www.redeyechicago.com/sports/ct-spt-0621-haugh-city-series-chicago--20120621,0,7682627.column

redeyechicago.com

Sox management owes more to fans

It shouldn't blame inadequate attendance for lack of resources to add players

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

11:16 PM CDT, June 20, 2012

Advertisement

Forgive me for not accepting the common belief that the White Sox lack a fan base large enough to let Ken Williams behave like a big-market general manager should.

Sox fans are out there. They just didn't represent themselves much better than the team they support in the City Series at U.S. Cellular Field that ended Wednesday night with a 7-0 Sox victory over the Cubs.

Sox fans watch on TV enough for CSN to report ratings for Sox telecasts are up 10 percent from last year. They listen on the radio enough for WSCR-AM to see a 26 percent spike in game broadcasts, according to program director Mitch Rosen. They just don't come to the ballpark enough for the Sox to escape the embarrassment of having only three major league teams draw fewer than their average of 21,909.

Seldom will elements conspire for full-house opportunities in the 40,615-seat Cell like they did to begin the week: The Sox in first place in the American League Central, the rival Cubs the opponent and the weather delivering perfect Chicago summer nights. But, for reasons related to people lacking time and money I understand, enough stayed away to create roughly 25,000 empty seats over three games.

If the Sox can't attract a crowd larger than Wednesday's 32,311 under such ideal conditions, when can they? The question is rhetorical. The answer is best addressed over a semester than in a column.

Forget the heat Williams and manager Robin Ventura feel to do something after losing a series to the last-place Cubs. Imagine the empty feeling White Sox marketing vice-president Brooks Boyer gets the emptier The Cell looks.

"I love that pressure,'' Boyer said. "There is a sense in our organization that none of us can throw, hit or run but we know we're contributing to the team on a daily basis.''

Boyer maintains that builds office camaraderie. I think it puts a disproportionate amount of responsibility for the baseball team's success on the ticket office. We both are right.

I cringed when Williams reminded us Monday how financial constraints tied to attendance woes will dictate how aggressive he can be pursuing players the Sox need.

"I don't want to do it, but yes (it's still an issue)," Williams said.

He wasn't whining but merely following the long-held policy of Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, however illogical it seems to me. Reinsdorf, through Williams, basically is threatening fans that the Sox won't get more competitive with a trade for an expensive pitcher such as Ryan Dempster unless they support that idea by buying more tickets.

How many restaurateurs vow to improve the food only when the dining room is busier?

Given the weak gate totals against the Cubs, I wonder if Reinsdorf's philosophy means the Sox finished the week closer to being sellers than buyers at the trade deadline. And, in effect, the Sox are telling their fans if you don't like it, you have nobody to blame but yourselves.

But the Sox deserve some responsibility for keeping fans away during the most optimum week of the season. Thanks to dynamic pricing, City Series bleacher seats went for an outrageous $90 — hard for many families to justify in this economy.

"I wasn't comfortable taking the prices for this series lower,'' Boyer said. "But, when all is said and done, we can look at it and learn from this.''

Boyer learned a long time ago that, in his quest to make a Sox game an appealing option, what he can't control outweighs what he can. A man sharing his traffic-filled, two-hour trip from Oakbrook to Tuesday's game provided the latest reminder.

Perception shaped by recent news reports calling Chicago more dangerous than Afghanistan based on an alarming violence epidemic didn't make trips from the suburbs to the South Side sound more enticing to potential ticket-buyers either.

Optimistically, Boyer clings to the theory that nothing sells the U.S. Cellular experience more than the product on the field. He cites the Sox's recent nine-game winning streak when, over three weeks, the team sold 15 times more season tickets than in the previous four.

Yet in a season when Major League Baseball claims attendance is up 7 percent — including 656 more fans per game at Wrigley Field despite the Cubs being in last place — the Sox have averaged 2,796 fewer fans than in 2011. Though Boyer admits season-ticket sales are "down slightly" from last year — he declined to specify — he still believes home crowds will increase gradually if the Sox keep contending the way fans responded in 2005 and 2008.

Williams sounded like he is counting on that to construct a contender — counting on you, the Sox fan.

If you come, they will build it.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh