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Cubs attendance watch: Thoughts about the Cardinals series and pricing

The Cubs are treading on potentially dangerous ground with current ticket trends.

Wrigley Field, 20 minutes before game time, Thursday, June 2
Al Yellon

This past homestand, attendance — except for the afternoon game Memorial Day against the Brewers — continued the trend of smaller-than-usual crowds at Wrigley Field for 2022. This shouldn’t surprise you, given the state of the Chicago Cubs baseball team. Weather was still a bit iffy during the week, but with the Cardinals in town, crowds probably should have been larger than they were.

Instead, it was the lowest-drawing “summer series” for the Cardinals at Wrigley since 1982, as BCBer Lifetime Cubs Fan will detail below in his always-excellent ticketing analysis.

First, a couple of numbers. The Cubs have had 31 home games and sold a total of 987,563 tickets, or an average of 31,857 per game. That’s just a bit higher than the 31,673 average I reported in the last attendance update here May 25. The Cubs rank seventh in this category, exactly five tickets ahead of the Angels, but only about 1,300 ahead of the Rockies, who rank 11th. The Cubs could potentially drop that far before season’s end.

That puts the Cubs on pace for about 2.5 million tickets sold, about 20 percent lower than the three million benchmark they’d like to draw. It’s not likely to get much better. The only upcoming series likely to draw well is the Red Sox on a holiday weekend, July 1-3. The Dodgers have already been to town, the Cubs have hosted the White Sox and there’s only one visit left from the Cardinals, three weekdays (four games) in late August.

I now turn the rest of this post over to BCBer Lifetime Cubs Fan for his pricing analysis. With charts!

On Memorial Day, a friend, knowing I would be in town from California, inquired to see if I was interested in attending the Cardinals game on Sunday night, June 5. Knowing it was a summer game, on the weekend, against the Cardinals, I thought it might be a relatively expensive game to attend, even with the current state of the Cubs.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that tickets were priced reasonably (all fees included) on StubHub. The cheapest ticket was $28, bleachers were $51 (they were $72 back in April when I provided my last update), and Upper Deck Box Infield (my personal favorite section for the money) were as low as $57 per ticket. Note, for this game, the Season Ticket Holder cost for the cheapest ticket (Upper Deck Reserved – Outfield $53), Bleachers ($77) and Upper Deck Box - Infield ($92) were significantly higher than secondary prices. Also note, on, Upper Deck Box – Infield seats were $112 per ticket! I knew I would be getting in at a discounted price.

I channeled my best Tom Skilling skills, and determined the forecast for Sunday night was going to be between fair and good and as a result of years of watching prices, I knew the best window for purchasing tickets in this scenario would likely be between 60 and 24 hours out from game time, so I started watching ticket listings and prices on StubHub.

My friend gave me complete control of getting the tickets as long as I remained within a budget of $100 per ticket. I shared with them to expect the total cost per person (including concessions and transportation) to be below $100, the challenge was on!

As I monitored StubHub, I saw prices decreasing with ticket supply increasing (eventually getting to over 5,700 tickets for sale on StubHub), there was no need to be quick with my purchase. The chart below shows the trend of ticket cost over the last week for the cheapest ticket, Bleachers, and Upper Deck Box - Infield.

As you can see, there was a decline in prices as the week progressed, with an uptick closer to the game (weather forecast decent), followed by another drop just a few hours before the game (seller desperation).

I ended up buying tickets on Friday on StubHub for $44 each (including fees), Upper Deck Box – Infield, Section 323, Row 2. Simply some of the best Upper Deck Box - Infield seats, for a game against a rival, on a pleasant June evening for 48 percent of what a season ticket holder paid. As far as my “challenge” was concerned, with concessions costs of $54 and transportation at $10 (Red Line), our total cost per person was $76.

But what surprised me the most about the game were the large areas of unsold seats. Attendance for the game was 31,424, and for the five-game series, it averaged 31,767. I couldn’t recall a Cardinals/Cubs series in the summer months having attendance so low, so, being the data geek that I am, I did some research. For June/July series (and if no series against the Cards in June/July, I went to the closest series in May or August) and discovered the last “Summer Series” against the Cardinals where attendance averaged less than 31,767 was in 1982!! That was a very bad Cubs’ team (17 games below .500 in June) the year after a players’ strike.

Look at the chart below, from 1983 – 2021, for “Summer Series”, the average Cubs/Cards attendance has been 37,996. This year, it was 31,767.

Look at this chart below, from 1983 – 2021, though Saturday has traditionally been the day of week with highest attendance, the Cubs have drawn well against the Cardinals for all days of the week for “summer series.”

The last interesting observation I discovered - the current average attendance for the Cubs in 2022 is 31,857 per game and the average attendance against the Cardinals this last homestand was 31,767. That marked the only time the average attendance for a “summer series” against the Cardinals was lower than the overall attendance average at Wrigley in the last 40 years. (I understand that by the end of the year, the average attendance will likely be under 31,767, but this statement is alarming.) See chart below for details of how Cardinals’ summer series average attendance has compared to average overall attendance over the last 40 years.

This should be a huge wakeup call for Cubs management. Why is it the Cubs are not drawing against their traditional rival in June? Are tickets too expensive? (Yes.) Is the quality of the team impacting sales? (Yes.) Is it the economy/inflation? (Likely yes.) Are some fans staying away due to violence in Chicago? (For some, possibly yes.) Are fans still upset over the labor dispute? (For some, likely yes.) The Cubs can’t control all of these factors, but what they can control, they should take action to address for the 2023 season. Here is a chart showing YTD average attendance by game category:

I find it interesting that the cheapest category had the lowest attendance. It just goes to show you there is little interest to buy from the Cubs tickets to cheap games, when you can purchase tickets to better category games on the secondary market for similar (or lower) prices.

The Cubs average attendance for this year will likely be under 31,000 per game, which will be the lowest attendance average in last 25 years (excluding 2021 and 2020). If the Cubs don’t properly address pricing and quality of the team in the offseason, next year’s average attendance could be in the 25,000 – 26,000 range. You read it here first.

As always, interested to hear your thoughts!