The Cubs sold 2,616,780 tickets in 2022, the fewest in a full capacity season (obviously excluding 2020 and 2021) since 1997. That ranked ninth in MLB, though only about 9,000 behind the eighth-place Red Sox.
The average per game of 32,306 also averaged ninth, again just slightly behind the Red Sox.
The attendance drop was a factor in the Cubs lowering season ticket prices an average of five percent, as I reported here last week. My bleacher season ticket dropped more than six percent, which was among the largest drops for any pricing tier for 2023.
That’s a step in the right direction, in my view. What follows is a detailed pricing analysis focused on bleacher pricing from BCB reader Lifetime Cubs Fan, who has done ticket pricing analysis here for several years. What follows is all from LCF — with charts!
Is the price reduction in Cubs season ticket invoices for the 2023 season a good thing? The answer is simple: It’s all in the perspective. One skill I have learned in my professional career is that it is almost always possible to have data support the narrative you want to tell. Many of us are familiar with the expression: “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
I take the approach: “Let the facts help tell the story you want to tell,” and use charts in the process! So, in this article, focusing on the bleachers, I will share facts that depict both perspectives: The price reduction is a positive event, or: The price reduction isn’t enough. I will then conclude with my thoughts on the Cubs’ price reduction actions for the 2023 season.
First, let’s factually depict how the price reduction is a good thing.
When you compare the 2023 invoice to the 2017 Bleachers invoice (the one right after the World Series win), the price for next year is 14 percent cheaper. Look at the average STH Bleacher pricing from 2017 to 2023 year by year. This is the fourth year in a row they have decreased!
Now let’s take a look at the Bleacher prices normalized to 2022 dollars, the reduction in Bleacher prices is even more pronounced at 30.4 percent cheaper when compared to 2017 pricing (and has decreased each and every year!).
Going back 25 years, the decrease for the 2023 invoice is the second largest yearly decrease in Bleacher ticket prices during that period (2013 had an 18.3 percent reduction after the 101-loss season in 2012).
Lastly, let’s compare the change in Cubs’ Bleacher ticket prices 2023 vs. 2017 to the price of gas, a loaf of bread, price of a single day ticket to Disneyland and the CPI index over the same period.
If one considers attending a Cubs game a luxury, what other luxury item has dropped by that much in the last six years? I can’t think of any. One could surmise that the Cubs are taking necessary actions to retain most STHs and potentially grow the STH base for 2023. By my calculations, the STH base only needs to increase by about 500 coupled with 500 fewer no-shows per game in 2023, and the Cubs will have more revenue next year. Given the magic and beauty of Wrigley Field, and a team poised to improve in 2023, one could argue that this is a reasonable expectation.
Now let’s take the perspective at how the price reduction is not enough. It incorporates taking a longer timeline into account. Take a look at Bleacher ticket price percentage increase since 1997 relative to the CPI index over that same period.
During that time Bleacher tickets increased 309 percent while the CPI increased by only 85 percent. Though the prices will decrease for 2023, they have risen incredibly above the CPI over the last 25 years and one might think they should be priced much cheaper.
Now, let’s take a look at bleacher prices since 1998 in 2022 dollars (based on CPI)
Two things I find absolutely fascinating: On a normalized basis, the 2010 season was the most expensive season (after an 83-win campaign in 2009) and that Cubs average Bleacher prices for 2023 are EXACTLY the same as Bleacher prices in 2004, where half of the games sold out the first day they were made available to the public. (Who here remembers the wristband lottery and the line wrapped around Wrigley as well as the hours people waited in the Virtual Waiting Room?) I think it is a fair statement that the euphoria in 2004 was exponentially higher than the anticipation of the 2023 season, and therefore tickets are still priced too high.
Next, let’s take a look at Wrigley announced average per-game attendance since 1998 (2020 obviously omitted due to the pandemic and 2021 numbers only for the 51 games where 100 percent capacity was allowed). As you can see, 2021 and 2022 marked the two lowest years outside of the 1998 season. Until the Cubs can put a winning team on the field, lower prices are needed to help fill the stands.
