Wisch: Where Have All The Cubs Fans Gone?

By Dave Wischnowsky–

Maybe they’re all broke from Illinois’ soaring gas prices (and soaring taxes). Perhaps they’re just hoarding their pennies to purchase NBA Finals tickets (I mean, the Bulls will be there … right?). Or, it could be that they’re all staging a Ryne Sandberg rebellion (either that, or a Tom Ricketts one).

But, whatever the reason, Cubs fans are AWOL right now.

And it’s showing at the Wrigley Field box office.

On Saturday at HoHoKam Park in Mesa, Ariz., Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said during a press briefing that his sport is stronger than ever.

“Players’ salaries are up, revenues are up, the sports’ popularity is at an all-time high,” the commish said, bragging a bit (or a lot) about baseball as the NFL grapples with labor strife while the NBA braces for the possibility of it.

But right now on the North Side of Chicago, enthusiasm for the Cubs is running contrary to Selig’s claims. Because, judging by the plethora of tickets still available at Wrigley Field more than a week after they went on sale, it appears that the Cubs are less popular this year than they have been in at least a decade – if not, longer.

For many years, Wrigley’s tickets for summertime weekend games have sold out in a New York minute. But, as of Sunday night, you could still buy tickets via cubs.com for every series on the North Siders’ schedule except June’s three-game set vs. the Yankees.

That included tickets to the White Sox vs. Cubs games on Friday, July 1, and Sunday, July 3 (200-level singles still available). And it included all three Cardinals vs. Cubs games from Friday, Aug. 19, to Sunday, Aug. 21 (you could buy a whopping 19 bleacher seats for the Friday tilt). And it even included the Cubs’ April 1 season opener against the Pirates (200-level singles still on sale).

I can’t remember that ever happening.

According to the website bleedcubbieblue.com, two days after Cubs tickets went on sale late last month, the only games besides the Yankees tilts that had even sold out of bleacher tickets were April 1, May 14, and July 1, July 2 and July 3. The site also reported that it took more than a day to sell out bleachers for Opening Day (one of the Cubs’ “marquee” games, which priced those tickets at a hefty $81 apiece).

In past years, according to bleedcubbieblue.com, Opening Day bleacher tickets have sold out within an hour of going on sale (I don’t even think it took that long). And, in 2008 – with the Cubs coming off a division title – 23 dates sold out completely on the first day of sale, while an additional 16 sold out of bleacher tickets.

This year, however, sales are running slower than Aramis Ramirez. And don’t think the Cubs haven’t noticed and aren’t concerned. They have to be.

Because, last September, after the Cubs had tumbled out of contention and manager Lou Piniella had called it quits, fans began staying away from Wrigley Field in droves. It appears that was more than an aberration, as the 2011 season is preparing to start the same way.

But what’s your explanation for all of it?

Are the sluggish Cubs ticket sales because of high prices coupled with the crummy economy? Is it because of a lack of enthusiasm about new manager Mike Quade and the Cubs roster? Or is it because of Cubs fans’ general disgust as the franchise enters the 103rd season of its championship drought?

Step up to the plate and take a few swings to let me know your thoughts.

Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.

davewisch Wisch: Where Have All The Cubs Fans Gone?

Dave Wischnowsky

If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com.

  • Michigan Bear Fan

    Interest is waning because the Cubs are going to bad this year. Pitching is the only bright spot. Defense and run production are going to be brutal this year. I see them finishing 4th or possibly last in their division depending on when they decide to call it a season. Tickets aren’t selling because people know they will be dirt cheap come July and August.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    Dave, I really am shocked/surprised by the facts you presented.
    I always thought the Cubs truly were a recession-proof, results-proof phenomenon.
    Wow, thanks for focusing the spotlight on this reality.
    Makes sense now why I receive email every few days offering me ticket packages (the Cubs have my email address from 15 years ago when my son used it because he was a 10 year old kid, and a Cubs fan, but didn’t yet have his own email address).

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Very true, Arse. In years past, the Cubs never had to pull out all these ticket package offers to sell games. They just sold themselves. This is a new world for the Cubs, and the Ricketts family has to be sweating.

      Winning is the cure-all, of course, and the franchise had better hope the team wins, otherwise it could really be empty at Wrigley during August and September.

  • cubbies1

    Maybe the tourists have gone elsewhere finally. I for one am glad. Maybe now true fans can get tickets w/o having to spend even MORE on rediculously over priced secondary market ticket brokers.

