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2020 Cubs season-ticket pricing: Pure genius or pure lunacy?

A deep dive into pricing for season tickets for 2020.

Al Yellon

After the Cubs sent season-ticket invoices out a couple of weeks ago, I posted this article detailing the prices, which have gone down an average of 2.5 percent for 2020. Some areas of the ballpark are dropping only 1.4 percent, others as much as 6.5 percent.

For the last few seasons, BCB reader Lifetime Cubs Fan has been doing analysis here of ticket pricing trends for STH, at the box office and on the secondary market. Today, I present LCF’s detailed analysis of the Cubs’ pricing for 2020 season tickets and asks, as noted in the headline: Is this “pure genius” or “pure lunacy”?

I’m turning the rest of this post over to LCF.

As posted here a couple of weeks ago, Cubs season ticket invoices were sent out where the overall price was reduced between 1.5 percent and 6.5 percent over 2019. Here are the decreases in each pricing level at Wrigley Field:

And here are the specific 2020 season-ticket prices for each area of the ballpark, including the city and county amusement taxes:

Was the manner in which the Cubs priced season tickets the right move, or have they lost their way? I will take a look from both perspectives:

Pure Genius

  • Since the Cubs now know exactly who is in the ballpark due to mobile ticketing, they can more accurately ascertain how many of their season tickets are “business-related” (high variability of attendees for a seat) and individual (limited attendees at a seat). In my opinion, they feel that a sizable portion is business-related, and what business wouldn’t enjoy a reduction in costs year-over-year when just about every other aspect of the business gets more expensive year-over-year (labor, benefits, etc).
  • The Cubs know there is a sizable waitlist for season tickets. Let’s say only 80 percent of season ticket holders renew for 2020. In my view, the Cubs feel they can easily replenish 80 percent or more of that fallout with new season ticket holders, which will be close to a net neutral outcome. In addition, unless the new season ticket holder has been reading BCB articles over the past few seasons or has watched StubHub closely, many new STHs come in believing they can make money selling the games they do not attend. It will take just one season for them to realize this is not the case.
  • The Cubs realize that approximately two million tickets will be paid for two months prior to the first pitch because season ticket payments are due January 15, 2020.
  • The Cubs know that you know that a greater proportion of people will not renew, giving current season ticket holders the possibility of upgrading to a better seat in the same section or a better section altogether. They know some of you will be pleased to have a better seat for 2020 and pay less for them than you did in 2019.
  • The Ricketts have very deep pockets, and in my opinion, have devoted the proper time to modeling out how tickets should be priced and how games should be categorized. Examples of this are the Diamond level games against the Reds in July and the Brewers in early August. They know tourists are at a peak during this time and many of them plan their vacations to be in Chicago the same time the Cubs are town and are willing to pay a premium price to attend a game at Wrigley. Click here for the complete home schedule showing which games are in which price tier.
  • They can say that 100 percent of STH have a lower invoice in 2020 compared to 2019.
  • They can say that for some games for some sections, tickets are under $10. I do not see those sections having Bronze pricing change for years to come — it is the Cubs’ version of the Costco hot dog and drink for $1.50.
  • The sole driver for the reduction of the STH invoice is shifting more games into lower pricing tiers. No game/tier/section combination has a lower STH price in 2020 compared to 2019. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that many of the 132 game/tier/section combinations have higher prices in 2020 than they did in 2019, while some of those tiers remained at the same price. When non-season ticket holders buy tickets from the Cubs, they will have the mentality that tickets are cheaper (based on the headline that STH invoices went down in 2020), but in reality, they likely will be paying more! This also lays groundwork for the Cubs to reduce the game prices in 2021 (and make that the headline) in case the team performs poorly in 2020.
  • And let’s not forget, the Cubs are getting increased revenue from the high-end Club memberships and will soon get revenues from the Marquee Network.

Pure Lunacy

  • Did the Cubs not realize that during a heated playoff chase in 2019, only two of the last 13 home games had more than 40,000 in attendance and three of those games were under 35,000 in paid attendance? The reason is simple — the tickets are too expensive!
  • Have the Cubs not noticed the abundance of tickets on the secondary market and how a significant portion of them are sold for prices below what a STH paid? (Of course they do, since they get a cut of those sales.) This is more applicable for bad weather/April games, but it was also observed in summer months. Please raise your hand if you are a STH who has friends who would gladly buy from you from 2015-2017 who politely decline you now.
  • Why is the invoice due in full so early? If the Cubs trade away players after that moment, the STH has no recourse (Who would buy a sports car paying for the best engine with a possibility that one could be delivered a car with only 4 cylinders? No one!). Many other teams (including the White Sox) have payment plans spread out over a longer duration (up to 10 months, from what I researched).
  • The schedule in 2020 can best be described as a dud. Yes, the Red Sox series has the potential to be fun, but with 33 games in March, April and September, there are many games STH will have a hard time selling if they can’t go themselves.
  • For a 19-game stretch from mid-June to early August, the cheapest STH ticket price (Upper Reserved Outfield) is $39. Speaking from a Southern California perspective, the Dodgers, Angels and Padres have traditionally had tickets from $10-15 for almost every game during the same period. Many families can not afford those prices, and as a result, the Cubs are not developing that next generation of Cubs’ fans. In addition, and for STHs more important, there are few games that can be sold even at break-even prices once fees are considered. To put this point in greater perspective, in 2005, when the Red Sox were in town, I sold the Sunday game for $180 per ticket in the Upper Deck Reserved – Infield (10 times the STH price!). Today that same ticket costs a STH $64 (and I am confident a STH won’t get $180 for the Sunday game next season against the Red Sox).
  • The wide variance in price from Bronze to Diamond is ridiculous (see chart below). Yes, I understand that a weekend game in the summer should be priced higher than an April game, but many sections have games over five times the Bronze price!
  • The price break season ticket holders get (a few dollars in many cases) is far lower than other MLB teams. For example, the Mariners offer 50 percent off in certain sections, the Padres up to 30 percent, the Rangers (in a new stadium!) provide “bonus tickets” per month. As of now, not every team has 2020 pricing complete, but almost every team has better pricing for STH relative to what the Cubs offer. In fact, the Cubs website is the only MLB website that I checked (about 20 teams) that did not tout any season ticket holder benefits (possibly because they are paltry compared to others).
  • The Cubs offer no extra published recognition for long-term season ticket holders. Many teams have “rewards” and “points” programs for their season ticket holders, with long-tenured STH in the most expensive seats getting the best perks.
  • There is no means to purchase partial season ticket plans for new STH (based on recent years’ approach) that have postseason rights. With the exception of the Red Sox, all other team sites I checked had partial season plans that offered partial playoff rights.
  • Overall, from a business perspective, the Cubs will do just fine in 2020, though, in my opinion, attendance will be under three million and some games will have attendance under 30,000. If the Cubs fail to reach the playoffs again in 2020, I feel an overhaul to some of the STH benefits/pricing will be required to maintain the STH base in 2021 and beyond.

Lastly, here is my heat map of game tier pricing for 2020.