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In the face of the pandemic, Cubs season ticket policy has lost its way

2020 was a baseball year like no other. 2021 could be the same, yet the Cubs haven’t adjusted ticket prices accordingly.

Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Earlier this week I wrote about Cubs season ticket invoices and pricing and promised you that BCB reader Lifetime Cubs Fan, who has or the last few seasons done 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 2021 season tickets, and without further ado, I turn the rest of this post over to him.

As Al mentioned earlier this week, the Cubs sent invoices to season ticket holders where invoice amounts were nearly the same as 2020 (at least for his tickets in the Bleachers). I will get to my feelings as to what should have been done for next year soon enough, but first, I will acknowledge what the Cubs got right for 2021:

  • Having a few Bronze Tier games in the month of September

That’s it.

Before I get to the details of what Cubs management should have done, it’s important to take perspective of the current situation, as we still are living in unprecedented times:

  • We are still in the midst of a pandemic that does not have a viable vaccine
  • When a vaccine is approved and introduced, logistically, it will likely take 6-12 months to vaccinate those willing to receive it (in other words, almost the entire 2021 baseball season)
  • Unemployment is more than double (almost triple!) what is was last year at this point. Many businesses have shut down
  • Many people still working have taken pay cuts or are receiving smaller/no commissions. As a result, any discretionary income left is being saved for emergency funds/day-to-day expenses (versus spending nearly $100 per bleacher ticket for a Saturday game against the Diamondbacks in July)
  • Many people have no confidence to attend large events currently. Who here (especially those over 60 or in high-risk health categories) wants to get in a crowd with 30,000 people with questionable hygiene practices and no social distancing?
  • And lastly, let’s not forget the Cubs ballclub — they are at best plateauing, and very likely could be a much different team come Spring Training.

All of these external factors didn’t exist at this time last year, and even then, I felt some of the actions of Cubs management were pure lunacy. Check out my writeup from last year. In my opinion, for Cubs management to keep the status quo for 2021 given the current environment is beyond lunacy.

Now I’ll admit, no one from the Cubs management team asked me for assistance, but if I was, here are items I would have recommended to implement for 2021:

  • Get rid of dynamic pricing for 2021. Have single-game tickets be static at a few dollars more than the current STH prices
  • For people on the STH waitlist, offer them the Double Play and Nights and Weekend packages in addition to full season ticket packages if their number is called
  • Introduce a STH appreciation program, that a certain amount of STHs (four tickets per game, per club) get upgraded to a Club area. Which Club, and odds of winning would be a combination of current section and STH tenure
  • For 81 game Season ticket holders, create four 20 or 21 game “packages” (balanced across price tiers) and give them four options:

Option A: Renew 25 percent of tickets (they choose one of the 20/21 game “packages”)

Price is at 2021 Invoice prices

One playoff ticket for WC, and each Series thereafter

Option B: Renew 50 percent of tickets (two game packages)

5% discount compared to current 2021 invoice

One Playoff game for WC and LDS, two for LCS and WS

Option C: Renew 75 percent of tickets (three game packages)

10% discount compared to current 2021 invoice

Playoffs (WC game, two games for LDS, three for LCS and WS)

Option D: Renew 100 percent of tickets

15% discount compared to current 2021 invoice

15% discounted 2021 Price ‘locked’ for 2022 Season

All Playoff Games

$200 gift card (per seat) for Concessions / Merchandise

And for the people on the Nights and Weekend and Double Play plan, create a similar model (maybe two options per plan with similar discounts)

Below are some of the benefits of this approach:

  • For those that let the Cubs’ retain their 2020 payment (with 5 percent additional credit), the renewal rate for 2021 likely would have been close to 100 percent since every Option above requires no additional money at this time
  • For the 2022 season, when reverting (hopefully) to the normal structure, renewal rates would likely be much higher than normal because the 2022 season would be somewhat subsidized by a residual credit that remained after the 2021 season
  • If seating capacity is limited (say to about 10,000 per game), these packages would have made it much easier for determining which subset of games each season ticket holder could attend (where they had a say as to what game combinations they would like to see)
  • For those that ‘cashed out’ the 2020 invoice payment, this would allow them an opportunity to remain a STH with a much smaller financial commitment than normal (given the times we live in are anything but normal)
  • The goodwill felt by STH would have been incredible as many would recognize the Cubs’ actually value their business as STH versus just an account number and revenue stream (which is how many STH probably feel at this point). I think the Ricketts can afford to lose $10-50 million in 2021 considering the franchise has increased in value by over $2 Billion since they bought it 11 years ago. The current approach is very ‘pound-foolish’
  • For non-season ticket holders, knowing the ticket prices would be static would help those who might be uncertain now, but could become more comfortable to buy tickets and attend games as the 2021 season progresses.

So, what is going to happen as a result of the Cubs approach for 2021?

  • Renewal rates will be the lowest in the Theo Epstein era, by far. I am sure ticket reps are getting plenty of calls from people stating they want their 2020 payments backs since they are not renewing for 2021 or looking to downgrade to less games, and/or cheaper sections if possible
  • The season ticket waitlist at this point is a joke. Anyone on the STH waitlist who wants to be a STH should call the box office, I am sure they will ‘make an exception’ just for you. Ticket reps trying to procure new season ticket holders will be very active, but rarely successful in the coming months
  • Secondary market prices will be the lowest since 2013. STH’s will flood the market with tickets. If you want to attend a game at a deep discount, watch Stubhub

This whole situation reminds me of when I worked for Capital Group (an Investment Management company) many years ago. Their pride and arrogance led them to keep the status quo as the Great Recession was concluding. Meanwhile, other companies, like Vanguard adapted. In 2008, Vanguard and Capital Group had similar assets under management (AUM), which is the vehicle that drives revenue for the organization. Today, 12 years later, Vanguard has three times the AUM as Capital Group, a difference to the tune of $4 TRILLION. Sure, the Cubs may still technically be OK, but I feel they are being very foolish in their approach just like my old organization.

Now. what is a writeup from me without some charts and graphs? Below is a chart for the prices per seat per section for a full season ticket plan. As you can see it is six times more expensive per seat in the Club Box Home Plate section vs. the Upper Reserved Outfield section:

This dashboard shows the changes in ticket prices (including amusement taxes) for six different sections (Bleachers, Club Box Home Plate, Field Box Outfield, Terrace Reserved Preferred, Upper Box Infield and Upper Reserved Outfield) across the various prices tiers. As you can see, from the Bronze Tier to the Diamond Tier, prices can increase at least by a factor of three, and for the Upper Infield Reserve – Outfield, it increases by a factor of six!

I wish for everyone reading this to have a safe, healthy, and enjoyable off-season. As always, go Cubs!