Concern and restlessness continue to grow among the Chicago Cubs fan base and more free agents are falling off the board. It's been pretty quiet on the Cubs front since they signed Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon last week, but the fanbase is getting louder. Cubs Insider did a great piece on the frustration expressed by season ticket holders.
The fanbase is not happy, and if things continue as they are, it is going to reflect in the turnstile numbers next year at Wrigley Field. That said, we have to look at multiple scenarios as there are still names on the board for now that the Cubs could land.
First, we look at last year, the first full year without Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. The team was, to nobody's surprise, not a postseason contender as they went 74-88. Knowing 2022 was a rebuild/retool year, the attendance dipped compared to the contending seasons of 2015-2019. The recorded attendance in 2022 was 2,616,780, averaging 32,306 per game. Not counting 2020 and 2021 due to COVID restrictions, this was the lowest attendance number in a normal Cubs season since 1997. This was a 615,640 dip from 2019, the last normal season before the pandemic.
The experience at Wrigley Field is magical, but also very expensive. As with any product, people are more willing to pay a high value for high quality. Back in the 80s and 90s, it was more affordable to just go and experience Wrigley, even with bad baseball. Today that is just not going to fly with as many people. If the experience is going to cost a lot, then give the fans a good product.
A disappointing offseason may lead to disappointing attendance numbers for the Chicago Cubs.
Let's say the Cubs do not land a big free agent and do not do much more this offseason. It feels like a safe bet that attendance will dip even further from last year. Just spitballing here, but we could be looking at an over-under of 2.2 million in that scenario. Hard to see it dip under 2 million, which has not happened in a normal season since 1986 (2020-2021 COVID, 1994-1994 the strike), but never say never. Inaction could really test this fanbase who is over the "Lovable Loser" stuff. Of course, 2.2 million would still be good compared to a lot of other MLB teams, but not for the Cubs. Weekday games in April-May and late-season would see half-empty grandstands and scattered fans in the bleachers.
Now let's say they do land a big fish, i.e. Carlos Correa or even Dansby Swanson. If the team gets one of those guys and a few more legit pieces, more people will buy in. If the Cubs at least give off that they are trying hard on the front office side and the team is at least competitive, the numbers should go up a bit. Seems like 2.7-2.8 million could be realistic in that case. They likely need a season of showing they are legit competitive over 162 games before they reach the 3 million mark again. Again this is just spitballing.
We know attendance numbers only account for a chunk of revenue. Television/media is such a big part of team revenue. Still, having a subpar product and more people dressed like empty seats is not something the Cubs should aspire to see. The Cubs fanbase is known for loyalty, and they still have tons of die-hards, but there will be less incentive to spend money at the park if they do not make drastic improvements to the team on the field.