EDITOR’S NOTE: This column by editor-in-chief Jonathan Eig also appears today in The Wall Street Journal.
The Chicago Cubs, who by now should be very well practiced at licking wounds and admitting defeat, announced earlier this month that they would cut ticket prices for the 2013 season.
As a season ticket holder for 12 years, I was relieved. Last season’s team was painful to watch—or more painful than usual, I should say—and tickets were almost impossible to unload. So, when I received my invoice from the Cubs last week, I was eager to see just how much the team had cut prices.
The answer: Sixty cents.
My package, which I divide among 15 friends, fell in price to $13,314.56 from $13,315.16. There is an asterisk: I will receive eight more tickets next year, so the average price per ticket did drop by about $2, from $60 to $58. Still, my bill was reduced by a mere 60 cents. Which means my kids can get those gumballs we’ve been saving for.
I emailed the Cubs and asked if the team’s owner, Tom Ricketts, or its president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, would sit down with me and explain why I should spend this kind of money for a team that has almost no chance of playing championship baseball in 2013.
Instead of Ricketts or Epstein, the Cubs gave me Colin Faulkner, vice president for ticket sales and service. We sat at a back table at Bernie’s, across the street from Wrigley. He ordered a Blue Moon and I had a Revolution IPA. Faulkner’s first pitch was a soft toss: He said he’d recently spoken to a fan whose father had been a season-ticket holder and had died without ever seeing a World Series. This fan was planning to take over his father’s ticket plan and leave an empty seat in honor of his dad when he finally watched the Cubs win it all.
I wasn’t buying it. The Cubs haven’t won the World Series since 1908. Why would this guy prove to be any luckier than his father?
How big is the waiting list for season tickets? I asked.
Imagine if you owned the second-worst team in baseball and you had a waiting list of 115,000 customers. Would you reduce ticket prices? Of course not. And if you did, you’d reduce them by, oh, about 60 cents, as a gesture to fans for suffering through a season of misery. And then you’d jack up the prices again the following season assuming the team was slightly better than miserable.
Last year, Cubs ticket prices were second highest in the league and the Cubs ranked 10th in attendance, despite losing 101 games. Over the past two decades, according to a recent report, Cubs ticket prices have increased 265 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation.
The other day, Epstein, in an interview, justified the high prices by saying Wrigley Field was a special place to watch a game. Well, Mr. Epstein, the Lyric’s a special place to watch an opera, too, but nobody pays to hear lousy singing.
The Cubs have three goals, Faulkner said: 1. Win a World Series. 2. Preserve Wrigley Field for future generations. 3. Be good neighbors and community partners.
The goal is to build an organization that wins consistently, he said, that gets to the playoffs regularly and wins the World Series.
All fine and good. But the Cubs are not going to make the playoffs next year. While I wait for them to improve, I can buy tickets on StubHub at huge discounts—sometimes for less than a buck, if last season is any indication. And with the money I save I’ll be able to pay whatever it takes to get a ticket to the 2047 World Series.
Tell me why I shouldn’t take that approach? I asked.
“Every season’s sacred and anything can happen,” Faulkner said.
Faulkner shared his own memory–of attending a game this year with his mother and father and watching his six-year-old son fall asleep on his mother’s lap.
I reminded him that he didn’t have to pay for those tickets. When I shell out $300 for my family to go a game and my daughter falls asleep, or spends half the game going back and forth to the bathroom, I don’t get sentimental about it; I get upset.
Faulkner goes in for the close.
“I’m asking you to renew your season tickets,” he says, looking me in the eye. “We want you back…we want you to be part of what we’re building…. This is not the time to get out. This is the time to double down.”
For 12 years I’ve been part of a group of Cubs fans that’s been suffering together and (less often) celebrating together. Though the tickets are in my name, these tickets belong as much to my friends as they do to me. When I put the matter to a vote last week, 13 of the 15 men and women in the group chose to renew.
Is it foolish, perhaps even childish, to cheer for something as meaningless as a baseball team? Is it nuts to wear the hats and jerseys of a commercially exploitative corporate entity that happens to own a ball club?
Yes, it is.
My friends and I have reached ages where it’s no longer considered appropriate to care about foolish things. We care about our spouses and our kids and our jobs, of course. But do you remember what it was like to care—really care—about silly things? About things that made no sense, that were never going to make the slightest difference in your life but mattered so deeply that you weren’t afraid to act the fool to show it?
I remember, because at a baseball game, I still stand and cheer and dance with joy at the sight of a ball hit long and high over a wall.
There’s no logic to it.
That, Mr. Faulkner, is why I’m in.