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2021 Cubs attendance watch: In-house updates, and thoughts about 2022 pricing

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It’s time to start thinking about next year.

Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

As you might imagine, crowds at Wrigley Field thinned out after the early August visits of the Brewers and White Sox. Some of the in-house crowds were the smallest seen during the summer months since at least 2012.

Beginning with the Royals series that started August 20, I made an estimate of how many people were actually in the house at Wrigley. Here are those estimates, along with the actual announced crowds, for the 16 Cubs home games since August 20:

Cubs attendance and in-house estimates 8/20/21 to 9/12/21

Date Opponent Announced attendance In-house estimate
Date Opponent Announced attendance In-house estimate
8/20 Royals 31,835 22,000
8/21 Royals 34,005 27,000
8/22 Royals 29,610 25,000
8/23 Rockies 25,577 16,000
8/25 (1) Rockies 24,936 10,000
8/25 (2) Rockies 24,161 12,000
9/2 Pirates 26,963 15,000
9/3 Pirates 24,441 12,000
9/4 Pirates 30,020 22,000
9/5 Pirates 30,155 26,000
9/6 Reds 27,289 20,000
9/7 Reds 24,975 10,000
9/8 Reds 25,861 12,000
9/10 Giants 29,439 22,000
9/11 Giants 34,723 29,000
9/12 Giants 32,021 26,000
TOTAL 456,011 306,000
AVERAGE 28,501 19,125

Weather was a factor for a couple of the low turnouts, and another estimate of only 10,000 in the house was made for the first game of the August 25 doubleheader, a game rescheduled from a night game rainout the day before to an afternoon contest. You can understand, I’m sure, how people might not have been able to use their tickets for that game, especially given the lack of meaning of the game and the opponent.

It should be noted that 10 of the 16 games had an announced crowd below 30,000. In my memory, that hasn’t happened at this time of year since at least 2002. Some of those numbers are close to the season-ticket base number, which means the Cubs sold very few single-game tickets for those games. In fairness, the Cubs were unable to do a lot of group sales this year due to the uncertainty of when full capacity would be allowed, and group sales generally accounts for a lot of mid-summer attendance.

The games against the Giants did well, obviously because of the return of Kris Bryant to Wrigley Field.

For the 44 games since full capacity, the Cubs sold 1,404,786 tickets, or 31,927 per date. That average is down a bit since the 33,885 I reported for the then-28 full capacity dates in the last installment of this series.

For the season, the Cubs have sold 1,805,423 tickets, or 24,072 per date. The total ranks seventh in MLB and the average ranks eighth.

The Cubs have six home games remaining, two against the Twins, four against the Cardinals. They would have to average 32,430 per date to get to two million tickets sold this year. Given that the Twins games probably won’t draw anywhere close to that, it’ll be close. One of the remaining games is a makeup from a July 11 postponement to which the Cubs have likely already sold over 35,000 tickets.

So we’ll see.

Now, as always, I turn the rest of this post over to BCBer Lifetime Cubs Fan, who has some thoughts both on current ticket pricing and also where the Cubs ought to go regarding season ticket pricing for 2022. Be forewarned — this is long, but worth your time.


Though I will spend a quick moment providing a pricing update, a majority of this writeup will entail recommending actions the Cubs will need to take to retain season-ticket holders, lure new STHs, and provide incentive for single game ticket purchasers to buy tickets from the Cubs (as opposed to the secondary market) for the 2022 season.

