Weak fan support darkens Sox success

Team marketing director is searching for ways to bring more fans to the ballpark.

September 28, 2012

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(WBEZ/Michael Puente)
Brooks Boyer is senior vice president of Sales and Marketing for the Chicago White Sox. Boyer talks about the Sox attendance woes this season during a day game last Tuesday that drew less than 14,000 fans.

The Chicago White Sox are desperately trying to hold on to a spot in the playoffs. After sitting atop the standings for most of the season, they’re now two games back of the Detroit Tigers with just six games to play as of Friday evening.

Three of those are home games at U.S. Cellular Field, where historically they’ve had a hard time filling the seats.

Now – when they need it the most – Sox fans continue to stay home.

Attendance for both Chicago baseball teams is down this year. About 2.7 million Cubs fans have visited Wrigley – down from the 3 million they usually draw.

The Cubs though have an excuse: they’re closing in on 100 losses for the season.

As for the White Sox, they’ve only put 1.8 million butts in the stands this summer – nearly a million less than their uptown rivals.

But the Sox are one of the best stories in baseball this year.

One of their pitchers threw a perfect game, several players made the All-Star team and they’ve been in first place most of the season — after few gave them a shot at winning anything. 

So why aren’t more fans going to the games?

“It’s just a number of things. It’s not one thing in particular per say, it’s just a couple of things that are coming together to cause this situation,” said Chicago-native Mark Liptak, a sports broadcaster and long-time follower of the Sox.

Liptak said attendance issues aren’t anything new for the Sox, but this year is more glaring because the Sox have been winning under new coach and former Sox player Robin Ventura.

Liptak blames the poor attendance on a few things: For one thing, high ticket prices. The cost for a family of four to attend a Sox game is more than $200 if you factor in game tickets, parking, food and souvenirs.  

Liptak also blamed something called “dynamic pricing.” It gives teams flexibility in setting ticket prices for a particular game.

“A lot of fans don’t understand it. Some feel they are somehow getting ripped off because one has to pay a certain price for a ticket at a location on a Monday against Kansas City but yet when you want to go back to the park on Friday to see the Yankees, you’re paying a different amount, for a different ticket and a different location and it’s a little confusing for them,” Liptak said.

Brooks Boyer, vice president and chief marketing officer for the White Sox, doesn’t see cost as an issue.

“It isn’t necessarily a pricing issue, it’s not a product issue,” Boyer said. “There are a lot of things that come into play. There is no silver bullet that answers our question.”

Boyer is the guy in charge of getting fans to the stadium whether the team is winning or not.

“Our reality is we can’t control what happens out on the field,” said Boyer, as he looked out from his suite during last Tuesday’s day game against the Cleveland Indians. It was a beautiful sun-kissed afternoon, the Sox were fighting to keep their playoff lead and barely 13,000 fans showed up to watch in a stadium that holds 40,000.

“Are we disappointed that the place isn’t full? Of course but the reality is that we have some great fans that have been supporting us all season long and the fans that are out here today and great and vocal and they want to be into the game and they want to root the team onto victory,” Brooks said.

Boyer said the team has commissioned a study to find out what fans want in an effort to boost attendance next season.

And he thinks the Sox dynamic pricing system actually helps attendance by making tickets more affordable.

In fact, the average ticket for a Sox game dropped from $40 to $29 this year.  And in the most recent home stand, Boyer said the Sox already reduced prices to draw larger crowds.

Players don’t call it home field advantage for nothing.

“I don’t think any of them are out there saying I wish there were more people in the ballpark. But, without question, they do notice when there are people in the ballpark and giving them that lift and willing them to win,” Boyer said. “When the crowd is behind you, it gives you that little extra push. It makes a difference.”

There is one silver lining for the Sox: their TV and radio ratings are up.

And if they pull out an amazing turnaround and do make the playoffs, those games are already sold out.