Monday night will mark my first — and likely my only — trip to Wrigley Field this season. And that feels strange on some level. Spring has only just arrived in Chicago this past weekend, and I will be facing the prospect of going five months without another trip to the ballpark. But the way the Chicago Cubs are playing this year, maybe it’s a good thing to stay away.
Attendance at Chicago Cubs games has been an interesting issue of late. A decade ago, the capacity of Wrigley Field was about 39,000 fans, and the Cubs would routinely get something like 39, 486 fans for every home game. Day game or night game, weekday or weekend, no matter who the opponent was, the Cubs could be counted on for at or above 39,000 fans per game.
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And then a couple of things happened. The bleachers — which were always the hottest seat in the ballpark — were expanded significantly, which raised the capacity of the park to just over 41,000 fans. And the talent level on the field, and the resultant record of wins and losses, has fallen off considerably. So, the attendance levels are down now, but we’ll never know by exactly how much.
The attendance at Chicago Cubs games, like every other team in the majors, is determined by the number of tickets sold, rather than by how many people actually pass through the turnstiles. Fans who bought season tickets find themselves in the unenviable position of either unloading tickets — at a steep discount — for the games they can’t attend or eating the tickets altogether. Either way, those tickets are still counted in the attendance figures that appear in box scores.
My best guess for Monday night’s game against the lowly San Diego Padres will be attendance announced at 33,000 fans. That’s 8,000 fewer than capacity, which just wouldn’t have happened even five years ago. But consider that number will include the 3,800 tickets available on StubHub, along with who knows how many others who are trying to sell or give the tickets away to anyone who will take them. I’ll have a better idea when I get to the game on Monday, but a crowd of 18-20,000 seems like a more reasonable assumption, if the weather is good.
The Chicago Cubs will be spared the indignity of having to announce a crowd of 20,000 fans or fewer, at this game or any other this season. But the background shots on the television coverage won’t lie, nor will the drop in hot dog sales, gift shop sales and — most importantly — beer sales at the ballpark. We won’t know what those numbers are, but you can rest assured they’ll make putting a competitive team on the field that much more difficult in the months and years ahead.