First, a quick pricing update:

This should not be a surprise to anyone, it has continued to be a huge buyer’s market for Cubs’ tickets on the secondary market. Since my last writeup, with the exception of weekend games, you could have purchased bleacher tickets for the StubHub minimum ($6 plus fees) to every game since August 14. How bad is it now? It’s bad. When asking a buddy who has Outfield Field Box season tickets, he replied “I can’t even give away weekday games, no one wants them.” There have been some games where there were over 200 listings at the StubHub minimum price ($6 plus fees). Ticket prices on the secondary market are so bad that they are blowing up StubHub algorithms. Below are two examples of what I saw when I was checking StubHub prices on my phone:

For the August 23 game against the Rockies, StubHub was rating the “value” of the listing at the lowest level (1 out of 5 bars), even though the tickets were listed at the floor price of $6:

For the game on September 12 against the Giants, it appeared as if someone was trying to give away some tickets on StubHub for free, yet StubHub thought the “value” of those tickets was only a 1 out of 5. Sometimes you just have to laugh.

My advice to you if you want to go to one of the remaining games at Wrigley: Buy the cheapest ticket on StubHub and “upgrade” your seats as the game progresses.

Also, during my last update, I predicted the White Sox would outdraw the Cubs for the remainder of the season. Since August 14, the Sox average attendance has been 29,449 per game, while the Cubs’ attendance has been 28,499. I would also imagine the Sox have averaged many more people in-house during this time period. The chart below shows average attendance for the Cubs and Sox from 2015-2019 compared to 2021 since August 14.

Keep in mind that for Cubs night and weekend games, there are likely around 20,000-21,000 season tickets. This is quite alarming which segues into my next discussion topic:

What should the Cubs do to keep average attendance above 30,000 per game in 2022? Before I get to my suggested actions, let’s take a look at the following:

Facts (a.k.a. The Brutal Truth):

  • Cubs tickets are very expensive relative to other MLB teams
  • Cubs are the second best MLB team in Chicago at the moment
  • Cubs are drawing similar to what they did around the time Theo Epstein was hired 10 years ago
  • Fans buying tickets on the secondary market have paid significantly less than season-ticket holders, sometime less than 20 percent of what a STH paid.

Potentials Becoming Realities:

  • Many season tickets held by individuals or small groups will likely bail when renewals are sent out this fall.
  • Many first-time season ticket holders are likely not going to renew after experiencing the dire secondary market pricing they have seen this year, thus proving to them that being a STH is not lucrative at all.
  • Small businesses that can only afford one MLB team’s season tickets may be more interested in White Sox season tickets in 2022 (especially if the Sox make it to the World Series in 2021 and World Series tickets can be guaranteed via purchasing 2022 season tickets).
  • Most everyone on the season-ticket waitlist will likely pass on the opportunity to purchase season tickets if the status quo remains. In my opinion, at this point, they could go through the entire list (94,000+) in the offseason and still not replenish the season tickets not renewed.
  • Given that no Collective Bargaining Agreement is in place, there is an increased risk of a work stoppage and delay to the start of the 2022 season. Why would people fork over thousands of dollars this fall when games might not be played?

I think the Cubs are at a serious risk for dismal attendance in 2022. That’s primarily due to my belief that Cubs management will be obtuse to the current situation, and 2022 attendance will be the lowest (for full capacity) in the last 25 years (2,190,308 in 1997). However, it doesn’t need to be that way. Below are my recommendations for pragmatic actions the Cubs can take to ensure that average attendance in 2022 is greater than 30,000 per game while maintaining/maximizing revenue given the current situation and status of the team.

The most important focus for 2022 should be to appeal to the existing Season Ticket Holder base. Many of you out there are season ticket holders, and based on conversations I’ve had with a few season ticket holders (along with reading BCB comments), the common theme among them is that they feel underappreciated, and in many cases, are fed up as they feel they have been taken advantage of for far too long. As an analogy, who here would enjoy paying $1,000 for a plane ticket in economy 11 months before the flight, only to see someone buy a first-class ticket the day of the flight for $200? Now imagine that happening to you for 30-40 flights in a given year, that’s what most STHs have experienced in 2021! Given STHs will represent about 65-70 percent of 2021 ticket sales, it is important to keep them happy and retain them for 2022 and beyond. As of now, Cubs season ticket holder perks are among the worst in baseball.

Here are my suggestions.

