You know you've hit the big time when an official from the Cubs contacts you to debate the validity of the statistics you use in a blog post. So yesterday was a banner day for me. I can only assume that they were even aware of my post about season tickets is because my mother has been secretly working for the Cubs all this time I've been living in her basement.
I received an e-mail from a friend of Aisle 424 in the media department, indicating that I was incorrect in some of my assertions about how many season tickets have been turned back into the pool this off-season:
"Several stories online are speculating the Cubs have lost 10 percent of its season ticket holders, however this is not the case. While the final renewal number has not been determined yet, at minimum we know this percentage is already in the 90s (which is the safe number Wally Hayward provided in his talks in Arizona ). As in years past, it looks like the renewal rate will be on the higher end of that scale as renewals have been coming in at a pace just slightly ahead of last season. We will have the largest number of full season ticket holders in team history thanks to a strong renewal rate and new accounts added."
Of course, I can't just let the Cubs make a statement like that without some sort of follow-up question. I have a reputation with my reader as a pseudo-journalist to uphold, so I immediately pressed him to provide an answer that the Cubs have been ducking consistently: So who owns the Cubs?
Actually, I was confused as to how renewal rates could be "ahead of last season" when the deadline to tell the Cubs you are returning was in November and the deadline for making final payment is usually in the middle of January. In case it slipped by anyone, it's almost March and the Cubs like to send out letters with a not-so-veiled message that you would be scum if you delayed in handing over your money and that they would, frankly, prefer to give your tickets to the nice people on the waiting list if you don't hand over the money right now.
So how can there still be renewals going on?
There are some accounts that we negotiate with our corporate partners that haven’t been finalized. This isn’t cause for concern, it’s just a matter of us working with our partners. Additionally, we haven’t processed all of the accounts internally with accounting yet, which explains the lack of a hard renewal number.
So there you have it. The difference between this year and last year is that they are just hashing out some final details with the corporate clients and some accounting paperwork is still ongoing. Sounds reasonable. But even through a clarification, there is still spin going on here.
For instance, when he says they have the "largest number of full season ticket holders in team history," I have no reason at all to believe that isn't true. In fact, I would bet my life that it is true. But it doesn't mean what the Cubs want you to think it means.
They want you to read that and think, "Wow! It sure looks like Cubs tickets are more popular now as they have ever been! I better get out my wallet and get some single game tickets while I still can!" What it actually means is that when partial plan accounts like me or the Commenter Known as Seat 106 give up their tickets, the Cubs sell those plans to someone else as a full plan because they don't offer the Nights & Weekends package anymore.
So lets say there are 1,000 accounts. Let's also say that 800 are full plans and 200 of them are grandfathered into the Nights & Weekends plan. When ten of the partial plan people give up and quit, there will still be 1,000 accounts, but 810 of them will be full plans. A new record! Pay no attention to the fact that there are no other options besides buying a full plan! Your shoe is untied!
It also could be that they may be having trouble selling tickets in blocks of four and now sell the same seats to two people buying two at a time. That would add the number of accounts without really being a positive reflection on how popular Cubs tickets are. Again, suppose the 1,000 plans and 10 people with blockes of four give up their seats. Then suppose they can't find people to buy all four tickets, so they sell them as pairs. So now they have 20 new accounts for a total of 1,010. A new record! What's that behind you?!
But what is most important here is not whether the Cubs season ticket holders will renew at a 90% rate versus 91% or 92%. We can haggle over percentage points all day, but it remains extremely difficult to take anything the Cubs say as transparent or even fully truthful.
Afterall, the Cubs don't release their season ticket numbers. They can claim just about anything they want about how the renewals are going, how many accounts they have, and what percentage of the park they sell to season ticket holders because nobody has any data to hold them to. They could claim just about anything and nobody would really be sure what was true.
Plus, it's not like we haven't had past instances where the Cubs seem to have a casual relationship with the truth in a number of areas.
They have never seemed very honest about the severity of some injuries to high-profile players when there were tickets to sell at the beginning of the year. Let's just say that if Adam Wainwright pitched for the Cubs, I would bet everything I own that we wouldn't already know that he was out for the season about 24 hours after he got hurt. There would have been strength-building excercises, delayed starts, scheduled simulated games, and shut downs of baseball activity for a week that turns into a month that turns into an appointment with a surgeon (after the single-game tickets went on sale, of course).
They have been selling tickets through the promise of an improving farm system for as long as I can remember. I'm fairly certain that "Pravda" in English is "Vine Line." I've been purging old junk in my efforts to move out of my apartment and have been finding old Cubs stuff. Last night I was flipping through an old Vine Line and found myself looking forward to seeing the major league debut of Earl Cunningham. He should be coming up soon, right?
Now they push the boundaries of truthiness with their claims about tickets. There was Wally Hayward going on to anyone who would listen about how you should run out and commit to going to thirteen games to make sure you can see the Yankees play at Wrigley. If not, we would probably be kicking ourselves for missing out on such a momentous occasion that hasn't happened since 2003. Not since the days when guys like Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano faced Yankee legends Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter has such an event occurred.
Ok, maybe you only need to buy six games to guarantee Yankee game seats. But you shouldn't wait any longer because you will miss out! Unless you wanted to buy them yesterday at their pre-sale, then there were some tickets to those games available. Pretty good ones too, from what I saw.
So I may have misinterpreted the 90+% renewal statement and made some extrapolations that were incorrect. Hell, as far as I know for sure, only me, Seat 106 and a couple other people I know have declined to renew this year. My mistake. Cubs ticket sales are awesome. Couldn't be better. If season ticket sales were a pitcher, they would be Matt Garza. He's an ace. I know this because the Cubs told me he is.