- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- For the second straight season, the Chicago Cubs and White Sox have lowered ticket prices.
The move makes sense. Both teams have suffered annual declines in attendance and neither has made the playoffs since 2008.
According to Team Marketing Report's 2013 Fan Cost Index, the White Sox cut prices by 10.2 percent after dropping prices by 28.7 percent last season. The average Sox ticket is now $26.05, down from $29, which is under the MLB average. In 2011, the average Sox ticket peaked at $40.67, just $6 shy of the Cubs.
After a 101-loss season and a higher-than usual no-show rate at Wrigley Field, the Cubs cut prices by 3.8 percent, dropping to $44.55, from $46.31. The Cubs still have the third-highest average ticket in baseball.
According to Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index survey, the average MLB ticket is $27.73, a 2.7 increase from last season. The FCI uses season ticket prices and separates "general" tickets and "premium" tickets.
The average Cubs premium ticket is $106.88, while the Sox is $86.94. The FCI also measures the average cost to take a family of four to a game. The Cubs are third at $298.20, while the Sox are eighth at $231.18. The MLB average is $210.46.
The Cubs were the only team in the NL Central to reduce ticket prices, while every team but Detroit in the AL Central shows an average price decrease, according to the Fan Cost Index.
Both Chicago teams have plenty of ticket inventory to spare.
But the White Sox have sold out the home opener, while the Cubs, with a week to go, still have tickets to spare. Last season, they drew 41,167 to the opener.
"Although many fans may assume that Opening Day is sold out, we still have availability for Opening Day," Cubs spokesman Julian Green emailed to ESPNChicago last week. "The home opener is a special day in baseball and in Chicago and a tradition for many of our fans. There is always a unique excitement and optimism that surrounds Opening Day at Wrigley Field."
Unique is one way to put it. Last season, the Cubs hit what they hope is their nadir, losing 101 games and failing to draw 3 million fans for the first time since 2003. The Cubs had an announced attendance of 2,882,756, an average of 35,589, but the actual attendance was much less, with scores of no-shows and a pronounced apathy among the fanbase.
While the Sox had a good season, competing for the AL Central, early attendance woes painted a bleak picture of Sox fandom and showed how low the season ticket base had fallen.
Last season, the Sox drew 38,676 for the opener and saw attendance drop to 33,025 for the second game, 25,143 for the third, 13,732 for the fourth and a season-low 11,267 by the fifth game, which showed how small the season ticket base has shrunk. The struggles continued for the rest of April and May.
The Sox wound up drawing 1,965,955, or an average of 24,271, the seventh-worst in baseball.
White Sox vice president/chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer said season ticket sales are up "double digits" after a relatively strong 2012 season, and added the Sox will see those familiar early season struggles. But the Sox don't price tickets to fill the house, Boyer said, but rather a more of a complicated formula to figure out how the team can charge enough to have a competitive payroll. Still, prices had to drop after six straight seasons of declining attendance.
"Overall, our pricing philosophy shift has seemed to have made an impact, and the way our team played last year has had a positive impact," Boyer said. "We're up in season tickets across the board, full and split-season. Some has to do with pricing, complemented with people who now know who Robin (Ventura) is, how he manages. Adam Dunn had a very good year and so did Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, all coming off disappointing 2011 seasons. Everyone wanted to bail on us last year, and the way we played took our fanbase by surprise."
Both teams, though, have seen serious attendance decreases since setting franchise records in recent years. And both now use an outside ticket consultant to help set prices. The Cubs use Natural Selection, while the Sox, which use dynamic ticket pricing, get help from Qcue.
The Cubs' 2012 attendance was 417,444 fewer than in their record-setting 2008 season. The Sox's attendance is down an eye-popping 991,456 since 2006, the year after winning the World Series. (The Sox benefitted from fans buying 2006 season ticket packages to get 2005 playoff tickets.)
Under the Ricketts family ownership, the Cubs raised prices by 10 percent going into the 2010 season, making them the most expensive average ticket, but have kept prices flat or dropped them every year since as the team's performance worsened each season.
If you include the Cubs' club box seats (which are put in a separate "premium" category in the Fan Cost Index), the Cubs' average ticket price has slightly increased from $46.71 to $48.93 since the Ricketts family took over before the 2010 season. Most of that increase came in that first season.
Both teams have been aggressive in attacking sluggish sales in their own ways. The Cubs have added novelty mini-plans, joining with Topps to produce a set of retro baseball cards for one package, and increased fun promotional giveaways, like Cubs Zubaz pants and Big 10 hat night. The Cubs also cut Internet service fees for the mini-plans.
"The Topps pack sold very well and we have received overwhelming positive feedback from our season ticket holders and Cubs fans," Green said.
The White Sox have focused on cutting ticket prices and figuring out ways to lure fans to the park. One way was parking. The Sox cut prices from $23 to $20 on weekdays and $10 on "Family Sundays."
"We're planning for increased attendance," Boyer said. "We think as the season goes on, we'll see gain from pricing seats at $7 upstairs and $20 downstairs, which won't be dynamically shifted, and our Sunday program, which has $15 outfield seats and $10 parking."
Like many teams, the Sox use dynamic pricing for single-game tickets, meaning prices can fluctuate depending on demand, weather and match-ups. Boyer hopes that another competitive season will lead to better attendance in the summer, like last season.
The Cubs will need some better baseball to fill seats in the late summer/early fall, but should still approach last year's attendance, which for most teams, would be like winning the lottery.
For both teams, the obvious goal for 2013 is not to have to lower prices again for 2014.
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