Attendance in 2013 lowest in last 15 years

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs finished a disappointing season with a club-record 50 home losses, which is almost criminal considering the prices they charge for tickets.

At least there weren’t that many witnesses.

The Cubs finished their homestand with a 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday in front of an announced crowd of 26,171. That cemented their worst season of attendance since 1998.

The Cubs drew 2,642,682 in paid attendance, their worst total since 2,623,194 paid to get into Wrigley Field during Sammy Sosa’s magical home run season.

This year, there were no Sammy heroics and very few victories.

The ’98 season sparked a renaissance at Wrigley, and the Cubs drew at least three million fans from 2004-11, thanks in part to a steady influx of tourists in the summer months.

But four straight losing seasons have atrophied local interest in the franchise that the Ricketts family bought in 2009 for $845 million.

The Ricketts era has seen the club lose 372 games in four seasons, with a final series in St. Louis still to go. Ticket prices have stayed mostly the same since the Ricketts took over from the Tribune, but attendance is way down.

The team set a franchise attendance record with 3,300,200 in 2008, back when they had the best record in the National League. That was an average of 40,743 per game.

This year, the Cubs drew an average crowd of 32,625, down around 3,000 from last year's 101-loss season.

For those who wonder why this matters, consider the cost of losing.

The Cubs have lost an average of 8,118 fans a game in the past five seasons. Given that the average ticket price is $44.55 (not including the club seats), that's a big drop in revenue.

This drop isn't lost on the Cubs' front office. While the baseball operations department won't get a big increase in spending, like it did in 2007, the ticket department has hired new sales people to plumb the lengthy season ticket waiting list for sales.

But the sales pitch of "Wait 'Til Next Year" just might not work anymore until fans see real on-field results.