Let’s take a deeper look and see what the lowest attended games (for the 2006–2022 seasons, where information is quickly available). The 23,425 who purchased tickets to watch the Cubs play the Phillies September 29 was the lowest announced attendance since September 4, 2013 against the Marlins, where only 20,696 tickets were purchased. This helps illustrate that people attending games are looking at the secondary market more so than Cubs.com when buying tickets (this chart is yet another indication that the Cubs’ price is too high, as well as the confirming the STH base is decreasing)
Another item to be mindful of is the substitution effect of watching the other MLB team in Chicago. Look at the chart below (data from this article in The Hustle last July), indicating that in 2022, it was almost $100 cheaper for a family of four to attend a White Sox game vs. a game at Wrigley. The price noted is for four tickets, four hot dogs, two beers, two sodas, and parking. Almost the entire difference is due to the difference in average ticket costs between the two organizations.
The Cubs have likely noticed that attendance at Guaranteed Rate Field in proportion to attendance at Wrigley is approaching a level not seen since shortly after the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 (where one could guarantee World Series tickets by becoming a Sox STH in 2006). With discretionary dollars limited, and it being cheaper to attend a White Sox game (coupled with a better White Sox team on paper), the White Sox attendance increasing as a percentage of attendance at Wrigley will likely continue in 2023. However, I strongly feel the Cubs will continue to outdraw the White Sox overall next year.
Now, here’s my take on 2023 pricing. One thing the Cubs have a lot more today vs. 25 years ago is data, tons of data. Given that almost all tickets are going through the MLB Ballpark app along with integration with secondary market portals, they likely know key stats such as the percentage of games attended by the STH, the amount they spend, as well as how much they lost in selling tickets on the secondary market. (I also wouldn’t be surprised if your geolocation was tracked while in Wrigley to determine if you are a fan who “upgrades” to better seats later in the game or not.)
I would really appreciate it if some STHs reading this article could share their true cost per ticket for the 2022 season. For example, if you attended 54 games, and the cost of those tickets averaged $50, and for the 27 games you could not attend, (that also averaged $50 per ticket), you only received an average of $30 per ticket for those games, your true cost per ticket per game attended increases to $60 (to include the loss incurred for the 27 games not attended to the 54 you did attend.
The Cubs know STHs paid a premium and the price reduction in an inflationary environment was required. The Cubs also know that businesses and corporations comprise a huge portion of STHs, though this is less true for Bleacher tickets. Providing them a narrative that Cubs’ games will be cheaper in 2023 when many elements of running their business have increased 10-20 percent does have some merit. However, in my opinion, the price reduction wasn’t enough (even though it was slightly more than I anticipated). It should have been at least a 10 percent reduction, not 5 percent. Most of that gap could have been addressed by only having one “Diamond” game (Opening Day), and having all the weekday games in September be “Bronze” (if the Cubs are good and/or tickets are in demand, let dynamic pricing adjust accordingly).
I do want to acknowledge that the Cubs have recently provided more perks and experiences to STHs (Obvious Shirts and autograph signings, among others), so there is some increased sense of recognition and urgency on the organization’s part to make being a STH more special and unique. Overall, I feel the season ticket holder base will drop moderately in 2023, more due to fans/businesses eliminating discretionary expenses vs. how the Cubs have priced season tickets for next year. On the other hand, it will remain large enough that there should be an excess supply of tickets on the secondary market enabling fans, like myself, to attend games of our choosing at a discounted price compared to what a season ticket holder paid. Lastly, looking at the 2023 season, I feel one should focus on bundling up a bit to watch the Mariners, Dodgers, and Padres in April, great teams with marquee players, with seven of the 10 games against those teams at Bronze prices. Or who knows, it could be windy, warm, and sunny like the Cubs vs. Reds back on April 16, 2004, a 76-degree day at the ballyard.
As always, interested to hear your thoughts.
For 2023 Cubs tickets...
This poll is closed
... I am a season ticket holder and will renew for my same seats
... I am a season ticket holder and will renew and upgrade my seats
... I am a season ticket holder and will renew, but for a cheaper section and/or fewer games
... I am a season ticket holder and might renew, it depends on what the Cubs do with signings/trades before the first payment deadline
... I am a season ticket holder and will NOT renew
... I am not a season ticket holder and hope to or will become one in 2023
... I am not a season ticket holder and will attend more games in 2023 compared to 2022
... I am not a season ticket holder and will attend about the same number of games in 2023 compared to 2022
... I am not a season ticket holder and will attend fewer games in 2023 compared to 2022
... I am not a season ticket holder and will not attend any games at Wrigley in 2023
Something else (leave in comments)