SIOUX CITY – “Sticker Shock.” That’s what the Sunday Chicago Tribune’s lead story – the front section, not sports – called it as the Cubs prepared for a Monday night home season opener.
Remember how excited so many of us were last November, when the boys in blue won their first World Series since 1908? Well, if you’re one of the truly hard-core Cubs fans who aren’t content just to watch our team on TV or listen on radio, this historic milestone is going to cost you.
Having conquered the goat’s curse and pulling off an accomplishment many thought would never happen, the most beloved franchise in sports has rewarded itself with a 19.5-percent ticket price increase.
According to one source, season tickets for a dugout box seat at Wrigley Field – top of the line -- now carry a price tag of $29,089.76. That’s an average of $359 for the team’s 81 home games, which is just one of those unbelievable things the English language still lacks words to reconcile.
That being said, it’s only fair to point out that few journalists are inclined to find the escalating economics in professional sports even moderately surprising.
I fully appreciate the “overhead’’ it has required to build a winner on Chicago’s north side. And, the bookmakers in Vegas think the Cubs will become the game’s first back-to-back world champions in 17 years (since the Yankees’ 1998-1999-2000 three-peat).
Setting aside the big money demanded for a few special events like the home opener, you can actually buy some of the better seats at Wrigley, the club box seats, for $79 or $89. Nonetheless, this isn’t going to seem like such a bargain when Pedro Strop blows a five-run lead in the eighth inning and the “good guys” lose.
The nice folks from Omaha who own the team, the Ricketts family, opened the checkbook very nicely last year and shelled out a player payroll in excess of $184-million, a franchise record. That was a major increase over the previous season’s $115-million in salaries and more than three times higher than the $59.8-million from just two years ago (a franchise-low since 1998).
Take the $184-million and divide it by the 3,232,420 customers that filed into Wrigley Field last season and you get just around $57 a pop. Then again, ticket sales constitute only one source of revenue for a venture that literal fortunes from concessions, souvenirs, advertising and broadcasting rights.
Mind you, that television and radio windfall will undoubtedly soar when the existing contracts run out after the 2019 season.
The current owners bought the franchise for $700-million in 2009 and the value had more than tripled to $2.2-billion as of last October, according to Forbes Magazine. This was before the nearly 20-percent bump in tickets that averaged $51.33 in 2016, which was already $20 over the major league average.
It all adds up to additional damage perpetrated by the gatekeepers to a game that has already suffered significant losses in popularity since its halcyon days.
Baseball lost millions of fans after greedy team owners essentially forced strikes that took major bites out of the 1981, 1994 and 1995 seasons.
A total of 713 games (38 percent of the schedule) were canceled in 1981. Then, another 948 games and the entire 1994 postseason were lost in a 232-day work stoppage that ended the ’94 slate on Aug. 12 and shortened a revised 1995 schedule from 162 games to 144 per team.
Sure, the players shared some blame in all this, demanding salaries the public found shocking then, to be sure, and possibly now, as well. Nonetheless, history tells a tale of ownership exploiting talent to such an extent that no player collected so much as $100,000 until Joe DiMaggio in 1949, which is $1,052,170 in 2017 dollars.
This didn’t exactly spark an avalanche of big contracts, either. Ted Williams landed the game’s fattest contract in all of the 1950’s at $90,000. Then, in the early 1960’s, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle joined “Joltin’ Joe” in the elite six-figure club.
As if the strikes weren’t harmful enough, baseball took a beating with its steroids scandal, exposing statistics inflated by pharmaceutical means and casting doubt over the entire show.
Then, too, cultural norms have shifted to the point where younger generations have found the game to be too slow. Oddly enough, they don’t seem to mind NFL contests that generally stretch well beyond three hours, or longer than baseball.
Soccer fans will rightfully point to either sport, baseball or American football, and take note of how little activity actually takes place when you count the time in which the ball is in play.
The 1994-95 baseball strike, which began in the second year of our Sioux City Explorers’ franchise, helped create season attendance averages of well over 3,000 a game for the team’s first five seasons. That average exceeded 2,000 for another nine years and remained over 1,900 for another three years before taking a plunge in 2009.
No one is suggesting our American Association club compares to the major leagues, but my unofficial count is 14 on the number of players reporting to camp next month for the Explorers. Two of them have reached the big leagues and the franchise definitely enters its silver anniversary season on a roll.
Coming off their first back-to-back postseason appearances, Manager Steve Montgomery’s X’s are hoping to make it three playoff trips in a row. And, if you buy your tickets before game day, the price ranges from a $6 general admission pass to $12 for the best seats in the house.