Positive Trends in Chicago Cubs Attendance Continue

Last month, I took a look at one of the least glamorous, least sexy topics a baseball writer can tackle this side of rosin bag supply chain studies*: attendance.

Outside of an in-stadium guessing game in the later innings, you don’t really think too much about attendance, especially as a Chicago Cubs fan, where the allure of Wrigley Field and the large season ticket holder base always propped up the attendance figure, regardless of the team.

Ah, but as I explained last month, Chicago Cubs fans are peculiarly situated to care about attendance. To reiterate the import of the discussion and to re-set-up where the story has been:

“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.”

From there, I checked in on the Cubs’ attendance to that point, concluding something along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s been pretty good for a stadium with no currently-available outfield seating.”

Well, the bleachers are now—halfway—available, the weather is starting to turn, and the Cubs are still competitive. How is attendance looking?

In short: still pretty good.

Right now, through May 17 (21 home dates), the Cubs are averaging 31,801 per game, good for fifth in the National League. While the per-game figure is still down from the 2014 season as a whole (32,742), that’s not really an apples-to-apples comparison, given that the full-season figure includes the lovely summer/school-is-out months which we’ve not yet reached. Indeed, last year, the Cubs’ per-game attendance figure was good for just sixth in the NL.

Looking back at last year’s attendance—which you may recall was the first annual increase the Cubs had seen since 2008—the Cubs averaged 31,717 per game through May 17 (20 home dates), or nearly 100 fewer tickets sold than this year. Again, remember: the Cubs were playing short about 6,000 (of my favorite) seats for most of the games so far this season.

For comparison, because attendance tends to be stronger on the weekend, it’s worth noting that those 20 home dates in 2014 included the home opener (a Friday), three other Fridays, four Saturdays, and three Sundays. In 2015, the Cubs have had the home opener (a Sunday), three other Sundays, three Fridays, and three Saturdays – one fewer weekend day than in 2014 to this point. The opponents were arguably more attractive to this point last year, too, with five games against the Cardinals and White Sox (the Cubs have played the Cardinals just twice at home so far, one of which was cannibalized by being the home opener (would’ve sold anyway), and the other of which was a miserable early April Wednesday afternoon game).

In other words, the conditions to this point last year were much more favorable to ticket sales, and yet the Cubs have outsold last year on a per-game basis in 2015.

One more positive sign for the Cubs: since the bleachers opened two Mondays ago, the Cubs have had seven home dates and sold an average of 34,074. That figure would mark the Cubs’ best average since 2012—and that was just a week in May.

That’s all very good news going forward. If the Cubs can keep up their competitive ways, they’re going to see sales show steady gains on 2014 throughout the year. That means more revenue for baseball operations in 2016, which could be particularly important as the Cubs go headlong into a competitive window with a robust and attractive free agent class on deck.

*(Actually … don’t you now wonder just a little bit how a big-league rosin bag comes together, from sourcing to manufacturing to purchasing to distribution? And is the selection a team-by-team decision? A pitcher-by-pitcher decision? Or are the bags, like big-league baseballs, purchased and supplied at the league level?)

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