by Kent Sterling
In late 2007, the Chicago Cubs were riding high, and the team announced the waiting list for season tickets was about to reach 100,000 fans. Despite being swept in the playoffs by the Arizona Diamondbacks, I was swept away by the wave of emotion after being at Great American Ballpark as the Cubs clinched the National League Central Division.
Without hesitation, I signed up. I thought it would be cool to be the 100,000th. Wound up 100,010 when I signed up.
When I was eight years old, I dreamed nightly of standing at Wrigley Field’s ticket window to receive my season tickets. I would wake up thrilled, thinking one day that dream would come true.
That dream became a possibility over the weekend when I received what would have been incredible news in 1972 or 2007 – that I was eligible to buy season tickets for the following Cubs season. The front of the postcard shows Wrigley Field surrounded by celebrating fans with the caption, “DON’T BE LEFT ON THE OUTSIDE WHEN IT HAPPENS.”
On the back, the Cubs congratulate me for having my name bubble to the top of the waitlist. I am then invited to pick out my seats online on November 13th.
The Cubs have averaged 93 losses over the past five seasons while scoring fewer runs in each of the five seasons than in any full season since 1992. Not since the grim 1962-1966 era have the Cubs failed to score 700 runs in any of five consecutive seasons. They have finished fifth in each of the last five seasons.
Excuse me if I wasn’t elated by the prospects of buying season tickets to watch a team in the midst of their worst run since before America’s entry into the Vietnam War.
But I am nothing if not willing to be swayed, so I texted my financial exemplar – the great Paulie Balst. Paulie has been knee deep in the Cubs ticket brokering business off and on over the past decade. He was unequivocal is assessing the offer.
“DO NOT BUY. I will sell you ours at cost. It was good a few years ago, broke even in ’12, and ’13. Slight loss last year. And that’s nights and weekends. They charge a premium for good games, discount weak ones, a lot of fees. They ground out profit.
“My sense is there has been a secular shift. It’s corporate spending. But once that tightens, it’s gone. I put it to my kids this way, “You want to go to a Cubs game or get an iPad Air to share. $75 for each ticket + food and drinks. Crap, it’s $450-$500 to go.
“You die in April and September, and try to make it back in the Summer. The fact I wasn’t willing or interested to buy my own product was insightful. I think the market is getting subdivided and subdivided.”
Paulie also explained the shrinking of the market due to kids participating in more and more sports, theater, choirs, clubs, etc… has winnowed free time for families, and that means fewer opportunities to attend traditional spectator events like Cubs games.
So as an investment, season tickets would be a boondoggle. As a Cubs fan, why would I choose to use them myself when the team may or may not be emerging from a nightmarish five-year run.
Yes, the farm system appears to be churning out prospects, but other than pitcher Kyle Hendricks and outfielder Jorge Soler, nobody has shown the ability to adapt to the challenges unique to Major League Baseball.
Perhaps, the dalliance with former Tampa Bay Rays skipper Joe Maddon will bear fruit. That would bring some legitimacy to the optimism Cubs owner Tom Ricketts imparts every time he moves his ever-thinning lips. Excuse me for smelling the same sort of corporate driven cash-first ruse like last off-season’s ridiculous bid for Masahiro Tanaka. That was a transparent play to generate hope where none truly existed. Maybe the pitch for Maddon is genuine – maybe another piece of trickery as season tickets are being peddled to saps like me.
Factor in the slimy, overtly greedy management of the Cubs business office, and supporting this effort seems especially dumb.
Investing in what I believe in regardless of the potential for profit has brought me joy in the past, but knowing I was pissing away a lot of cash in order to torture myself by watching a Cubs team that may or may not lose more than it wins – or spin the tickets at a loss – would bring more misery than I could bear.
Add the Crane Kenney factor, and the decision to shred the postcard and never think of it again was easy. Kenney, as the Cubs president of business operations, is to the Cubs what Foghorn Leghorn is to a chicken coop or Waylon Smithers is to the Springfield Nuclear Plant, and being a small part of a report where he could show competence will never be part of my legacy.
Despite the opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream, I heartily decline this opportunity. Let Kenney report that the season ticket waitlist has run through more than 100,000 people who have decided to pass. Run that up the flagpole and see if Cubs owner Tom Ricketts salutes.