  • Harlin S. Neal

    I’ll explain it…the Cubs’ marketing strategy isn’t working any more. No longer is it “hip” for people to spend whatever amount of money to go to Wrigley Field just for the “show of it”. A huge reason why Wrigley was sold out for so many years is because of a combination of national marketing and dissatisfaction with the White Sox. I won’t elaborate on that here, but suffice it to say…ever since teh 2005 World Series (when the Sox won, by the way), people have been warming up to the idea that more often than not, good performance equals good attendance. For years, Cubs fans have been bragging about attendance…as if there’s a championship trophy for having more butts in the seats than other teams. But the bottom line is that for over 100 years, the Cubs haven’t won a World Series, and people are growing more and more tired of that dubious distinction.

    The novelty of Wrigley Field is also waning. Yes…there are lots of people going to Wrigley, but more often than not, there are a lot of people going there just for the “status” of being there. If it weren’t for all the bars and trendy north-side establishments aroung the ballpark, that place would be bare. I remember growing up, and seeing plenty of empty seats at Wrigley Field because the only people who’d bother to show up at Cubs games were the die-hard Cubs fans. It wasn’t until the early 80’s when Harry Caray brought his schtick from old Comiskey Park, the neighborhood around Wrigley “gentrified”, and the Cubs won the ’84 N.L. East Division title that the Cubs were an interesting team again. Wrigley got an even bigger boost in the 90’s with dissatisfaction of New Comiskey Park’s layout, Sammy Sosa, and new “retro” ballparks popping up like weeds across the country.

    It took a while, but Sox fans like me knew sooner or later the Cubs’ marketing ways of “having a good time at the ballpark win or lose” would wane. And now…reality is setting in.

    • JakefromdaBurbs

      I really dont get why this has to be a Cubs-WhiteSox debate. I dont know why Sox fans love to play the inferiority complex card. Why aren’t you proud of what you have going on there on the Southside. Be proud of winning a WorldSeries and for being a serious contender in the AL Central this year.

      Cubs huge success in attendance at Wrigley for so many years was due to the globalization of the brand through WGN (which includes Harry Caray), the novelty of the park being a historic monument and a “thing to do or see ” if you visit Chicago, the success of the Cubs in the late 90’s and early 2000’s which increased hope and expectations to new levels. And yes, Wrigley still provides the ambiance and a location of a place to enjoy the sun and having fun with your friends and family. They really played to the young college group that went to wrigley to be in the sun, drink beers, and see girls in bathing suits. Its a beach experience minus the sand and water but the added excitement of being a witness of a potential contending Cubs team and the novelty of the homeruns which boomed in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

      The failture of US Cellular has nothing to do with Cub fans or even people in general going to Cub games rather than Sox games. Also, Cub fans dont fill Wrigley seats just to brag to WhiteSox fans about attendance. Most Cub fans I know used the attendance figures to point out the poor support the WhiteSox get even when they are good.

      The waning of the Cubs ticket sales this year has more to do with the fact that expectations of success have soared to an unprecedented level with Cub fans and they are now more demanding of performance and success… and good for them to do so. This coupled with the fact they’ve increased ticket prices and the fact the Cubs really dont have a Derrick Rose or Brian Urlacher type face to the franchise, it hurts marketing and advertisement and thus has an effect on ticket sales among other things.

      • JakefromdaBurbs

        I also wouldn’t downplay the success of the Bulls/Blackhawks/Bears as another reason. I can’t think of another time in Chicago where so many teams in Chicago are playoff or championship contending as these days.

        Consumers simply of better options to spend their money and the market has curtailed the spending towards the preference of witnessing winning teams rather than a suspect team as the Cubs.

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        Wow, the Castro/Jeter ads really do tell the tale.
        The soup is very thin this year.

        Of course they could make Z the face of the franchize and also of National Mental Health Week….after all, he’s cured!

        I offer to be the arse of the franchise.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        Absolutely. When you’re pitting Starlin Castro against Derek Jeter in ads, you know your team is lacking some star power. If this year’s ticket sales are any indication thus far, the Cubs really might need to sign Albert Pujols next offseason to jump start excitement about the team again.

        It’s going to be interesting …

      • Larry Horse's Arse

        I think that Jake’s point that the Cubs lack a “face of the franchise” was very insightful.

      • Dave Wischnowsky

        I would agree that the situation has little (if anything) to do with Cubs-Sox. But, at the same time, I’m not surprised that Sox fans would want to weigh in and prod the Cubs and Cubs fans. Such is Chicago :)

        I think both of you guys make some very valid points, and helped provide some interesting context to this topic.

