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Are Cubbie Fans The Reason The Cubs Have Sucked For 100+ Years?

The Chicago Cubs have not won a championship since 1908 – that’s the longest drought in North American sports…not just baseball…any major sport.

So, why have the Cubs sucked for so long?

This article is an excerpt from a terrific new book called Scorecasting that dug into a theory of the Cubs Curse.

The theory is that the Cubs don’t have as much incentive to win…and it’s due in large part to their fans.

Home Attendance

How do you test out whether incentives are the reason for the Cubs’ woes?

Scorecasting chose to examine home field attendance and how it relates to the Cubs performance.

Home field attendance, as all of us sports fans know, is a good measurement of how a team does financially because the more people who show up to a game, the more sales the team makes from the tickets; and the more folks who can buy beer, hot dogs and merchandise…not to mention advertising revenue from stadium sponsorships.

For example, if you had two situations:

1)   A team whose fans would show up no matter how the team performed versus

2)   A team whose fans would come out to the park when their team performed but penalize them by staying at home when the team did poorly

Wouldn’t the second team have more of an incentive to win.

Attendance Sensitivity (aka “Elasticity”)

Calculating home game attendance to season performance for every MLB team shows a measure of how sensitive fans are to team success.

Scorecasting started with a number of 1 for this Attendance Sensitivity, meaning that if, for example, a team wins 10% more games, attendance should rise 10%: a 1 to 1 ratio.

The Scorecasting book argues that incentives might be at the root of the Cubs losing ways

Greater than 1 means attendance rises more than 10% (fans are very sensitive to performance).

Less than 1 means attendance rises less than 10% (fans are less sensitive to performance).

Cubs Fans Are Not Sensitive

Cubs are lowest in the league at .6 Attendance Sensitivity. That compares with other teams such as

  • San Francisco Giants are 1.15 on Attendance Sensitivity (if they win 10% more games then they would see attendance pop up 11.5%)
  • Chicago White Sox are over 1.2 on Attendance Sensitivity – if they win 10% more games, they’d see a 12% increase in attendance

Cubs – But the cubs are only at .6; meaning that if they win 10% more games then they’re attendance only rises 6%

White Sox Fans Are Way More Sensitive Than Cubbie Fans

Is this just a Chicago thing? Nope.

Look at how insensitive Cubbie fans are versus their neighboring White Sox fans over the period of 1998 to 2009:

  • Cubs attendance ranged from 82% to 99% capacity while
  • White Sox attendance ranged from 37% to 90%

And check out this amazing stat: The Cubs put more people in their seats (94% in 2006 (when they were in last place) then the White Sox (90%) did (and the Sox won the World Series that year!).

In short, Cubbie fans show up no matter what.

Financial Incentives? — The Losing Cubs Are Already Valuable

Another financial incentive for baseball teams is to increase the value of the team.

In other words, the owners of the team want to push hard for more wins so that the value of their ownership increases, right!?

Not the Cubs!

The Cubs, despite their losing ways, are already the 5th most valuable team in the MLB (worth $1B) behind champions like the Yankees and Red Sox.

So you see that the Cubs have less of a financial incentive to win – a little less motivation than the next team.

Why Do Cubbie Fans Show Up To Watch Losers?

Why then do Cubbie fans show up at Wrigley when their team stinks?

Is it cheap tickets?

Nope – the Cubs command $48 per seat, highest in the league behind the Yanks and Red Sox.

So, why do Cubs fans show up in such high numbers every season!?

Scorecasting suggests that it has something to do with the Wrigley Field experience.

I’ve never been to Wrigley but Wrigley certainly has the reputation as one of the funnest parks to experience a game with such qualities as:

  • Offering the most day games of any baseball team
  • The romantic feel of the Ivy-covered brick outfield wall
  • The healthy amount of drunkenness
  • The cute co-eds

In short, going to Wrigley is like a giant party!

The Wrigley Beer Stat

Still, there’s that nagging question about why would these Cubs fans pay $48 per seat to see a losing team?

Is there some stat that explains why they’d shell out $48 per seat just to party?

One theory: Even though the Cubs are one of the losingest teams, and command among the highest prices for tickets,  there’s one incentive that helps them show up:

The price of a beer.

Wrigley’s beer is $5 per cup, the 3rd lowest in the Majors – that’s right: they have the third highest ticket price yet third lowest beer price.

So, what can the Cubs do to reverse the Cubs Curse and become winners.

One formula might be for the Cubs organization to disincentivize the fans from showing up to games (to force the players to have more incentive to earn fan loyalty through winning).

If the Cubs wanted to do that, my tips would be to:

  • Play more night games
  • Cut down the Ivy
  • Raise the price of beers
  • Charge even higher ticket prices for the cute co-eds

Let me know if you have your own theories as to why the Cubs don’t win.