Not So Lovable: The Attendance Drop-off at Wrigley

Steve O Speak

A Guest Blog by dcgm04

Chicago Cubs are losing—and I’m not just talking about their ballgames. For the second straight year attendance is down at the Friendly Confines. Compared to last year, the Cubs are drawing about 1,100 fewer fans per game this season. Is this a dire situation that has put the organization in serious trouble financially? No, but it definitely isn’t a trend that GM Jim Hendry and owner Tom Ricketts are happy about. Also, if attendance does continue to decline in succeeding seasons it could impact the organization’s ability or willingness to spend money as liberally as it has up to the present.

There are two reasons the Cubs aren’t drawing in fans. The first is the economy. Attendance is down across the MLB as a whole, so the Cubs aren’t alone. But the second reason rests solely with the Cubs. And that is they have a bad product.

Over the years Jim Hendry has doled out contracts that have resulted in a payroll exceeding $126 million this year, good for 6th-most in all of baseball. And where has that gotten them? Currently they’re 5th-place in their division and have the 2nd-worst record in the majors as of the All-Star Break. Ouch.

The economy isn’t helping, but the main reason fans are not going to Wrigley is because of the appallingly horrible team thrown out on the field day in and day out.

So how can the organization get fans to go to Wrigley? Well, winning games if not division titles or better would certainly get the job done. Unfortunately for the Chicago Cubs, assembling a team that can contend for a postseason spot doesn’t seem to be possible in the near future. That being the case, here are 4 things the Cubs should do to bring fans back to the ballpark:

1. Fire Jim Hendry. When all is said and done it’s the general manager who determines what free agents to sign, what trades to pull off, whom to draft, whom the manager is, and whom to consult for advice on these matters. The state of the organization is a reflection of the job the general manager has done. I think it is kind to say the Cubs GM hasn’t met expectations. During his approximately 10-year tenure as general manager, the Cubs have made the postseason only three times and twice were swept in the first round. Furthermore, ludicrous contracts, baffling trades, and unprofitable drafts have worn away fans’ patience and trust in the man. Firing Hendry (something long overdue in the eyes of most Cubs fans) would send a message that the Cubs acknowledge the current regime has failed and are heading in a new direction, thus rebuilding trust with the fans.

2. Renovate Wrigley. Baseball greats from Babe Ruth to Peter Gammons have called Wrigley Field “a dump.” Complaints range from narrow walkways to a substandard visitors’ clubhouse to areas that give off the feeling of being in an alley. Building a new ballpark is not an option. A huge part of the charm of the Cubs is Wrigley itself. Plus, think about Fenway Park; it’s a prime example of how an old stadium can be modernized without losing the nostalgia. What the Cubs need to do is stop adding seats that aren’t going to be filled and reallocate funds to make the off-camera, non-televised areas as nice as the stands and the field. Making a trip to Wrigley Field an all-around enjoyable experience is a great way to lure in fans and ensure that they want to come back.

3. Commit to rebuilding. Right now the organization is trying to be competitive and rebuild at the same time, as evidenced by the ill-advised Matt Garza trade this past offseason (a good pitcher but not worth the talent they gave up). Usually, this isn’t a recipe for success, and often it leads to what we currently see at Wrigley Field: a bunch of complementary players and overpaid, underperforming veterans. Here’s a good way to start the rebuilding process: fire sale. The Cubs need to admit to themselves and the fans that the team won’t be competitive for at least the next couple of seasons and more likely longer than that. Then they can trade away pretty much all of their veterans that don’t fit into the future plans. Yes, they will have to eat practically all of the money owed to these players, but look at it this way: they have to pay them regardless of if they keep them or not, so why not trade them for prospects? The Cubs need to restock their farm system and might even get a team to pay part of the contracts of the veterans they trade in the process. Their fans have gone through rebuilding periods before and have been quite understanding. In fact, I actually think a lot of the fans’ ire stems from the organization making promises to be competitive every season and not keeping them rather than just that the Cubs have a bad team. Plus, people like to watch prospects. I’ve read comments by fans on the team’s website that say they only watch games to see how Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney perform. I myself love to watch Tony Campana play and imagine him one day stealing 40+ bases in future seasons (the dude can fly). Prospects and young talent bring hope and optimism. Fading veterans don’t.

4. Sign Albert Pujols this offseason. I know this is contradictory to the whole premise of rebuilding, but hear me out. The Cubs need Pujols more than any other team in baseball. Stealing Pujols away from their archrivals the Cardinals would be one of the biggest coups in baseball history. Even with his struggles this year he is still regarded as the best hitter in baseball. And if the Cubs sign the best hitter in baseball away from their biggest rivals, the marketing writes itself. Pujols would draw fans to the ballpark just so they can see arguably baseball’s best right-handed hitter ever in a Cubs uniform. Wrigley would be packed daily, which equals big dollars for the Cubs.

But how can they sign Albert Pujols if they will be rebuilding? Won’t he want to sign with a team that has a chance at the postseason? Maybe, maybe not. The Cubs have two options that could get help them land Pujols even with plans to rebuild. One way to go is to sign Pujols and put off rebuilding for at least another year. If the Cubs aren’t in the mix for the playoffs at next season’s All-Star Break, then they can have their fire sale while still retaining Pujols as a draw for the fans. The second option is more of a gamble. What the Cubs would have to do is have their fire sale now and come up with a timeline for when they believe the team will be competitive again (i.e. when will the farm system pay major dividends). When they try to sign Pujols in the offseason they can explain their situation and hope he’s okay with waiting a couple of years for the team to become competitive. It’s a long-shot, but it could work because Pujols already has won the World Series and might not be as desperate for a ring as a player who doesn’t have one. Plus, Pujols words and actions have made it clear that he wants to be the best-paid player in the game. The Cubs are one of only maybe 5 or so teams that can afford that kind of contract who have an opening at first base. Granted, the Cubs will have to pony up a lot to sign Pujols, but the way he’ll draw fans to Wrigley is worth it.


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