New ticket prices reflect Cubs' struggles

CHICAGO -- Before the 2010 season, their first as owners of the Chicago Cubs, the Ricketts family raised ticket prices by 10 percent, continuing a trend of major price increases from the last few years of Tribune Company ownership.

While the Cubs didn’t make the playoffs in 2009, they had a winning record and 2010 was only two years removed from the Cubs having the best record in the National League.

But things have changed. For the third straight season, all losing affairs of increasing magnitude, the Chicago Cubs are lowering season ticket prices for the 2013 season.

According to data from Team Marketing Report and the 2013 season ticket data sent out today by the team, the Cubs’ average season ticket price will be $44.61, down from $45.83 last season, which was the third-highest in baseball. All prices include the 12 percent amusement tax.

That figure doesn’t include the 3,500 or so club box seats the Cubs now consider “premium” seats. If you factor in those “premium” seats, the Cubs’ average ticket is $48.96, down from $50.06.

Of course, a severe downgrade of fortune has coincided with the Ricketts family takeover. Since the 2008 playoffs, the team’s record has declined each season, with 2012’s 101-loss campaign marking only the third time in franchise history the team has lost 100 games.

But Wrigley Field is a tourist draw and there is a long waiting list for season ticket holders.

According to David Kronheim, who runs the analytics site numbertamer.com, the Cubs’ 2012 attendance total of 2,882,756 was the highest-ever for a team that lost 100 games. The 2004 Arizona Diamondbacks had the previous record of 2,519,560.

Still, it broke the Cubs’ streak of eight straight seasons drawing more than 3 million as the Cubs lost an average of 1,669 fans per game. The Cubs’ 2012 average of 35,590 is way down from the franchise peak of 40,743 in 2008. By the end of the season no-shows outnumbered the fans in their seats as the actual attendance looked to be a fraction of the announced numbers.

For the season, individual tickets will be priced $1-$2 more for the second straight season. In the past, the Cubs were one of the few teams not to price individual games tickets higher.

While some season ticketholders will see some savings, does that mean your trip to the ballpark will be cheaper? Maybe not.

Once again, the team has reconfigured its confusing five-tier pricing structure. Last season there were, in order of price, 13 marquee games, 16 platinum, 26 gold, 16 silver and 10 bronze. This season, it’s 9-17-27-15-13.

So, it’s four fewer marquee games, three more bronze, one more platinum, one more gold, one less silver.

Some tiered prices are higher. For example, nearly every bronze tier ticket is more expensive than last year, some by nearly $6, but since there are more bronze games and fewer marquee games, that helps lower the average price.

The tiers aren’t the only confusing part about Cubs tickets. Starting in 2010, the Cubs started separating the amusement tax from ticket prices as they tried to float a plan to renovate Wrigley Field using increases in that tax.

The Cubs also plan to expand dynamic ticket pricing this season to the entire stadium, according to the Chicago Tribune. That means that individual game prices could go up depending on, yes, high demand, unlikely as that may seem. Teams that use dynamic ticket pricing generally don’t lower prices below the season ticket price.

Last year, the Cubs, using the California-based consultancy Natural Selection, only dynamically priced the bleachers, which resulted in lower prices for 2013. The White Sox used dynamic pricing this season as well.

Of the 13 pricing categories released by the team (not including the dugout box, bullpen box or 56 new seats the Cubs are adding), only three sections will see decreases of more than $1.

The Upper deck box outfield seats are down the most, from $47.04 to $42.17, while bleachers are down from $42.24 last season to $37.97. Terrace reserved outfield seats are down from $31.66 to $30.09. Those three sections constitute about 30 percent of the stadium’s seating.

The bleachers are also on a separate tier system and there are seven fewer games for the marquee and platinum sections, just 15 total compared to 22 last year.

The marquee bleacher ticket price is down $10.08 from last season ($85.12 to $75.04) and the platinum is down $3.36 ($56/$52.64). The other three tiers are actually a few dollars more expensive and constitute 80 percent of the games.

For season ticketholders willing to pay their entire bill up front by check, the team is offering an autographed Anthony Rizzo ball. Rizzo will be signing autographed baseballs at a Chicago area convention in November for $49. By comparison, the Red Sox offer a five percent discount for paying upfront by check.