  1. Lower 2022 invoices by about 15-20 percent compared to 2021. There are a few means to accomplish this, but the most logical is the following: Shift a significant amount of games to lower pricing tiers. Ticket prices per tier can remain the same as 2021 prices. In 2021, there were eight Diamond, nine Marquee, 15 Platinum, 21 Gold, 20 Silver, and eight Bronze games. In 2022, in my opinion, there should be four Diamond, seven Marquee, nine Platinum, 19 Gold, 26 Silver, and 16 Bronze). If we applied this logic to the Bleachers, the 2022 invoice per Bleacher seat would be $3,241, a 16.4 percent reduction compared to the 2021 invoice. Anything less than a 10 percent reduction, and I believe renewal rates will be under 50 percent.
  2. Make season ticket holders feel appreciated. The carrot of having playoff ticket rights doesn’t have merit at the moment. The Cubs need to create value and goodwill where it does not exist. Some suggestions:
  3. Offer various “opportunities” based on STH tenure. For example, anyone who is a season ticket holder for more than 25 years could be entered into a drawing to win a suite to an early season game, etc.). Publish these when sending out the renewal notices
  4. The longer your STH tenure, the nicer your season ticket holder gift
  5. Provide “experiences” that are virtually “no cost” to the Cubs. For example, one STH per home game throwing out a first pitch’ pictures on the field, free ballpark tours, etc. These experiences can be based on STH money spent (someone who pays $20,000 per year would have four times the chance of winning these experiences vs. someone who spends $5,000 per year on season tickets, for example). I’d be interested to hear about your “virtually no cost experiences” you would be interested to see the Cubs offer to season ticket holders
  6. Better food, beverage, and merchandise discounts for season ticket holders (excluding beer). The longer the STH tenure, the bigger the discount
  7. Increase the gap between STH price and the initial price offered for single game ticket purchases.
  8. Provide each season ticket holder hard tickets after season concludes (for free!)
  9. Make some significant free agent signings prior to the STH invoice renewal date. It is important to convey a Re-tool vs. a Re-build. In lieu of doing this, STHs will leave in droves. Plus, this will offset some of the disappointment STHs had when the Yu Darvish trade was made AFTER they renewed their tickets for the 2021 season.
  10. Incentivize to pay invoices early, as well as payment in full. For example, $100 in food/beverage/merchandise credit per ticket if payment made within 14 days of invoice being sent. For those that pay in full for first installment, they could receive Cubs’ convention passes (if the convention is continued) or limited-edition Christmas ornaments, a free scoreboard message, etc.
  11. Don’t send the 2022 season ticket invoice shortly after the 2021 season concludes. Many people have a bad taste in their mouth, give them some time to see the Cubs will take the necessary steps to improve the team. Forcing a decision early will lead to many leaving.
  12. Spread invoice payment dates out longer (50 percent due at first payment, 25 percent by February 1, 25% by March 1).
  13. Improve the season ticket holder ticket exchange (opportunity for STHs to buy other seats in different sections at STH prices (with no/low seller fee) if a STH can’t make a specific game.
  14. Provide opportunity to seamlessly downgrade to partial season ticket plans. In my opinion, in the current environment, having someone go from 81 games to about 55 games is much better than 81 games to 0 games.
  15. Provide them a very worthwhile gift if they upgrade to a nicer section in 2022, or, purchase more tickets. The nicer the upgrade in seat sections / more seats procured, the better the gift.
  16. For low attendance games, select some STHs and present to them day before/day of game, an opportunity to upgrade to better seats at no cost to them (which they can accept or decline)

For new season ticket holders:

