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Cubs attendance watch: A look at pricing trends

It’s not as inexpensive to watch a Cubs game as it has been in recent years.

Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s been a while since we’ve looked at attendance and pricing patterns for the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and since they’re in the middle of a long West Coast road trip, I thought this would be a good time to do so.

The Cubs crossed the one million mark in total tickets sold with the last game of the last homestand and now stand at 1,010,252 tickets sold. That ranks eighth in MLB. The per-game average of 32,589 ranks ninth. Longtime readers of this feature will notice that those ranks are a couple of places behind where the Cubs ranked during their contention window in the last decade.

If the Cubs average 32,589 the rest of the year — 50 dates remain — that would equate to 2,639,709 tickets sold. That would be about the same as last year’s 2,616,780 tickets sold, which isn’t going to cut it for this franchise. Now, that average is likely to go up in June, July and August with better weather, but unless this team is contending in September, it could go back down that month, especially since the September home schedule includes games against the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Rockies, not usually among the top draws at Wrigley Field.

As is my custom, I now turn the rest of this post over to BCBer Lifetime Cubs Fan, who has prepared some pricing analysis. The rest of this post is from LCF.

Hello everyone! I am very pleased to serve up another main course of insights and perspectives to the Cubs attendance thus far in 2023 with a side of pricing analysis to assist you with your buying preferences for the remainder of the season (Can you tell I am awaiting for my dinner to be served on my flight from LAX – ORD?)

With the conclusion of the most recent homestand, the Cubs have played 31 homes games (55 total) with an average attendance of 32,585 per game. Comparing that to the first 31 homes games last year (also at 55 total games), where attendance averaged 31,857 per game, that is an increase of 2.3 percent year over year. Since the Cubs kept ticket prices near flat year over year (and likely the STH base was near flat as well), coupled with the team record in 2023 after 55 games (24-31) being close to their record last year after 55 games (23-32), what are elements contributing to the increase in attendance thus far in 2023?

After crunching numbers, my hypothesis for the three primary drivers leading to the increase in attendance are:

  • Weather has been much more favorable
  • Baseball has become more fun to watch
  • No labor dispute in 2023

Let’s first take a look at the weather. For those curious, I have included the average High and Low temperature in Chicago (officially taken at O’Hare) from late March to mid-June. Given Wrigley’s proximity to the lake, the average temperature at Wrigley is likely 3-5 degrees cooler. Note: I am not a meteorologist, but I did live in Lincoln Park for 12 years and can personally attest it is cooler by the lake.

Next, looking at the MLB box scores, I gathered the temperature and weather conditions at the start of the game for the first 31 home games this year and last year. Though the average temperatures were materially similar (both years averaged about three degrees below the expected normal high temperature expected at O’Hare), the weather conditions were significantly different. See the chart below for more details

In 2023, 18 of the first 31 home games have been sunny/clear (58 percent), compared to seven of the first 31 games last year (23 percent). Many of us know first-hand how much different it is watching a Cubs games in April when the sun is shining vs. sitting in the shade with brisk lake winds chilling your bones. I witnessed from the Bleachers the Cubs defeating the Rangers on April 7 where the game time temperature was just 42 degrees, but with unabated sun. I didn’t wear a jacket the entire game and actually got some color on my face in the process.

Though it is a small sample size, The May 8-10 series against the Cardinals may be an example as to how weather can influence the attendance for a game. All three games were ‘Silver’ tier games, were weeknight games that started at 6:40pm, and all games occurred void of any promotions. Note: The average high temp in Chicago is about 65 degrees from May 8 to 10.

First game was 48 degrees and cloudy – Attendance 30.937

Second game was 59 degrees and partly cloudy – Attendance 32,693

Third game was 65 degrees and clear (the best weather of the three) and attendance was 36,413. I would be curious to hear from those reading this article how much weather plays into ticket buying situations when purchased less than a week before the game date.

The second key factor is baseball in 2023 is much more enjoyable for the fan to watch. I have been to three Cubs’ games this year (two at Wrigley, one at Dodger Stadium, all victories) and they all have been a complete joy to watch, and I feel the word is getting out that baseball is more entertaining. In my opinion, a huge component of this is tied to the improved pace of play.

Take a look at these charts. In 2022, 22 of the first 31 home games were three hours or longer, with the average game time lasting three hours and seven minutes

Comparing that to YTD home games in 2023, there have only been four games of three hours or longer, with the average time of games at Wrigley at two hours, 42 minutes. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently, where I indicated my perfect 30 minute window for game length is between 2:30 min and 3:00. Less than 2:30 and I don’t feel I have given myself the proper time to unwind and enjoy the surroundings and the game. More than three hours is simply a drag, even more so for night games where I have to work the following day.

Lastly (and it’s been nearly forgotten), there was a labor dispute in 2022 that likely contributed to some fans not buying tickets to early season games (and when the weather was less that ideal near/on the day of the game, last minute sales were minimal). In April 2022, there were four games with attendance at 26,615 or under. In 2023, there has been just one home game with attendance under 26,615.

Shifting gears as to how games are priced on the secondary market. Below is a chart that depicts the current average price (with fees) of a bleacher ticket by Game Tier on Seatgeek for the remaining 50 home games. As you can see, all tiers are more expensive for the casual fan buying a ticket vs. what a season ticket holder paid. This is a shift compared to previous years where a vast majority of games could be procured on the secondary market for less than what a STH paid. Of course this will shift depending on how the Cubs’ do the remainder of the season, as well as how weather is for each game, but there is a much better balance compared to recent years.

It is one data point, but I also went to the May 6 game against the Marlins, and a few hours before the game (and maybe an hour before the gates opened), the cheapest bleacher seat was $133 ($40.32 for the STH!) so games, at times, can be sold at a significant premium and be profitable. However, if you feel that being a season ticket holder in the Bleachers can be lucrative, check out the chart below which depicts the net amount for the cheapest bleacher ticket on SeatGeek relative to the STH price. I feel the days of making money as a STH have long since passed. Cubs management does a very good job of maximizing revenue.

As always, curious to hear your thoughts!