The widely accepted notion that the North Side supports the Cubs and the South Side the White Sox is not entirely true, at least as far as the Cubs are concerned. I base this on personal observation. We live near Western and Addison, about a mile and a half west of Wrigley Field, and we see as many Sox hats, license plate holders, bumper stickers, flags, and window decals as Cubs, maybe more.
We visit the South Side often. I have rarely, if ever, seen Cubs memorabilia south of Madison Street.
We participate in musical events at a social hall in the North Side's Edgewater neighborhood. Just about everyone who plays an instrument there is a Sox fan. It gets so bad on some occasions that I find myself completely excluded from baseball conversations.
I used to work with a guy who grew up near California and Montrose. Not only is he a Sox fan, but all of his neighborhood pals are likewise. The only sporting events we attended together were Sox games and Black Hawks hockey.
Then why do the Cubs draw around 3,000,000 fans a year to Wrigley Field while the Sox can't seem to do better than 2,000,000? Last season had to have been particularly painful at the Cell because the Sox were good and fun to watch while the Cubs bumbled their way to a 101-loss season.
Some blame the location of the respective ballparks: Wrigley Field in the middle of a vibrant entertainment district while U.S. Cellular is surrounded by parking lots, train tracks, and an expressway. But that's not it.
Take a look at Philadelphia. Citizens Bank Park is situated in a sports complex among parking lots and Interstate 95, approximately 3.5 miles due south of downtown, with little to attract people other than the sports arenas. And it's miserable to get to and leave, especially if you live north or west of the city. We lived in York, PA for seven years and went into Philadelphia to see the Cubs every season. We would add an extra 90 minutes of drive time just to account for the Schuylkill, the world's worst "express"way.
Yet the Phillies were the number one team in the majors last year in terms of attendance, drawing over 3.5 million.
Comparing populations, Philadelphia is roughly half the size of Chicago, both city and metro area. Thus last year the Phillies pulled from a fan base about the same size as the Sox or Cubs, with a .500 team. The Sox finished the year 85-77.
And finally, it's a popularly-held notion that Sox fans don't go to the games. This was supported in a New York Times piece written by Ben Strauss last August that stated, "White Sox broadcasts have generated higher ratings" in 2012, yet the Cubs outdraw the Sox by 50%. And the Sox hat, ranked number six in total sales by Cardboard Connection, outsells Cub hats by a lot.
(I have to say that this is no surprise. While living away from Chicago we saw Sox hats everywhere. Once while driving through Manhattan with a co-worker from Seattle, I made a bet that we would see at least one Sox hat before we reached the Lincoln Tunnel which was about 10 blocks away as we inched our way down 9th Avenue. I won the bet within moments.)
I would maintain that Cub fans don't go to the games either. I can't count the number of neighbors and fellow employees I talk to who have told me they are, or used to be, Cub fans but stopped going to games after the debacle of ______ (insert year here: 2007, 2008, 2003, 1998, 1989, 1984, or 1969). Or because it costs too much.
Then what's the deal? It's the ballpark itself, of course.
Along with Fenway Park (which drew just over 3,000,000 to see a team in total disarray: 69-93, last place), Wrigley Field is right at the top of every baseball fan's "must visit" list. In a Tribune article published last September Ted Gregory wrote that Cubs marketing officer Wally Hayward estimated that 40% of Cubs game attendees are from out of state. Subtract that number from the total gate and what do you get? About 1.7 million which would rank the North Siders below the Sox and near the bottom of all major league teams.
And, again, from personal experience standing at the top of Aisle 206, or sitting up in the 500s, we've met more people from out of town than locals.
The Cubs say they know this and understand how important Wrigley Field, among the top ten tourist destinations in the state on a variety of lists, is to their bottom line. Let's hope they demonstrate that understanding and avoid compromising the ballpark's attraction in the name of "enhancing the fans' experience" which is little more than a euphemism for "we want more advertising money."