Chicago Cubs Attendance Showing Positive Early Signals

While never the sexiest topic, MLB attendance has always interested me. What gets folks to the park, how seasonality plays a role, what day and time combos work best, how attendance changes throughout the year … I could go on, but I don’t want to pull you too deeply into my nerdy web.

For the Chicago Cubs, particularly in recent years, attendance has been something of a sore subject, as years of decline and then a deep rebuilding process have eroded annual attendance from a high of more than 3.25 million in 2007 and 2008, to just 2.65 million in 2013 and 2014. As a team without a mega television contract secured just yet, the Cubs are more sensitive to attendance as a driver of revenue than many other teams around baseball. And, since the mantra of the Ricketts Family is that the “closed circuit” of the organization puts revenue back into baseball operations after expenses, fluctuations in revenue—positive or negative—directly impact the organization’s baseball flexibility.

Thus, keeping an eye on attendance as the Cubs become more competitive is more important than you might otherwise think.

With significantly more buzz heading into the 2015 season than in recent years past, it would be fair to expect an early bump in attendance at Wrigley Field when compared to the last couple years. The headwind there, of course, is the lack of bleacher seating right now at the park, as the Cubs’ efforts to renovate the bleachers bled into the season. With the left- and center-field bleachers not expected to be open until May 11 (right field is slated for mid-June), the Cubs are down around 6,000 seats in their approximately 41,000-seat ballpark.

So, then, against that backdrop, how has the Cubs’ home attendance looked so far this year?

Not too shabby.

Through eight home dates, with the last coming April 19, the Cubs have averaged 30,025 in paid attendance, which is only about 10% shy of their current, de facto capacity. In those eight games, the Cubs had Opening Night, one Saturday date, and one Sunday date (with lousy weather), and faced the Cardinals for two, the Reds for three, and the Padres for three.

In 2014, over their first eight home dates—the last also coming on April 19—the Cubs averaged just 29,655 in paid attendance, and that was with the bleachers open and operational. Moreover, that set included the home opener, as well as one Sunday date, and two Saturday dates. The Cubs played the Phillies for three, the Pirates for three, and the Reds for two.

(Before you point to the more attractive matchup against the Cardinals in 2015, consider that the home opener in 2015 was completely sold out at 35,055, whereas the home opener in 2014 against the Phillies sold 38,283, well short of capacity at the time. In other words, the Cubs probably would have sold considerably more tickets for the opener in 2015 if they’d had the seats available.)

In 2013, over their first eight home dates—the last was April 18—the Cubs averaged 31,267 in paid attendance, which is a fair bit higher than where they’ve been in 2015, but, again, remember that the capacity at that time was about 6,000 higher than it is right now. Further, the opponents for those eight games included two against the Brewers (including the home opener of 40,083), two against the American League Rangers, and four against the Giants, who had just won the World Series. Given that 2013 attendance, overall, was lower than 2014, and was the team’s lowest since 1998, I’m thinking the match-ups had a great deal to do with the figures in those first eight games.

In other words, the very early returns in 2015 are positive. Attendance picks up in the warmer summer months, which will be accompanied by the re-opening of the bleachers, and the Cubs will likely see an additional spike then. For now, I think you’ve got to be encouraged with the attendance picture, especially without the bleachers available.

Of course, the only surefire way to continue positive attendance trends is by giving fans—specifically, the incremental buyers—a compelling reason to come out to the park. And, while exciting prospect call-ups and pricey offseason additions no doubt create small, short-term bumps, the real growth comes from competitive baseball, deep into the season.

If the Cubs can make that happen this year, attendance will be up, and revenues right along with it.

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1 comment on “Chicago Cubs Attendance Showing Positive Early Signals”


I like this Brett Taylor guy. He should have his own Cubs site, but with included discussion of: Smoothies, Kids, Meta things & Disclosures that he’s no longer a lawyer.

That would be awesome.

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