision for you. Let’s say deep in your gut, you feel the Cubs are going to win the World Series at home in 2018 (I say it’s a 20 percent chance the Cubs get to the World Series in 2018, a 10 percent chance of winning it all and a 5 percent chance of clinching at home) and you know that if you don’t have season tickets, it will cost you an astronomical amount (and that is putting it lightly) to attend the potential clincher. Lucky for you, there are some options:

  • Sell as many games to friends and family at face and get the money from them prior to your credit card statement coming due
  • You could offer to throw them a bone and give them ‘inside position’ to see a playoff game (i.e. if you buy five games, you will get to go to a NLDS game, 10 games, an NLCS game, and so forth.)
  • Sell some desirable games on Stubhub before Christmas. Though you won’t get the cash until near the time the season starts, you likely have the best chance to make a profit. Don’t be greedy and think you are going to get 100 percent markup for a Sunday game in April.
  • Find a fellow BCB partner to take 10 to 50 percent of your tickets. There are some here that would salivate over an opportunity to get to regular season games at STH prices with the opportunity for partial/limited playoff rights at/near face value. Here is a post where you can offer part of your package to a partner, or look for one if you’re looking to get in. Reminder here: face value only on offers on that post.
  • Create a ‘package’ that does not exist that would be of interest to many, but not have an astronomical cost (i.e. one game per homestand and blend in a mix of weekend games and desirable opponents and provide limited playoff rights)

At the end of the day though, the decision to renew (or sign-up) is yours to make.

If you don’t renew, there is life after Cubs season tickets, I can attest to it personally. In the last six years, I have seen 14 Cubs games (three at Wrigley, the rest in California, three of which were NLCS games in Los Angeles) and I have paid face or lower for ALL of the games I attended. I have diverted most of the funds that went to Cubs season tickets to my kids’ 529 College Plan which has grown nicely. (If my legacy is to provide them with the best education they can receive without them entering the real world under a mountain of debt, I will be very happy). I also have diverted $300 a year to a “If the Cubs have a chance to clinch a World Series at Wrigley account” that should give me the flexibility to attend in person if (I mean when!) that day were to arrive.

Best of luck in making your decision!


Regarding Cubs season tickets...

This poll is closed

  • 23%
    I will renew / sign up (as I fit in one of the ‘renew’ categories highlighted above)
    (55 votes)
  • 12%
    I will renew / sign up because it is an emotional decision, I don’t care about the financial component
    (30 votes)
  • 9%
    I will still renew / sign up, but my approach for 2018 has changed after reading this article
    (23 votes)
  • 12%
    After reading this article, I will likely not renew / sign up
    (30 votes)
  • 41%
    I don’t have season tickets and wouldn’t get them under any circumstances
    (98 votes)
236 votes total Vote Now