  • South Side Steve

    The economy question could probably answered to some extent by taking a similar look at White Sox ticket sales this year compared to last, no?

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      I would agree, Steve. But it’s more difficult to gauge the current Sox situation, as they’ve never sold out games as quickly (or at all) as the Cubs. I don’t have access to exact ticket sales numbers for either the Cubs or the Sox, but I would be very curious to know what they are, especially compared to past seasons.

  • Mike Cannon

    Unlike some commenters who are stuck in the 2005 time capsule, the issues has absolutely nothing to do with the white sox. the issue is just that the Cubs are not expected to do much, so there is no urgency. It’s not like thousands all of a sudden decided to be sox fans…I’d rather start watching soccer than do that.

  • JakefromdaBurbs


    I think its a perfect storm of sorts that has resulted in poor ticket sales. A sluggish economy + increased ticket prices + a bad finish in 2010 + tempered hope and expectation in 2011 + same old cast of (bad, old and failure-filled) characters like Ramirez/Soriano/Zambrano + a general wait & see approach that started to show during the end of last season continuing into this season = the Cubs having a sluggish ticket sales report.

    Of them all, I think the fact that the Cubs were so bad last year and still trying to raise ticket prices, I think Cub fans have finally stepped back and said wait a minute… you’re going to finish in 4th place and charge me more to come out and see them. Its actually quite appaling and insulting. Maybe I’m giving my fellow Cub fan too much credit for wisening up.

    Finally, I think a huge aspect not being considered here is the success of the other Chicago teams. Bulls look like an East contender in the NBA. Blackhawks are roaring back into the playoffs in the NHL. And the Bears were surprisingly good last year and there’s more hope for the Bears going into next year. The Chicago consumer now has more and better options at spending their hard earned money watching playoff and championship contending teams rather than watching the Cubs.

    Again, if the Cubs prove to be a playoff contender by June, I think you’ll see fans scoop up tickets hoping to ride the rest of the season but until they prove that, fans are going to be skeptical and hesitant.

  • MichaelT

    Agree with much of the above but I think people are missing one crucial point. With the emergence of websites like Stubhub, people are witnessing in much greater detail the actual value of Cubs tickets versus their perceived value. When tickets were in the hands of scalpers and friends, there was a notion that tickets were very difficult to get (in large part because it actually was from a logisitical perspective). For a few years now, we’ve seen that you can pretty much buy tickets for any game outside those against the Cardinals or White Sox, for less than face value depending on where you’d like to sit. Now that the transaction has been simplified to a few clicks, the logisitical overhead that was built into prices are gone.

  • Mike Cannon

    Very good point, Michael. Even in years past, I’ve never bought tickets the day they went on sale… Usually wait till later in the year to decide what games I want to go to, then usually scour stubhub or CL for them. And more often than not, tickets can be had at face or close to it. Maybe that’s more the issue here….in today’s day and age, there’s no reason to get advance tickets.

    • Larry Horse's Arse

      Yes, that was an excellent point.
      In the ’90s when my son (a Cubs fan…hey they were on tv with Harry when he came home from school) was too young to get his own tickets, I can recall going in person (loooong lines) on day-1 for single-game tix or doing the TicketMaster call-in game.
      StubHub is so much easier and makes last-minute plans do-able.

  • Dan

    every product goes through cycles. Before 1984 you could walk up to WF and sit anywhere you want. Those daays are returning. There is no reason to purchase tickets in advance for either the cubs or the sox. If you want good seats you walk up the day of the game and get great seats, seats that aren’t for sale on Stub Hub or Ticketmaster.

    the cubs trend is down. Comcast ratings were down 50% last year and a couple rooftops are in foreclosure. ricketts, likely in about a year will be penniless and disowned by his father.

    It’s over.

    • Dave Wischnowsky

      Ha. I think that forecast might be a tad dire, Dan. But we’ll see. :)

  • Tip

    Good points. I feel bad for Quade having to be the face of this franchise during Cubs turnover but at the same time I do not. He took the job, he took the job that many other managers would have turned down because they knew the hellish condition the Cubs are currently experiencing, was in fact a going to be a reality. Personally I am sick and tired of the excuses, losing, stupid fights, neurotic under achievers, and high ticket/concession prices. I would rather not wait for three redlines, have to listen to idiots talk about their most recent work crisis, spend $80+, just to finally watch the overall lack of interest on the diamond. I truly believe that I would have more interest this year if they had rebuilt. That is the reason that I stay away and watch it on TV.

  • Larry Horse's Arse

    I like Quade, seems like a genuinely good guy.
    But if he is the face of the franchise…they need an “Uncle Fester” night to ramp up attendance.

