Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do the Cubs have an attendance problem?


That was last night's attendance.

In the last week of May with temperatures in the 80's the Cubs were 6,000 tickets short of a sellout.


We might have a problem forming here.

Oh...I's just one game...

But here are some frightening facts...

-So far this year, the Cubs have only sold out 5 games.  That's 5 out of 22. (By sold out, I basically mean any announced attendance over 40,000 even though the capacity is near 41,000.)

-I usually judge demand by how well I am able to sell tickets to game that I am unable to attend.  So far this year, 6 games have passed that I was unable my tickets a rate of around 50% off face value.  Yes...I was trying to sell tickets (including some bleacher seats) at 50% off, and they still didn't sell.

-While many games have had an announce attendance of 38k, in reality there have been close to 5,000 to 10,000 no shows at many of those games.  You can see the huge number of empty seats at the games right now.

-For the remaining 60 games this season, of those games I cannot go to during the week that I put up for sale at the beginning of the season (14 games), not a single game has sold to this point. 

By comparison, at this point last year, the Cubs had 8 sellouts.

The Cubs had played 22 games at Wrigley by this time in 2009 and we averaging about 39,400 tickets sold per game. This season that number has dropped to 38,400...about 1,000 fewer tickets sold per game.

Now we need to see if there are any other factors involved right now.

The schedule itself was a bit different this year.  Last year, the Cubs had 4 games scheduled at home against the Cardinals...which tend to be guaranteed sellouts.  One of those games was rained out, but the other three were played before big crowds.  (One game, on Thursday was not a sellout).

Let's look at when those games are played as well.  Typically, games during the week in April and May tend to have lower attendance than on the weekend.  In 2009, the Cubs had played 5 weekend games (one game was rained I mentioned earlier).  This year, that number is no change there, really.  The numbers are quite similar for the number of night games as well.  While it has been widely variable this year, on average, the weather has been above normal and drier than normal.  Last year was cooler and wetter.  Weather is not the reason why attendance is down.

So, the schedule was slightly more favorable to higher attendance, but the weather was less favorable.  The time of the week and time of the day were not factors.

So it comes down to only two more things then...the quality of the team and the price of the tickets.

For the first time ever I have had people balk at the price of Cubs tickets....and I've never had to discount the tickets as much as I have this year.  The Ricketts family paid a record amount for this franchise, and understandably are looking for revenue streams to help repay the debt the now have.  Ticket prices skyrocketed this year...yeah they hid how the prices rose, but in the end, all fans realize that they are paying, at times, up to 20% more for a ticket this season than they did last year. 

That brings me to the first point in that two item list...the quality of the team.  I believe a lot of people were turned off by what they saw on the field last year...and haven't been too impressed with the product this year too.  To ask people to pay 20% more for tickets to see a disappointing (notice, I didn't say bad) team in the middle of one of the worst recessions in the last 70 years was probably a mistake...debt or no debt.

Now I believe the Cubs still can and very likely will turn things around this year...but if they don't, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Yes, the Cubs are going to always sell 30,000 tickets, guaranteed for every game each year because of season ticket holders like me.  But people aren't going to necessarily attend the games.

Attendance can indeed drop at Wrigley Field, believe it or not.  And the average could drop down to 35,000 a game with an average of no shows around 5,000 to 10,000.  The revenue loss is significant if only 25,000 to 30,000 people show up to the ballpark.  It's not just the price of the tickets, but no-shows means loss of concession sales, which, based on the $7.50 they are charging for Italian Beef sandwiches this year, is a sigificant amount of money.