During the final homestand of the season in early October, the Chicago Cubs left a special message in the outfield for some of their fans.
“Chicago Cubs Season Ticket Holders” was etched into the grass in center field, surrounding a Cubs logo. “THANK YOU” read the message underneath.
Thanking fans for being fans shouldn’t be that hard. But the Cubs’ ill-advised decision to specifically thank season ticket holders instead of all fans who follow the team was an indication they don’t fully understand how good they have it in Chicago.
On this Thanksgiving Day, the Cubs and the rest of our professional teams should be thankful they get as much support as they do — because very little of it is on merit. When they sit down and slice their turkeys, they can count their blessings Chicago fans are as passionate as they are, whether it’s buying tickets or calling them out on sports talk radio.
The Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and Bears were not playoff worthy in 2022, and each team put its fans through the grinder in various ways.
The Sox spent the season pretending their sub-.500 record was a mere blip that would be rectified come October, then fell apart in September after a brief surge under interim manager Miguel Cairo.
The Bears are well on their way to 12 or more losses, with the future of the franchise dependent on the progress — and now the health — of quarterback Justin Fields. It’s as close to a one-man show we’ve seen since Walter Payton’s early years.
The sole bright spot was the Bulls, but they went 19-25 from Jan. 12 to the end of the 2021-22 regular season, then lost in five games to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. The Bulls were 7-10 entering Wednesday night’s game at Fiserv Forum, and that fresh-car smell of the first few months of last season has worn off.
All in all, not a particularly memorable year in Chicago and reason enough for fans to abandon their favorite teams in droves.
Some have, particularly Blackhawks fans. The Hawks are averaging 15,666 at the United Center in the first 10 home games, ranking second to last in the NHL with only 76.4% of capacity, according to hockey-reference.com.
It’s a sad turn of events for a franchise that had its 535-game sellout streak end only a year ago. But Sunday night’s crowd of 21,182 for Marián Hossa Night showed the Hawks still can fill up the United Center for a special occasion.
Now it’s up to the Hawks marketing department to find new ways of attracting fans until the rebuild turns the corner, which might not be for a couple of seasons. Despite their oft-aired commercial in which an actor proclaims, “This is Chicago, we love ourselves a good rebuild,” no one actually likes going through a rebuild. The best an owner can hope for is having a strong enough fan base that loves the team enough to stick through one, as Cubs and Sox fans did in the last decade.
I’m not sure which Chicago owner should be more thankful, or if any is well-liked enough to even say “thanks” for the support.
Jerry Reinsdorf saw fans bring a banner to Sox Park last summer that simply said: “Sell the Team.” Many blamed him for the failed experiment to turn over a talented, free-spirited team to his old pal, Tony La Russa, and then for keeping La Russa when it became obvious the plan wasn’t working. Canceling SoxFest was just another blow for die-hard fans.
Rocky Wirtz left such a bad impression on Hawks fans in February with his bizarre “none of your business” answers to reporters’ questions during a town hall meeting that he has been placed under a virtual Cone of Silence for the last several months. His son Danny has taken over as next-Wirtz-standing and seems to at least have a clue about what fans want to hear from the top executives.
Cubs attendance in 2022 was at its lowest since 1997 — excluding the two pandemic seasons of 2020-21 — thanks to a sell-off of stars such as Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant and Javier Báez, a losing team and many fans’ refusal to give the Ricketts family their hard-earned money because of the right-wing politics of some family members. Chairman Tom Ricketts has added many new revenue streams while paring payroll, taking Cubs fans for granted. His vow to spend “intelligently” is an insult to their intelligence.
Virginia McCaskey is spared the venom of hard-bitten Bears fans, but Chairman George McCaskey is seen as part of the problem for failing to build a consistent winner in 11 years at the helm while focusing on making millions with a proposed new stadium in Arlington Heights. Getting in and out of Soldier Field on game day is a nightmare the Bears have no intention of solving.
If our owners ran restaurants instead of our favorite teams, there’s a good chance they would go out of business in a year. Instead, they’re the lucky ones, operating professional franchises in a town in which rooting for your teams is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping.
Maybe some day they’ll finally understand that undying loyalty has an expiration date.