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Chicago Cubs, brokers struggle with slow early season ticket sales

By Jerry Beach

No matter how hexed the Chicago Cubs might seem to be — their championship drought is at 103 years and counting — the one thing the club could count on through the years was packed crowds at historic Wrigley Field. But bad April weather, a mediocre team, a lagging economy and a quirky schedule have conspired to turn what was once the hottest ticket in town ice cold.

Attendance at Wrigley Field is down an average of 3,738 per game (from 38,539 to 34,801) over the Cubs' first 14 home games of the season. That's the fifth-biggest drop in Major League Baseball, behind (or ahead) of only the New York Mets, Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The decline at the gate experienced by those four teams is no surprise: The Mets have been spiraling downward, on and off the field, since moving into Citi Field in 2009 while the Rays lost several stars over the winter. The Mariners have lost 100 games in two of the last three seasons while the Dodgers have been dragged down by the divorce scandal enveloping their owners, Frank and Janie McCourt.

But the Cubs? The lovable losers whose games at the cozy confines of ivy-adorned Wrigley are a must-see for tourists and Illinois residents alike?

"Today's a Wednesday afternoon game and these box seats [are] $63.90 and we're trying to sell them at $19 a ticket," Max Waisvisz, the owner of Chicago-based Gold Coast Tickets, told TicketNews this afternoon, Wednesday, April 27. "This is my worst month of April, ever, for the Cubs."

The Cubs have tried to stem the bleeding by offering a "Best Buy Pack" in conjunction with the electronics giant. For $40, fans get four tickets, four hot dogs and four drinks ("convenience fees" and Chicago/Cook County amusement taxes not included). But not only isn't the promotion luring new fans to the park, it's annoying those who already have season tickets.

"Drastically reducing their ticket prices [is] upsetting the season ticket holders," Waisvisz said. "[The Cubs] have to create value to the season ticket holder or keep the season tickets worthwhile."

Things may not get any better anytime soon for the Cubs, who are most popular in the summer months, when tourists descend upon the city. But, the Cubs this year play 33 of their 81 home games in April and May, and miserable early-season weather has been another factor in keeping fans away from Wrigley. The Cubs are just two games out of first in a mediocre NL Central, but at 10-13 and with several highly paid veterans underperforming (Carlos Pena, whom the Cubs signed to a one-year, $10 million deal over the winter, is hitting just .158), patience is not likely to be long in the Windy City.

The success of the NBA's Bulls, who finished with the best record in the league this year and just knocked out the Indiana Pacers in five games in the first round of the playoffs, probably won't help the Cubs in the battle for Chicago's entertainment dollar. But then again, can the Bulls really be blamed if fans aren't buying Cubs tickets at rock bottom prices?

"Such dirt-cheap pricing — we have $5 tickets, $7 tickets a game — so what's that telling you?" Waisvisz said. "Why are they not buying them?"

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