The 2005 statistics are astounding: The Chicago Cubs, with the 19th best record in baseball at 79-83, averaged 38,753 fans per home game this year – a whopping 98% of capacity. The crosstown-rival White Sox were the World Series champions, had the 2nd best record in baseball at 99-63, and yet fell far behind the attendance levels of the Cubs – only averaging 28,923 fans per home contest and 71% of capacity. And this was one of the better years for White Sox game attendance. Clearly, the numbers are not based on team performance as demonstrated by this graphic (Data from ESPN.com ):
So, why do more people attend Cubs games? I think there are many reasons, but one major reason involves walkable neighborhoods.
The popularity of the neighborhoods around Wrigley Field in Chicago (where the Cubs play) has been well-documented, even on this site. The area surrounding Wrigley Field has been coined Wrigleyville and is full of walkable neighborhoods – including yuppie bars, clubs, cafÃ©s, and restaurants and also high-density residential developments. Many of these developments are mixed-use. There are excellent connections to transit. Game days turn into mini-festivals and every game has a party-like atmosphere.
Around U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox? Mostly just parking (although there is a nearby connection to the L ). I think the fact that there is not much to do around U.S. Cellular Field has a lot to do with the poor attendance. That, and the fact that the neighborhoods nearby U.S. Cellular Field have a bad reputation. The South Side of Chicago has still not managed to shake its image of being a dangerous place to go. The White Sox need a Cellville. This could not only help increase their revenue, but it could also help revitalize the South Side of Chicago. They could easily use up some of the surface parking lots to create mixed-use development with ample housing units, similar to what can be found on the North Side.
Of course, there are numerous other reasons why the Cubs have better attendance rates. They have generally had more All-Star caliber players on their roster (although the popularity of the Cubs probably adds to player popularity). And the Cubs are known for their follies and suppossed curses. Some even take pride in the fact that they are affectionately known as the Lovable Losers. The Cubs are also a nationally beloved team as their road attendance numbers are second to only the New York Yankees.
At least Sox fans can take solace in the fact that we finally won the big one!