Fandom is a difficult idea to measure. Frankly, I’m not sure we should be measuring it at all. The idea of true fans, bandwagoners, and fake fans is all pretty ridiculous when you truly dig into the way those terms are used to label people.
Someone wants to hop in my mentions and inform me they’ve been a diehard San Diego Padres fan their whole life despite the sheer quantity of pictures of them sporting Baltimore Orioles gear for the last twenty years, who cares? It’s not your job as a fan to be a gatekeeper of your team’s fandom. It is your job as a fan to root for your team and show a keen interest in the happenings of their attempts, or lack thereof, to compete. It’s an easy job to have and if you execute your job faithfully you should be rewarded for your devotion.
The problem with fandom has become that more and more is being asked of fans, key among the demands made by modern baseball teams is the idea that fans should spend more money while the team itself spends less.
Concessions, merchandise, tickets, television deals, streaming options, et certera, continue to increase in price, while payrolls, free agent signings, and good faith efforts to field the best product continue to diminish.
Fans are, for the most part, willing to accept these increases because the team should be returning on the investment the fans have made. Not so fast though fans, the owners also want a return on their investment and their return matters much more to them than yours.
Just ask the Ricketts family and the Chicago Cubs.
I’ve always been a Cubs fan. For as long as I can recall my summers were spent hoping the Cubs could win this year, while come winter my mind dreamed of trades and free-agent signings that would finally bring me a title.
Rightly or wrongly the contract between a team and its fans is that their success is your success and their failures are your failures. For thirty-something years I lived with failure after failure by the Cubs, but I still enjoyed every moment of their less than winning brand of baseball.
When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 that was a great moment, it’s one I’ve been riding high off of ever since. Every time the Ricketts’ failed to make a move here or spend money there I would think of November 2016 and feel better.
The whole time I was doing this the Ricketts’ were using the Cubs to build themselves a Wrigleyville empire. They used government funds and some of their own money to renovate Wrigley Field, buy out all the rooftops and shops that surround the Cubs’ ballpark, and reinvent the area as the mecca of Cubs fandom.
At first, this all seemed great, fantastic even, the reward for all the years of fandom was a title and shiny new things in Wrigleyville, a Cubs-centric Mecca!
Pinpointing when things started to go bad between the Ricketts and the fans isn’t easy. From Pete’s racist governorship to Papa Joe’s outright racism at all times, there really hasn’t been a moment when the Ricketts came across as anything but out of touch billionaires. The key was that the Cubs were winning, as long as they did that fans were willing to at the very least deal with the ugliness of the Ricketts as people.
Once the winning stopped (I know they kept winning, but there’s a difference between actually winning and trotting a team out that is good enough to maybe win the division if the stars align) it became easier for fans to take umbrage with the Ricketts. The empire the Ricketts’ built fed into their return on investment, but that wasn’t enough for them. They set an RoI so high that they could never meet it while actually spending on the team in any meaningful way.
Once the Cubs traded Yu Darvish it became clear that the 2021 team wasn’t going to be built to honestly compete. All the while various Chicago media heads carried the Ricketts’ water with various stories and statements detailing how broke the Ricketts were. The idea that the Cubs somehow caused the Ricketts to lose money is laughable.
The Ricketts’ haven’t, and never will, release the actual financial situation of the team. They know that if they did so then the fans would see that all the tax breaks, the increased ticket prices, the television deal- you name it- have served to do exactly as intended and make the Ricketts’ far richer than they were when they bought the Cubs.
The truth of the matter is that there is only one viable path forward for the Ricketts: they must sell the Chicago Cubs.
If we are to believe that they have taken the cash cow that is the Cubs franchise and somehow turned it into a barren husk then they should not remain as the owners of a Major League Baseball team. If they are lying about their financial situation, as is likely the case, and merely cutting every possible corner to get every single penny they can in profit then they should also sell the team. If turning a profit isn’t enough to make them want to win, then they need to get the heck out of affiliated baseball.
I know the Ricketts’ aren’t going anywhere. The Cubs make them a ridiculous amount of money and they will continue to operate the team as bare-bones as is humanly possible to increase the profits they already make.
Meanwhile, what is to become of the fans? Some have given up and walked away, others still care just as much as they ever have. Most concerning are the fans like me. I’m still a Cubs fan but after so many years of cheering for the North Siders win or lose I find that I no longer care about what the team does.
The Darvish trade didn’t register as anything more than the Ricketts’ being cheap as usual. Them selling off the rest of the team won’t matter because the Ricketts have made it where I am numb to what my favorite team does. Fandoms come and go, but I can’t think of anything worse than remaining a fan and simply not caring any longer.
Thanks to the Ricketts and their cheap ways that’s the state many Cubs fans find themselves in these days.