On Friday night the Lakeview, Chicago bar Rocks had a line out the door. A couple young men in baseball jerseys asked about their chances of getting in before the game. The bouncer admitted they weren't good.
"You can try somewhere else," he said, "but we're the only bar around here that's not charging rent for the tables."
It was an understatement for this bar only a few blocks from Wrigley Field, in an area where other places have been demanding $1,000 or more just to get inside, not counting the drink minimum.
A few blocks away Chicago police had set up traffic barricades; drivers had to show proof of residence to get anywhere near Wrigley Field. Popular rumor around town had it that the city had bussed anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 cops in for the weekend (the actual number was 1,000 officers on duty).
Every window seemed to have a flag or sign supporting the Chicago Cubs, and almost every store seemed to sell one. Getting a cheeseburger, as this reporter found, took an hour and a half. Welcome to Wrigleyville during the World Series.
The Chicago Cubs are a team that famously loses in a nation that loves underdogs. Without a World Series title since 1908, or even an appearance since 1945 (possibly due to a mix up over a local goat), their current World Series battle with the Cleveland Indians is literally a lifetime first for many fans. And those fans are showing their love right back the old fashioned way: by opening their lungs and their wallets.
According to new research by the data analytics firm Slice, when it comes to team spending no one even comes close to the Chicago Cubs. The team that chewing gum built and a billy goat wrecked has sold 5.2 times as much merchandise as the average MLB team, and those are online sales alone. Around the stadium T-shirts, caps, pennants and every other form of memorabilia have been flying off the shelves.
And the tickets? One couple reportedly paid $38,000 for behind the dugout at Wrigley Field.
Cubs fans are spending.
It's not just World Series fever. While the championship certainly has boosted the numbers, Cubs merchandise is more than twice as popular as any other team.
The Cleveland Indians, the Cubs' opponent in the Series, have done well, but according to Slice's data have only sold 2.1 times as much online merchandise as the average MLB team. It's a measure of just how die-hard the Cubs fanbase is that the words "only twice as much" apply. The Indians are selling twice as much gear as the average franchise. The Cubs are a staggering five times above the baseline.
Part of it is a love of the team's recent winning streak said Jaimee Minney, a vice president with Slice, but only part.
"We looked at the purchase data against the records of the teams, and we found a very strong correlation between wins and purchase of apparel," Minney said. "[But] Cubs demand after a win was just off the chart. We couldn't even fit them on the same graph as the other teams."
"Even, when we looked back at previous data, like last year's World Series, we found that that surge was not nearly as pronounced with other teams," she added. "The Cubs merch is just off the charts."
Literally so. In one infographic that the firm put together comparing wins to merchandise bumps, there's a little arrow in the upper right corner showing where the Cubs should be: way, way off the page.
Unsurprisingly most of these online sales come from the team's home state of Illinois. A little over two-thirds of these sales are local, Minney's team found, and a lot of them have surged the closer the Cubs got to the World Series.
That's still a full third of sales coming from all around the country though, and no surprise. America loves an underdog, and the Cubs are nothing if not that. In fact, even in their own year of playing the World Series, the Cleveland Indians aren't selling the second-most merchandise. No, that honor goes to another historically cursed team out on the East Coast: the Boston Red Sox.
Although they shook off the Curse of the Bambino back in 2004 that scrappy image has stuck around, and these days they don't even need to be in the Series to sell 2.4 times the league average in merchandising. It's still not close to the demand for the Chicago Cubs though.
"This is a team that is really beloved," Minney said. "The quintessential underdogs that people have really wanted to see win, and they've done a pretty nice job with their merch. I'm sure at some point we'll figure out where peak Cubs is."