A Game of Numbers
For the Cubs and White Sox, attendance figures tell a tale. But what’s their story?
The WISCH LIST
Sept. 4, 2010
Like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Area 51, some things in life are just meant to remain a mystery.
And that appears to include U.S. Cellular Field, otherwise known as the Bermuda Triangle of Major League Baseball – a place where good White Sox teams enter, only to watch their fans disappear.
Conversely, on the North Side of Chicago, the Cubs seemingly can pack Wrigley Field during a Depression (they did, in fact, more than doubling the White Sox’s attendance in the 1930s). Or during depression, as 86 million fans have bought Cubs tickets since the Lovable Losers’ infamous flop of 1969 – nearly 18 million more than the Sox.
During the Summer of 2010, Chicago’s baseball fans have been particularly moody. For the White Sox’s games Aug. 10-12 against Minnesota, an average of only 32,057 showed up at 40,615-seat U.S. Cellular Field for a series in which both teams entered in a tie for first place.
Meanwhile, with the Cubs running in reverse, even Wrigley die-hards are fed up. For Tuesday night’s game against Pittsburgh, attendance at the Friendly Confines tumbled to an unfriendly low of 29,538, although the Cubs still remain on pace to draw nearly 900,000 more fans than the Sox this season.
In the Windy City, the attendance disparity between teams has been a hot topic for as long as I can recall. And from the economy to demography to apathy, the list of fans’ explanations (or excuses) for it is even longer.
I’m sure you have your own theories, which I want to hear. But I don’t know that any one of them tell the full story of why the Cubs draw, while the White Sox don’t. The truth is murky at best. And who knows why the Sox couldn’t sell out even one game during the Twins series, their biggest of the season.
As I said, some things are meant to remain a mystery.
However, in an attempt to at least shed some light on when – if not exactly how – the Cubs became baseball’s Big Dog in Chicago and relegated the Sox to Second Fiddle, I’ve spent the past week crunching historical attendance figures. Beginning with 1920, the dawn of the first full decade in which both Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park were in use, I compared numbers from nine decades through 2009.
And what I found is interesting. Because, the Cubs weren’t always dominant, you know. No, once upon a time, the White Sox held the Windy City in the palm of their glove. But then it all changed, before it changed again. And again.
When Chicago put its Sox on
From the 1920s to the ’40s – a stretch in which the Cubs made five World Series appearances, and the Sox none – it’s true that, just like today, Chicago’s baseball fan base heavily favored the North Side.
During the ’20s, 56.6 percent of the 14.4 million total fans that attended baseball games in Chicago did so at Wrigley. In the ’30s, that number rose to a whopping 68.1 percent.
During the 1940s, however, the White Sox gained ground, capturing 44.1 percent of the city’s 16 million total fans. And then, beginning in 1951, when the Sox outdrew the Cubs 1,704,984 to 894,415, Pale Hose Fever took the city by storm – and reigned for 17 consecutive seasons.
In the 1950s, the Cubs posted zero winning seasons, and the Sox attracted 56.5 percent of the city’s 20 million total fans. Then, using the “Go-Go” mojo from their 1959 World Series appearance, the Sox rolled in to the ’60s with eight straight winning seasons (1960-67) and enjoyed 55.2 percent of the city’s 19.6 million total attendance for the decade.
Cubdom comes back
In 1968, however, the city’s passions again began to tilt northward.
That season, the Cubs outdrew the Sox at the gate 1,043,409 to 803,775 – their first such victory since ’50. Then, during 1969, the Cubs reeled in nearly three times as many fans (1,674,993 to 589,546) and turned the table for the 1970s, attracting the exact 55.2 percent of the city’s 24.7 million total fans that the Sox enjoyed a decade before.
When 1980 arrived, however, the Cubs (1,206,776) and White Sox (1,200,365) actually stood neck and neck in fandom, before the Sox once again took control. From 1981 through 1984, the South Side outdrew the North each year, including by a 650,000-fan advantage during the Sox’s AL West-championship season of ’83.
In 1985, however – the year after the Cubs came within one win of reaching the World Series – the North Siders outdrew the Sox 2,161,534 to 1,669,888, and then proceeded to do the same for the next six seasons.
By 1989, the Cubs were more than doubling the Sox’s attendance (2,491,942 to 1,045,651). But then New Comiskey replaced Old in 1991, enabling the Sox to outdraw the Cubs for two straight seasons. Since 1993, however, the Cubs have been King, topping the White Sox in attendance for 17 straight seasons (2010 will make it 18).
But, here’s what’s interesting.
2000s sock it to ’em
In every decade since 1970, the Cubs have drawn a higher percentage of Chicago’s total fans. However, you might be surprised to learn that during the 1980s and ’90s the White Sox actually gained ground.
For the ’70s, the Sox drew 44.8 percent of the city’s total fans, followed by 45.6 percent in the ’80s and 46.3 percent in the ’90s.
But then came 2000-09, a decade in which the White Sox won a World Series, yet somehow lost 4.3 percent of the city’s fan base, as the Cubs attracted 58 percent of the city’s 52.3 million total fans, compared to 53.7 percent in the 10 years before.
Well, I have my theories, but what I really want to know are yours. Write me at email@example.com or comment on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/wischlist to tell me why you think the Cubs gained so much attendance ground during the 2000s, why the White Sox have served as the city’s No. 2 attraction since the ’60s and why The Cell couldn’t even sell out for August’s Minnesota series.
Armed with your answers, we’ll take another swing at things next week.