I went to the Cubs vs. Padres game on Wednesday, 4/20. This was game one of a day-night double-header. The Cubs won the game off an 11th inning Reed Johnson home run. Though it was bitterly cold and overcast the entire afternoon, it was fun to get to Wrigley Field for my first game of the year and it was worth sticking around to see a walk off homer. The ‘Go Cubs Go’ song from the remaining bleacher fans was enthusiastic but quieter than I recall, due to a fairly empty park. I’ve learned something from attending that game and from watching the other home games on TV this year. The fan base that once packed Wrigley Field from April to September year after year has finally reached its breaking point. Where have all the Cub fans gone? Apparently not to the street corners of Clark and Addison in Wrigleyville.
According to Baseball-Reference Wrigley Field attendance first surpassed 3 million in 2004, a year after they lost a heart-breaking NLCS to the Marlins. Attendance maxed out at 3.3 million in 2008 and has been on the decline ever since. Weather for April and May baseball in Chicago isn’t ideal. It is typically cold and either rainy, snowy or some odd mixture of the two. Despite the weather and fielding teams that weren’t always competitive, the north-side team always managed to sell out. During particularly cold or rainy weekdays the stands might be only 3 quarters full but the announced crowd would still be 40,000 plus because all the tickets were purchased, just not used.
This year there is no shortage of seats available for Cub home games. The Chicago Cubs website has tickets available for all but the most popular home games. Those seats would typically be available only on the secondary market, even this early in the season. Television and radio ticket advertising is more prominent in 2011 than previous years and Len and Bob push the product more often now that it’s necessary. At Stub Hub it isn’t difficult to find cheap seats selling for well below face value. The bleacher seats I bought for the Wednesday afternoon game were almost 50% off face value. Unlike previous years, Cub fans are making a clear statement that the team will need to build a better team and be competitive before they fill up Wrigley and the rooftops.
Want another telling sign that attendance is in decline at Clark and Addison? The seagulls are invading the outfield earlier in the game. In an odd sign of marking their turf, seagulls usually start occupying the field around the 7th or 8th inning. They sense the end of the game is near and they know their hunt for leftover food begins. At the game I attended they descended upon the outfield in the fourth or fifth inning as seats were fairly empty that early in the game. Unless Cubs new ownership want seagulls covering first base by mid-season they better hope the team shows real improvement so fans start showing more support.