  • dan

    Uncle Fester is a good one. Ricketts sounds just like Mike McCaskey, Quade looks like Uncle Fester and Len Casper sounds like either Burt or Ernie, I can’t remember which. If you listen to Moreland he sounds like a poor mans MCMichael without the F biombs.

    This is a bad organization.

  • Beverly Brewmaster

    $81 for bleacher tickets???!!! That’s more than I pay for Bears tickets! Gee, I can’t imagine why they didn’t sell out right away…

    I consider myself a die-hard Cubs fan but I haven’t been to Wrigley in two years and doubt I’ll go this year. And why should I? You’re going to jack up prices that high to see a product in transition? As some of the commenters above have alluded to, 2003 and back-to-back division titles have raised the expectations of real fans. Yeah, they’ll always have tourists and drunk frat boys, but that’ll only take you so far. You want to get fans like me back in the seats? Show me some cohesive plan to rebuild this franchise, not more statues and redone bathrooms.

    • Mario

      Hey Beverly,
      I couldn’t agree with you more. My comment was almost the same :)

  • Sean

    My take on why so many cubs tix still left on the sidelines……..

    How many of you know that guy who bought tickets 6 tickets for 30 games in hopes of flipping them to pay for his own wrigley experience?

    “Ticket broker 101” was learned hard and fast last year when no one wanted to show up to clark and addison after July 15th.

  • Glockster

    I think that part of it is a subtle but steady shift in Cubs fans that has been taking place since 2003 or so in that they (we, I suppose) care about losing now. It isn’t cute, and it isn’t funny anymore. Going to a Cubs game is no longer about spending an afternoon sitting in the bleachers getting wasted and then giving away gift certificates for Brown’s Chicken. Losing is no longer acceptable.

    • Murph

      @ Glockster ” Say it like you mean it”

  • DarrellB

    I am not convinced that a lack of fans interest is the problem. It may be, but it also could be other factors. It could be that with the bad economy, ticket brokers were not as aggressive in buying tickets in the past and not willing to take the risk that that they can make a profit on the quantity of tickets they bought in previous years.
    Time will prove what is the truth.
    I do believe that if the Cubs have a good year attendance will stay high.
    Also it will be interesting to see how many more tickets are sold for less desirable games that are included in the 13 game pack because they had to buy the less desirable games to get the more in demand games.

  • Mario

    I agree with glockster and brewmaster. As a longtime Cub fan (1984 Cubs were my favorite team) I am frustrated with the loveable losers. Losing is no longer the option as the novelty has worn off long ago. After the Cubs got swept by the Dodgers a few years ago I threw in the towel and refused to pay for another ticket until they win the World Series. Period. Also to top it off. $80 for a bleacher seat? Seriously? Tired of being loveable losers. I want the Cubs to be arrogant jerks like the Yankees. At least the Yankees can show off their rings!

  • Jaimie in Hoffman Estates

    There is nothing to worry about, as long as you have cold beer and young, hot babes with big racks there will be fans. I usally make it to 5 games or so.

  • Marc

    Tickets are and have been ridiculously expensive. My friends and I used to go to 6-8 games a year but now with money being tight and ticket prices continuing to inflate, it’s just getting harder and harder on the average fan to feel comfortable putting down at least $200 (after taxes and “amusement fees”) for a couple lower level tickets. And let’s not forget parking around Wrigley which will take another $40-50 out of your pocket. God forbid you get hungry at the game or a bit thirsty because that’s another $20-30 just for a slice of pizza and a beer. I think the Cubs are really not catering to their fan base by increasing ticket prices after a poor 2010 campaign and also with the economy still not in great shape. In my mind that’s the main reason people are staying away

  • timmurtaugh

    Frankly, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the attraction to wear off. Too often the Cubs make it seem as if their main priority isn’t winning a World Series but just to grab every last dollar out of your wallet.
    When you start to get out of the habit of going to the game, it’s easy to stay out since there’s a nice feeling about having a few extra $10s or $20s in your pocket. Would be nice if they could contend, win a round of the playoffs. But that won’t happen for another generation.

  • kevin

    been a cub fan for 50 years.after awhile you just get tired of the same stuff,and i am a die hard cub fan

  • Karl Anderson

    I gave up on the Scrubs after the 1984 season…..it was a great feeling of liberation…..like kicking a bad habit.

    Now, the idea of being a “fan” of a sports team of millionaires seems absolutely absurd to me.

  • steve

    Rickets didn.t sink any time or money into the team so why should I.

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