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2021 Cubs attendance watch: End of the season update

Some numbers from the final homestand and the 2021 season.

Wrigley Field just after first pitch, Wednesday, September 22
Al Yellon

Last week, I posted here about Cubs attendance in early September and also some thoughts from BCBer Lifetime Cubs Fan about what the team should do for season-ticket holders to try to retain them for 2022.

Those ideas stand as posted. I hope the Cubs will adopt some of them for next year, because they are already going to great lengths to try to sell season tickets to people on the waiting list. More on that below, but first, let’s look at some of the numbers from the final homestand and for the 2021 season.

Cubs attendance and in-house estimates 9/21/21 to 9/26/21

Date Opponent Announced attendance In-house estimate
Date Opponent Announced attendance In-house estimate
9/21 Twins 25,594 12,000
9/22 Twins 24,402 11,000
9/24 (1) Cardinals 29,030 27,000
9/24 (2) Cardinals 35,080 29,000
9/25 Cardinals 32,918 29,000
9/26 Cardinals 26,547 24,000
TOTAL 173,571 132,000
AVERAGE 28,929 22,000

Three of the six dates were barely over the season-ticket base number for tickets sold. The 35,080 noted as sold for the second game of the doubleheader Friday is likely because that game was rescheduled from a Sunday, July 11 rainout, before the selloff, and ticket sales would likely be higher for a summer Cubs/Cardinals Sunday game.

The in-house numbers were low for the Twins, I think, for several reasons, including the fact that neither team was in contention and the weather was coolish.

Including the chart from the previous post in this series, the total tickets sold for the 22 home games since August 20 was 629,582, or 28,617. My in-house estimates for those 22 games total 438,000, or 19,909 per date.

For the 50 games the Cubs played since full capacity returned June 11, the Cubs sold 1,578,360 tickets, or 31,567 per date. For a full-capacity Wrigley Field, that’s the lowest average since 1997 (27,041). There are caveats — first, lousy weather likely knocked down several of those totals in July and August, and of course the selloff cut down both ticket sales and in-house attendance after July. Lastly, pandemic-related reasons could have kept some people from buying tickets. That’s impossible to quantify, but the Cubs sold over 40,000 tickets just once in 2021 — August 7 vs. the White Sox (40,077) and went over 39,000 just four other times, twice vs. the Sox and twice vs. the Cardinals. In the last full season, 2019, the Cubs sold at least 39,000 tickets 42 times.

For the entire 2021 season, including 31 dates played at partial capacity (26 of those were sellout at the partial limit, and the other five didn’t all due to lousy weather), the Cubs sold 1,978,934 tickets, or 24,431 per date. The total currently ranks fourth in MLB and the average seventh. Both those ranks might drop a place or two, as the Cubs have completed their home season while other teams have several home dates remaining. I will give the Cubs credit for hosting 81 games safely, with COVID-19 protocols in place. I felt safe going to the ballpark this year, as well as going to Sloan Park last March.

I had speculated that if the Cubs had stayed in contention all year and had thus averaged comparably to 2019 (38,208) for the 50 full-capacity games, they would then have wound up with 1,910,400 tickets sold for those games. Instead, the 50 full-capacity games sold 332,040 fewer tickets than that estimate. In 2019, the average cost of a Cubs ticket was $59.49, per this Tribune article. Average season-ticket prices went down about 2.5 percent in 2020 and stayed mostly flat for 2021, so if we assume the average cost of a single ticket went down by that much (a reasonable assumption, I think), the average for 2021 would have been about $58. Thus, the estimate of 332,040 fewer tickets sold at full capacity in 2021 than the average in 2019 would have meant a revenue drop to the Cubs of about $19.25 million from what they might have taken in with a contending team through September. That’s a not-insignificant amount of money.

Which brings me to a story I heard about the Cubs pushing season tickets to those on the waiting list. Many people on the list have already been called, or emailed, or both, despite the fact that there’s no pricing for 2022 season tickets yet. Some have received a real hard sell, even after saying they were not interested. That’s not going to be taken well by fans who feel the product isn’t worth it. Most folks on the list who I know have been contacted have said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” to the offer of 2022 season tickets.

Last month I laid out four reasons why the Cubs have to spend in free agency, one of which is the potential loss of season-ticket holders if they don’t:

I know a lot of STH who are angry about what happened, that their popular heroes were traded off, who don’t understand it. In my view the anger is misplaced — but there is no doubt it exists.

And there are others who, thanks to the pandemic, have begun to think, “I can do other things with my money.” Just Thursday at Wrigley, I was speaking to a fellow STH, who’s been one for 20 years and who used to attend 40-50 games a year, who told me they have indeed done that. I’ve seen this person at the ballpark only three or four times this season and might not again this year as they get busy with work and other projects.

These are the sorts of people the Cubs can’t afford to lose. Beyond that, there are the bandwagon-jumpers who bought season tickets over the last five seasons and have likely taken a huge financial hit on their investment.

If the Cubs don’t spend money to at least try to put a contending team on the field in 2022, in my view there will be a mass exodus of STH. Further, if you’re on the STH waiting list — why would you buy now?

The Cubs ought to take all that into account, and perhaps add some perks as laid out by Lifetime Cubs Fan last week. Because if they don’t, the attendance figures noted over the last few weeks could drop even lower in 2022.

Personally, I hope the promise made by President of Baseball Operations Jed Hoyer about spending “intelligently” comes true. The Cubs could use that. I look forward to a better season next year.