Cubbie and Red Sox Nation. For years, these two communities have had a treaty of understanding that had grown between them after years of failures and curses have fallen upon their beloved baseball clubs. Though the Red Sox have finally stepped into the light, the Cubbies have yet to even near the promise land. The last time they won the World Series was 1908. The last time they were even in the Fall Classic was 1945. Compare that to the Evil Empire. The Yankees have won the World Series more times than I can count on all my fingers and toes. Even in recent history, they have won in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000. They have been in the Series as recently as 2003 losing to the Florida Marlins.
The Marlins are another story. This is a team that has never lost in the playoffs. In their short history, they have won the Major League Baseball Championship twice: 1997 and 2003, both as a wild card. Not only that, they represent the Miami, Florida area, which means they have 5.5 million fans to support them—more than Boston (4.8 million) and Chicago (4.6 million per Chicago team). New York has more (a staggering 10.2 million per New York team), but the Fish ought to be in a great situation for community support.
Why is it then that the Marlins average just fewer than 43%* in attendance since 2001 in their 36,000+ stadium? Boston pulls a sellout crowd of 37,000 to every game over that same period, and the Lovable Losers are just behind them at above 96% (Wrigley Field holds just past 41,000). It is obviously not for winning teams; compare it to the New York Yankees. They average under 86%, and in the midst of their last winning legacy (2001 – 2003), they were below 78%. It wasn’t until they started struggling that the fans came out. And sure, Yankee Stadium is much larger (holds almost 57,000)—but, the fan base dwarfs any other team. If you want to break it down per person, the New York area has nearly 179 people for every baseball seat (Mets and Yankees), Miami has 151 people for every seat, Boston has about 129 people for each seat, and Chicago a paltry 111. Take it another way; each member of the Yankee’s immediate fan base (say, half of NY Metro because of the Mets) attends games .48% of the time, Red Sox fans: .78% of the time, Chicago Cubs immediate area (as shared with the White Sox) fans attend .87% of the time, and Marlins fans: each fan base member attends just .28% of the time.
Maybe it is older teams that really draw, or perhaps it is an issue in Chicago: Chicagoans like losing teams. There has been some examinations into this phenomenon, but, luckily for us, we can compare it to another losing Chicago baseball team. The White Sox had nearly 90% attendance in 2007—but that was after they won a World Series for the first time in decades upon decades. During 2001 – 2008, their attendance is right at 65%. This is one of those old, storied teams! Teams that play in hallowed locations: Yankee Stadium (well, for a little bit longer), Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, U.S. Cellular . . . wait, what? No wonder the Cubbies are fighting to keep Wrigley, Wrigley. Maybe U.S. Cellular is to blame; or maybe it was a residual effect born from the Black Sox (I don’t think so).
It is likely much more to do with the way a community has been built. A community built through trials and struggles. The Red Sox have a bit of an advantage in this. The Cardinals are a fine foe, but there is no team that is easier to hate than the Yankees. The have bound together, as a baseball fan base and as a city to support Boston against the behemoth to the south. More than anything, everything about the Cubs and Red Sox are genuine. They play in old stadiums (with old names) in old neighborhoods. They aren’t too polished (Green Monster, Murphy’s Bleachers, The Idiots). They are fiercely local (paradoxically, they are loved all over). They have stories, curses, traditions, villains, songs—more so than every other club (though I love the Yankees Bleacher Creatures). In short, they act so much like a community because they are one.
Wouldn’t you like to have a brand like that?
*Averages are in median. I don’t pretend to be a researcher, so my process may have some holes—but it is close enough to give us an idea of the true situation.
Update: I posted this in part on Bleed Cubbie Blue. The regulars had much to say concerning this fan base cohesiveness (there is a strong since of self-ownership and involvement; extremely pertinent to a community’s identity).