Last week, I wrote about the attendance woes plaguing the White Sox. The Sox drew fewer than 2 million fans in 2012. It’s the first time the Sox have drawn under 2 million since 2004.
I’m not in advertising or marketing. I’m also a White Sox fan who lives and breathes with every twist and turn of the team. I genuinely don’t know what its like to be a casual fan with lots of options for the entertainment dollar.
The attendance discussion has been going on all year long. Last June, John Czahor and I talked Sox attendance during one of our many “expanded news coverage” shifts during the waning days of FM News 101.1. No one called in. Either people didn’t care about the White Sox, or people weren’t listening. When it came to weekends on WIQI, the latter was probably true.
Fans kept returning to two reasons as to why they could not attend games. They didn’t want to pay for tickets or parking. They didn’t want to drive downtown at 7:00 on a weeknight to see their team. They would much rather listen to the game on radio or watch Hawk Harrelson on TV (judging by the numbers, they were telling the truth).
Czahor came up with another suggestion: the team doesn’t put on a friendly face. Until last year, the Sox had an angry, foul mouthed manager (All baseball skippers are angry and foul mouthed. Most drop their f-bombs behind closed doors and away from tender ears). General Manager Kenny Williams looks and sounds like he’s two questions away from punching you in the face. Ken Harrelson, despite scientific analysis that says he’s the biggest homer in broadcasting, often goes into deep funks during losing streaks (He left early during a Minnesota Twins blowout. He called in sick during the Sox nosedive on Friday night). Even the marketing department adopted a “we don’t need you” attitude. Do you remember the “South Side Board of Tourism” ads from 2007?
The Cubs are meat and potatoes. They are summer. It’s playing hooky on a Friday afternoon. There’s a happy good time vibe that radiates out of Wrigley Field. It’s the reason why the Cubs will draw close to three million people despite a 100 loss season. Because of that happy good time vibe, people will go through extraordinary lengths to attend games. Expressway access? People will be more than willing to drive east on Addison (at 10 miles per hour) to pay 50 bucks to park in an auto repair shop. The Sox are located ON AN EXPRESSWAY (thank you, city planners in the late 50′s!) and fans still complain about the drive to the ballpark.
The Bears own the town from September onward. Soldier Field has easy access from Lake Shore Drive and plentiful parking. But tickets cost an arm and a leg.
Add the Bulls and Blackhawks…and a track record that suggests a playoff run isn’t going to last…you have an environment that does not inspire people to pack up the car and go to the game. That is why the Sox have to rattle off a decade’s worth of playoff appearances. It’s the only way to break through the noise.
In the current Chicago sports configuration – where each team makes the playoffs every couple of years – the Sox are near the bottom of the list of priorities. It’s up to the team to turn that list of priorities on its head.
The Sox had a golden opportunity to make this happen. In 2006, the year after the World Series, the team was 3rd in the AL in attendance. Imagine if they made the playoffs that year (they were in a dogfight with the Tigers through the All-Star Break. The Sox fell off the table in August and September). Imagine if the Sox didn’t sputter to a 72 win season the next year.
Or you can imagine how the attendance picture would have looked if the Sox made the playoffs in 1984. Or 2001. Or 2009.
A guy can dream, can’t he?