Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Ricketts's have a serious problem...and here is how to solve it.

I enjoyed the game last night. It was the first time in quite a while that I didn’t feel that going to a Cubs game was like going to work. It was a nice, yet somewhat awkward, ceremony last night to honor Andre Dawson. Anyone that follows me on Twitter or Facebook will know how empty the stands were last night…particularly the bleachers. I felt kinda bad that as Dawson made his walk down the field from the right field corner, there were only about 25 people sitting in the right field bleachers and virtually no one in the right field corner grandstands. Then there were the “gifts” that were presented to him. The Rickettses ripped off an “8” from the center field scoreboard and gave that to him, and then gave him a watch from Tiffany’s. Whoopdy dooo!

I didn’t think that retiring his number was appropriate, but those gifts were kinda cheesy. I’m not sure what else the Cubs should have done, though. One thing that the Rickettses should note, though…don’t have a ceremony to honor one of your all-time greats in the middle of a crappy season before a game against an even crappier team. If the team sucks, then hold the ceremony when the Cardinals are in town or something.

But the real reason for this post today is to discuss the bleachers and attendance.

They are supposed to be the cheap seats. They are supposed to be the crappy seats. They are supposed to be where those 15% who don’t work go…it’s a playground for the c***suckers.

And they are supposed to be full!

Yes, attendance is down significantly this year. But in years past, even if there were only 20,000 people in the stands, the bleachers were still full. It hasn’t been this empty in the bleachers since the 1970’s. It’s still summer…it’s still August. The bleachers are supposed to be full!

And no one can tell me the demand isn’t there…the rooftops were surprisingly full last night. In fact, there were easily twice as many fans on rooftops last night as there were in the bleachers. Every rooftop on Sheffield was full...three of them on Waveland appeared to be closed, but the others on that street where very well populated.

So what’s wrong? Bleacher tickets are too expensive! They are crappy uncomfortable seats that are far away from the action on the field, and they are charging as much as my infield upper deck box seats. Yeah, things have changed a bit and the bleachers have become a bit of a party deck, but in the end, if the product stinks and people are out of work, and the tickets are overly expensive, the fans are probably going to go and sit in the ½ price rooftops instead with all of the food and drink they want included in the price of the ticket.

Now I believe the Cubs think they can quickly right the ship and be contenders again next year, but that isn’t going to sell tickets early in the season. If we look back on recent history, crowds dwindled quite a bit by the end of the 2006 season. The beginning of 2007 saw some very small crowds to start the year. Once the team was in contention again, the crowds came back and the ballpark was virtually sold out for the entire season once the kids were out of school in June. The Cubs aren’t going to sell a lot of tickets early in 2011. And if the team doesn’t compete, they won’t sell a lot of tickets late in 2011 either.

Here is the problem…the Cubs will automatically sell about 20k to 25k in seats for every game due to season ticket holders. I don’t know the exact amount of season ticket holders, but I would assume it is somewhere in that range. What fans have now discovered is that if a game is not sold out, tickets can be had for a considerable discount on places like StubHub. Most of these tickets are being sold by season ticket holders…games they are unable to attend. Instead of eating the price of the tickets, they will try to get any return for them. As a result, they discount them substantially. Tickets can be had for cheap, and fans don’t have to pay full price that the Wrigley Field ticket window.

Why is that bad? Well, for years there wasn’t this avenue for people to sell tickets. You didn’t have a safe and secure ticket re-sale operation available, so if you wanted to go to the game, you either took a risk using a scalper, or you went to the ticket window to buy the tickets are full price. The Cubs are competing with season ticket holders for single game tickets now.

Many years this isn’t a problem because the games sell out and places like StubHub are the only avenue for tickets and the prices are escalated significantly. In bad years…well…you’ve seen the stands.

On top of that, the team is competing with the struggling rooftop owners. Right now, the rooftops owners are severely slashing prices for games as many of them are struggling to make mortgage payments. Like the season ticket holders, they are basically trying to get any return possible on the remaining games for which they have yet to sell seats.

So what can the Cubs do?

Four things.

First, they are going to have to reduce ticket prices next year. They don’t have any choice. They overstepped this season by raising prices over 20% (and doing that while saying that they technically didn’t raise ticket prices). Slashing prices by about 10% would seem appropriate. It might not hurt to lower prices of the bleachers even more than that, and possibly even reduce the cheapest seats (the top part of the upper deck) even more.

 1/2 hour before the game yesterday...just before the cememony for Hawk.

Second, they need to continue to move forward on renovation plans. Part of a growing problem at Wrigley is the fact that the facility is severely out of date. As travelling Cubs fans experience more and more of the new ballparks around baseball, they are going to expect more from Wrigley, and the Rickettses need to work hard to help Wrigley Field keep up. Get the renovation done…and don’t do it in a half-assed way.

Third, buy more stakes in the rooftops. Earlier this year the Ricketts family helped bail out one of the rooftops on Sheffield that was in severe financial difficulty. A number of the other rooftops are teetering on the brink of foreclosure according to a story in the Trib a few weeks ago. The Ricketts should buy up shares in as many of these rooftops as they possibly can. As Wrigley has limited space for more luxury boxes, the rooftops can fill that void for corporate events. The more shares the Cubs have in rooftops, the less competition they will have over selling their own tickets…and on top of that, the less competition they will have in renovation plans or other alterations to the ballpark (like the problems they had with the Toyota sign).

Fourth, make every effort possible to bring in a superstar player. Often times in the past when the team has sucked, they still had a superstar player that people came out to see. In my youth it was Bruce Sutter or Ryne Sandberg or Andre Dawson or Sammy Sosa. Hell, you could even call Harry Caray a draw in seasons past. Now the only draw is…um…the Harry Caray statue. I don’t know who that player would be or how you would get him…but the Cubs need that draw…they need someone that little kids beg their parents to take them to the ballpark to see.

So let’s see some movement on this!


Thanks to @plamorte (Pat, to those of you whom he likes...) who reminded me that I missed one important thing...

Fifth...FREE ICE CREAM!!!!