  1. Provide them a worthwhile welcome gift that improves as the seating section procured improves (is more expensive)
  2. Offer partial season ticket plans, all with rights to at least one game per playoff series. Very few people are interested in 81 game ticket packages based on current state of team and secondary market pricing behavior. Proposed Packages (two of which are new):
  3. One game per homestand (14) No Wildcard, 1 LDS, 1 NLCS, 1 WS (Note: Seats may not be same for all games, and playoff seats would be in the Bleachers)
  4. Double Play (18) WC, 1 LDS, 1 NLCS, 1 WS (Note: playoff seats would be in the Bleachers)
  5. One game per Series (26) WC, 1 LDS, 2 NLCS, 1 WS (Note: Seats may not be same for all games, and playoff seats would be in the Bleachers). Two different packages could be made available.
  6. Nights and Weekends (~55) WC, all LDS, 2 NLCS, 2 WS
  7. Daily Plan (81) – All playoff games
  8. Provide STH an ability to pair with 1 other account for some of the ticket packages (Nights and Weekends, and Daily). This is not a simple solution to implement, but I think many would welcome this feature if it were made available.

For single game ticket purchasers:

  1. Virtually eliminate the dynamic pricing until the number of tickets sold gets above 90 percent of ballpark capacity.
  2. Have Dynamic pricing go down to amounts STH paid if the demand for a game is low.
  3. Offer packages that are family friendly (e.g. 4 tickets, 4 soft drinks, 4 hotdogs, a popcorn and a program) for the same price as for tickets for limited games, with limited sections.
  4. Designate more sections for group sales (and provide better perks as size of group increases)
  5. Provide an opportunity for ticket buyers to print a physical ticket upon entry at a low cost. Imagine a few kiosks that you scan your barcode and a ticket is printed for their exact seat on nice paper stock.
  6. Have all inclusive packages (food and non-alcoholic beverages) for games likely to have lower demand (i.e. April 21 against the Pirates)
  7. More pre/postgame on-field experiences (Kids run the bases on Sundays after the game, Limited Little league baseball/softball teams parade on warning track during batting practice transition from one team to the other, etc.)

I am not asking the Cubs to take drastic behavior and behave like the Savannah Bananas (if you are not familiar with that minor league franchise, take a look at what they do to make sure every game is a SELLOUT, it’s interesting), but they need to understand that many fans are upset, and will speak by not going to games if their concerns are not addressed. I am also a realist, and I realize that very few, if any, of these suggestions will be implemented. However, when the Cubs then draw fewer than 30,000 per game in 2022, I won’t be surprised.

As always, curious to get your thoughts!

Poll

I am a Cubs season ticket holder and in 2022...

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    I will renew no matter what price tickets are next year
    (27 votes)
  • 24%
    I will not renew no matter what price tickets are next year
    (34 votes)
  • 26%
    I will make my decision once the invoice is sent out
    (37 votes)
  • 14%
    I will base my decision on what the Cubs do player-wis prior to the date the renewal decision must be made
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    I will request to have fewer games or find partners to split tickets with next year
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    I will request to go to a cheaper section
    (6 votes)
  • 1%
    I will request to upgrade to more expensive sections
    (2 votes)
  • 6%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (9 votes)
141 votes total Vote Now

Poll

I am not a Cubs season ticket holder and in 2022...

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    I will buy tickets via Cubs.com
    (17 votes)
  • 9%
    I will buy tickets via secondary market websites (StubHub, SeatGeek, etc.) at face value or a premium (specific games)
    (15 votes)
  • 46%
    I will buy tickets via secondary market websites (StubHub, SeatGeek, etc.) only if offered well below face value
    (74 votes)
  • 1%
    I will buy tickets from people selling on the street on the day of the game
    (3 votes)
  • 4%
    I will buy tickets from friends who are season ticket holders at season ticket prices
    (7 votes)
  • 6%
    I will buy tickets from friends who are season ticket holders dumping tickets for free / deep discount
    (10 votes)
  • 1%
    I will acquire tickets via work/clients providing tickets for free
    (2 votes)
  • 8%
    I attended game(s) at Wrigley in 2021 but do not plan to attend games in 2022 under any circumstance
    (14 votes)
  • 10%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (16 votes)
158 votes total Vote Now