During the final game of the season in early October, the Chicago Cubs left a special message on the field for some of their fans.
“Chicago Cubs Season Ticket Holders” is etched into the grass in center field, surrounded by the Cubs logo. Read the message with the words “Thank you” under it.
Thanking fans for being a fan shouldn’t be that difficult. But the Cubs’ ill-advised decision to specifically thank the season ticket holders rather than all the fans who follow the team was an indication that they don’t fully understand how good they are at Chicago.
This Thanksgiving Day, the Cubs and the rest of our pro teams should be thankful that they got the same amount of support – because so little of it is worth it. As they sit down and slice their turkey, they can count the blessings of Chicago fans as excited as they are, whether it’s buying tickets or calling them on sports talk radio.
The Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, and Bears didn’t deserve a playoff game in 2022, and each team put its fans through the mill in different ways.
The Blackhawks began another rebuild, while the Cubs refused to acknowledge that it was a rebuild.
The Sox spent the season pretending their sub-. 500 record was just a blip that would be corrected in October, then crumbled in September after a brief surge under interim manager Miguel Cairo.
The Bears are on their way to 12 or more losses, as the future of the franchise depends on the progression — and now the health — of quarterback Justin Fields. It’s as close to a one-man show as we’ve seen since Walter Payton’s early years.
The only bright spot was the Bulls, but they went 19-25 from January 12 through 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 7-10 were entering Wednesday night’s game at the Fiserv Forum, and that fresh-car smell of the first few months of last season had worn off.
All in all, not a particularly memorable year in Chicago which is reason enough for fans to gawk at their favorite teams in droves.
Some have, particularly Blackhawks fans. The Falcons average 15,666 at the United Center in their first 10 home games, ranking second-to-last in the NHL with just 76.4% capacity, according to hockey-reference.com.
It’s a sad turn of events for a franchise that didn’t end its 535-game sell-out until just a year ago. But Sunday night’s crowd of 21,182 on Marián Hossa Night showed the Falcons can still fill the United Center for a special occasion.
Now it’s up to the Hawks’ marketing department to find new ways to entice fans until the rebuild rolls around, which it may not be for a few seasons. Despite their much-aired commercial in which an actor declares, “This is Chicago, we love ourselves a good rebuild,” nobody actually likes a rebuild. The best an owner can hope for is to have a strong enough fan base that loves the team enough to stick with one, as Cubs and Sox fans have done for the past decade.
I’m not sure which Chicago owner should be more grateful, or if anyone is likable enough to even say “thank you” for the support.
Jerry Reinsdorf saw fans bring a sign to Sox Park last summer that simply said, “Sell the Team.” Many blamed him for the botched experiment of handing over a talented, free-spirited team to his old friend, Tony La Russa, and then keeping La Russa around when it became clear the plan wasn’t working. SoxFest’s cancellation was just another blow to die-hard fans.
Rocky Wirtz made 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’s been put under a virtual cone of silence for the past several months. His son Danny has taken over the next position at Wirtz and it seems he at least has an idea of what fans want to hear from the top executives.
Cubs attendance in 2022 was at its lowest since 1997 — barring the two pandemic seasons in 2020-2021 — thanks to the sellouts of stars like Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Bryant and Javier Baez, a losing team and many fans. He refused to give the Ricketts hard-earned money due to the right-wing politics of some family members. Chairman Tom Ricketts added several new revenue streams while trimming the payroll, taking Cubs fans for granted. His vow to spend “cleverly” is an insult to their intelligence.
Virginia McCaskey has been spared the poison of Bears fans, but President George McCaskey is seen as part of the problem for failing to build a consistent winner during his 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 that the Bears have no intention of solving.
If our owners were running restaurants instead of our favorite teams, there’s a good chance they’d be out of business within a year. Instead, they’re the lucky ones, running professional franchises in a city where rooting for your teams is as much a part of life as eating and sleeping.
Perhaps one day they will finally understand that lasting loyalty has an expiration date.