The Chicago Cubs have won just one playoff series since 1908, the year of their most recent World Series Championship. They’ve only even appeared in the playoffs 6 times since 1945 (less than once per decade). They haven’t one a single postseason game since 2003. Yet, despite years of awful baseball and failed expectations, the Cubs have topped 3 million fans in attendance during 8 of the past 9 years. By comparison, the Tampa Bay Rays have had 5 consecutive winning seasons with 3 postseason appearances sprinkled in and have never even topped 2 million fans in attendance.
So how do the Cubs keep bringing in the fans without actually winning any games? Marketing.
The Chicago Cubs are excellent at selling hope. The team has not won the World Series since 1908, yet there is always the belief among Cubs fans during spring training that this year could be the year. The team has even pushed out an “It’s Gonna Happen” campaign over recent years, with t-shirts, hats, signs, and banners all telling people to maintain hope: it’s gonna happen. They Cubs will eventually win again. They are due, aren’t they?
The Freaky Fresh Team (Austin and myself) took a trip to Chicago last weekend to get a glimpse of this marketing miracle ourselves. How can a team with very little success on the field attract such a loyal fan base? Well, they don’t sell baseball.
They sell a historic game day experience. Wrigley Field is the home of the Cubs, and it is the 2nd-oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball behind Fenway Park in Boston. Wrigley was constructed in 1914 and has kept a lot of its original charm, including a manually-operated scoreboard that was constructed in 1937 and thick ivy covering the outfield walls. You are taking a step back in time when you enter Wrigley Field, and that is one of the reasons that fans have grown to love the ballpark even when the team playing inside of it isn’t winning. And Wrigley remains a focus of the marketing team behind the Chicago Cubs: sell the fans on attending a game inside beautiful and historic Wrigley Field, a unique experience you just can’t get anywhere else.
They sell fun. Inside the stadium, fans enjoy cold beer and Chicago-style hot dogs… important staples at any Midwest sporting event, even here at headquarters in Iowa. If you are going to be outdoors watching sports, you just know that you need a cold beer and a hot dog with all the fixings. And the Chicago Cubs spread this message to everyone willing to listen. You can maintain hope during a losing season with the right combination of beer and hot dogs. The Cubs are not a small-market team, so they do have some attendance advantages by pulling from a city the size of Chicago. And outside the stadium is a bar scene unique to Chicago: Wrigleyville. This is an area of town that is full of fun restaurants and bars packed with baseball fans before, during, and after every home game. If you just watched the Cubs blow a 4-2 lead in the 8th inning and lose 6-4 (as we did), then what better way to drown your sorrows than at Cubby Bear with fellow Cubs commiserators? And it’s fun! Even after a loss! And the Cubs know this so they pitch it to fans: we might not win, but you can still have fun with your friends! (We sure did.)
The Cubs even sell losing. During a 105-year championship drought, the only thing left to do is laugh at yourself every now and then. And the Cubs do this really well. They have been dubbed “Lovable Losers”, because despite their best efforts people have come to expect the Cubs to fail. Despite this, Cubs fans are a hospitable and fun bunch, poking fun at themselves and the team’s shortcomings. This may not be an “official” effort of the organization, but you get the sense when you are surrounded by Cubs fans that if you just lower your expectations, you will have a lot more fun. Stop taking this winning stuff so seriously! Just enjoy the warm day and the cold beer. After all, you’re not grinding away in the office. Life is good, right? It works.
So what can we learn about marketing here? Think outside the box to reach your target audience. Work with what you’ve got, even if you need to fill a baseball stadium for a team that hasn’t won a championship in a century. You need to be adaptable and sell what your customers want, whether that is a historic experience with their family or a fun night out at Wrigleyville with their friends. Don’t be afraid to change your expectations to meet your customers’, because in the end they are the ones buying the tickets. And you need hope in order to sell more tickets.
Austin and I had a blast at the game (more pictures here). As I mentioned, the Cubs blew a lead in the 8th inning in typical Cubs fashion. But we enjoyed great views in a beautiful stadium, had some cold Old Styles, and had a great time with fans at Cubby Bear afterwards. To be honest, the actual game being played was the least important part of the day. And for a losing baseball team, that is a marketing miracle.
Do you love the Cubbies? If so, we found a little gem for you. Check out the Chicago Cubs Collectionary for amazing collectibles you simply can’t find anywhere else. The Collectionary strives to provide the history, facts, and unique attributes regarding a particular collectible or item. They want to give people a place to learn about the collectibles they love, and if you’re a Cubs fan then this place is for you!
Have you been to Wrigley Field? What did you think about your experience at a Cubs game? Or maybe you like another team’s game day experience better? Comment and let us know!