Cubs expand ticket offerings

After watching attendance drop by nearly more than 100,000 fans last season, the Chicago Cubs have expanded their ticket offerings in a dramatic way for the
2011 season.

No longer assured of sellouts before the season begins, the Cubs are offering a multigame plan that includes the right to purchase tickets for games against the White Sox, New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals.

"The Cubs have never really offered a multigame plan with these kinds of high-demand matchups," Cubs chief marketing officer Wally Hayward said in a phone conversation.

While some would point to less-than-advertised actual attendance figures as the main reason to drum up sales in January, more than a month before tickets usually go on sale, the Cubs have been planning a shift in ticket strategy since the Ricketts family took over.

"You're seeing a total change in philosophy on how we're viewing the marketplace," Hayward said.

The "Pick 13" plan is only available online and goes on sale Thursday, a day before the annual Cubs Convention takes place. That means a good portion of tickets could be gone before single-game tickets go on sale in late February.

Purchasers are guaranteed tickets to two games against the White Sox, Yankees or Cardinals.

Because fans can mix and match different dates and sections for the 13-game plan, pricing is somewhat hard to pinpoint. Hayward said fans get upper deck outfield plans starting at $210, bleachers for $582, upper box infield for $634 and bleacher box seats for $872.

Hayward said the new plan also doesn't signify a decrease in season ticket renewals after two straight disappointing seasons and a perceived lack of buzz around the fanbase.

"This has nothing to do with renewals," he said, noting that season ticket renewals were only due a few days ago.

The Cubs drew 3,062,973 fans last year, down from 3,168,859 in 2009, and more than 3.3 million during a record 2008 season.

"Team performance is a driver," Hayward said. "And we saw some slower sales in the bleachers on Monday and Tuesday night games. That led us to look at some data, and really analyzing that data from good years to bad years. We saw that some of our bleacher inventory was priced too high for night games during the week. We looked at that and made adjustments accordingly."

Since the Cubs' dramatic run to the 2003 National League Championship Series, already good attendance has spiked and interest has intensified. Starting in 2004, the team utilized a wristband lottery system when single-game tickets went on sale at the ballpark. The team hasn't drawn less than 3 million for a season since 2002.

Prices have gone up accordingly, and last season the Cubs had the highest, non-premium average ticket price in the league at $52.56, less than $1 above both Boston and the Yankees, according to Team Marketing Report research.

After a fifth-place finish, the team has held ticket prices are basically flat for 2011, while adding a new higher-price "marquee" ticket category and have separated some bleacher tickets from what the rest of the inventory.

Hayward said the team is still analyzing variable-based "dynamic ticketing," the newest rage in sports ticketing, but doesn't see it being implemented any time soon.

While the Cubs Convention still isn't sold out, Hayward said individual convention pass sales are up, while hotel packages are a little softer than usual. He said everyone on the team is expected to come for the weekend event, except for Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Dempster, whose wife Jenny is expecting their third child.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.