Examining Cubs attendance trends following the 2016 World Series

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

With a lackluster on-field product, a complete lack of star power and one of the costliest game day experiences in the league, the Chicago Cubs shouldn’t be shocked at the message fans sent this year in their lack of attendance, especially late in the year.

The 2022 attendance at Wrigley Field marked the lowest full-season figure since 1997 (obviously, there were limits in place early in 2021 and no fans were allowed to attend games in 2020) – and seeing large swathes of empty green seats, especially during those midweek night games became commonplace.

Cubs attendance decline isn’t a new phenomenon at Wrigley

After drawing more than 3.2 million fans during the 2017 season that came on the heels of the historic World Series run the year prior, it’s been a steady decline at the turnstiles. Even if you throw out 2021, the team’s 32,306 average draw even fell below the dark days that preceded the meteoric rise we saw in 2015. Even the 101-loss 2012 team drew better than this year’s Cubs –  a harrowing sign if you’re Tom Ricketts and Crane Kenney.

Here’s the Cubs’ attendance totals since 2016:

  • 2016: 3,232,420
  • 2017: 3,199,562
  • 2018: 3,181,089
  • 2019: 3,094,865
  • 2020: N/A
  • 2021: 1,978,934 (attendance restrictions)
  • 2022: 2,616,780

It’s not just the attendance that’s waned since Chicago won it all back in 2016. Ratings for Marquee Network are in free fall, as well, although I’d say that’s far less surprising given the barrier to entry when it comes to actually getting the channel – neither HuluTV nor YouTube TV, the two largest live TV streaming companies, carry it.

"“Our ratings have declined with the team’s performance,” Kenney told the Chicago Tribune last week. “We know that they’ll go back up when the team starts to compete a little more.”"

I’m not so sure about that, Crane. After all, this isn’t a new trend. The fever pitch-level fandom just hasn’t been there since the magic and allure of erasing a 108-year championship drought disappeared in a sea of confetti six years ago. And, meanwhile, the Cubs have done very little to drive people to the ballpark or their TV network.

Trading almost every recognizable player at the 2021 deadline did the folks in the box office no favors. But it goes far beyond the competitiveness of the ballclub. Rampant inflation and concerns over the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic surely kept fans away from Wrigleyville this summer, as well.

Instead of making it more affordable for all Cubs fans to come to iconic ballpark, though, ownership continues to show it’s focused almost exclusively on luxury clients, corporate sponsors and season ticket holders. The five percent reduction in season ticket prices for 2023 is a nice gesture, but make no mistake: it’s not about putting money back in the fans’ pockets. It’s because they recognize those tickets aren’t the hot commodity they once were and are desperate to get folks clamoring for them again.

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If Jed Hoyer goes out and has the offseason we’re all anticipating, maybe things will get back on track. But, hey, if it doesn’t turn things around, at least we’ll all have a sportsbook attached to Wrigley Field next season, right?