Rain or shine, win or lose, Cubs fans have filled Wrigley Field for more than a decade.
But the North Siders might be headed for a reckoning if the “scorecast” by University of Chicago economics professor Tobias Moskowitz comes to fruition.
According to Moskowitz’s research — and conventional wisdom — sports fans show up more often when their team is winning. But statistics show that Cubs’ attendance has been the least sensitive to performance of any major league ballclub. The White Sox’s attendance, on the other hand, has been one of the most sensitive.
When the Cubs went from a record of 88-74 in 2001 to a miserable 67-95 the next year, their attendance held about even — and was actually slightly up as a percentage of ballpark capacity. But when the Sox went from 90-72 in 2006 to 72-90 the next year, attendance tumbled, from 90 percent of capacity to 82 percent.
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But the days of unconditional devotion to the Cubs may be fading, according to Moskowitz, co-author of the book “Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won” with Sports Illustrated’s L. Jon Wertheim.
The team finished 75-87 last year, and is off to a 3-3 start in 2011. On Monday, the Cubs acknowledged their lowest attendance at a game in nine years — 26,292 fans for a 4-1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks, though maybe half that many were actually there.
“I think the fans are showing a little tough love,” said Moskowitz, a Cubs fan.
Still, one game does not make a trend, especially when it occurs in April weather in Chicago.
Moskowitz said factors other than winning percentage also play into ticket sales, such as the price of beer. And then there’s the mystique of Wrigley Field, which he said offers the “best party in baseball.”
But is the team worried?
“We will decline comment except to say that the Cubs and Wrigley Field compare favorably with attendance totals throughout baseball,” said Cubs spokesman Peter Chase.
Tribune Co., which owns this newspaper, sold the Cubs to the Ricketts family in 2009 and retains a small ownership stake in the team.