Why does White Sox attendance keep falling? Fans weigh in
BY RICHARD ROEPER October 11, 2012 12:37AM
Updated: October 11, 2012 12:39AM
Last week I asked White Sox fans why they believe home attendance was down yet again this year, despite a team that exceeded expectations and was in first place for much of the season. At least 60 percent of the folks I heard from mentioned the financials, but many other factors were cited. Thanks to the hundreds of fans who weighed in. Here is a sampling of responses:
I have been a committed Sox fan for years. When I worked downtown, I went to about ten games a season. I now work in the northern suburbs where I live. Even if I leave for a weeknight game at the Cell by 3:30, it takes almost two hours to get there due to the dreadful traffic and there’s no point in getting there early. (I wouldn’t spend time at that miserable noise factory Bacardi at the Park to watch Kate Beckinsale nude wrestle with Gwyneth Paltrow. Well, maybe I would.) It’s just a miserable trip and I assume the reverse commute down the Eisenhower is as bad. Getting to Wrigley takes less than an hour and you can go earlier and find plenty to do. I’ve heard the same reasoning from many fans — it’s just not worth it to leave work early just to pound on your steering wheel until you get there. I don’t know what the city could do about it, but I think it’s a big attendance killer. Public transportation from the suburbs is not a good option since you have to go downtown before getting to the el, do that in reverse going home, and be stuck to a train schedule that may not comport with the length of the game.
I can offer a few suggestions that might make it MORE popular.
1. Show replays on the Megatron screen. There is nothing more frustrating for in-park viewers than to know close/controversial plays are re-seen by TV viewers but not by them. I don’t understand why the Sox management is afraid to show them.
2. Get rid of that incessant, ear-shattering hard rock music. Do it, if you want to become more friendly to family/mature audiences. The organ at Wrigley is one of its pluses.
3. Retire Hawk Harrelson. Although this does not relate directly to The Cell, I’m pretty sure real fans (who would buy tickets) are so turned off by his D-grade game calling that they lose interest in watching the Sox at any level. Keep Farmer, Stone and, especially, Jackson, but put Hawk and his Santo-esque complaining to rest.
4. If they really want to become competitive, Sox management should do what any competitive, but losing, business must do - reduce prices. Beer: $4, and other concessions discounted accordingly. They have to distinguish themselves from Wrigley and this is the best way.
Some in my office say the crime on South Side .... they’ve read the stats. Not sure if this is part of it or not; but nobody wants to the last one leaving.
The ticket prices are outrageous! I can’t afford more than two games a year. I also hate the ticket nazis. I been to over ten different ball parks and none of them keep upper deck fans from the lower deck. Reinsdorf needs to stop charging like the Yankees and provide a fan friendly environment.
Seems to me the elephant in the room here (other than mediocrity on the field) is the dubious choice that Sox management made 20-odd years ago to put up a generic ballpark in the same remote location as Comiskey. Had the Sox seized the day to build an attractive park framing Chicago’s great skyline from either the area just south of Roosevelt or else just west of the Loop, I believe they’d now own the city — through thick and thin. As is, they’re married to a noble, rugged provincialism, which comes at a very high price. Maybe in another generation they can afford a divorce.
The reason for the downtick in Sox attendance since they won the Series is simple in my view. All those “fans” that started showing at the end of 2005 casually went back to being fair weather fans. This isn’t a put down of the real fans; this is a put down of the jerks who started showing up in September 2005 and then stopped coming when the Sox didn’t win it the next year. Kinda like when the Blackhawks won...all of these so called “fans” started showing up. They couldn’t tell you who was on the team but they were fans cause the Hawks won the Cup. As a Cubs fan I was impressed by the Sox run of 100+ days of first place; too bad Sox “fans” weren’t.
I can’t speak for other fans, but this why I only attend minimal games each year:
1. Cost - Although you can get some tix cheap, and generally I find people who are giving them away - you still have to pay for parking, food and drink. Beer is really expensive if you go with your buddies for a night out, but if you go with your family instead you’re still going to end up spend quite a bit on food and souvenirs.
2. Time - and truly this is the biggest reason. Playing softball a couple nights a week, coaching my daughter’s softball team, going to my other daughter’s sporting events, having a baby, working in the recreation field (lots of nights and weekends) and just the day to day stress and activities of life don’t allow me to get to many games. And really I like to watch the game, when I’m at home I’m on the edge of my seat with every pitch - at the ball park I’m too distracted for whatever reason to really pay attention.
I probably watch or listen to 90% of all Sox games and I read about them each and every day without fail. I live and die with this team and these last few weeks have been hell, but for me I’d rather spend time with family and friends, watch the Sox on TV and go to a handful of games a year so that when we’re there its something special that were doing.
I am a lifelong White Sox fan, and until this past season, a season ticket holder for the last six years. My wife and I were fed up with the Ozzie show, the cost of premium game seats, the Sox policy of making you pay for playoff tickets and then holding your money until renewal, the Ozzie and family show, Hawk Harrelson’s increasingly embarrassing behavior, and finally yes, Ozzie. I know he’s gone but he wore me out. It was getting very hard to move tickets to help defray the costs. We had the Yankees and Red Sox tix last year and couldn’t get face value for them. So we didn’t renew prior to this season. Hearing the attendance laments all year I did buy Sox tickets three times off their web site and went and had fun, but with two kids in college the costs are prohibitive. Even when they were doing well this year, when they had a chance to bury Detroit, they couldn’t do it. I think Sox fans this year saw that and didn’t or couldn’t buy in.
Our last game was in 2010. My wife’s cousins were in from Toronto. Seven outfield tickets (left field about twenty rows back) for a Sunday afternoon game against the A’s were $315.26. After parking the two cars and food the total bill was about $500.
Hawk was talking about tickets were still on sale for the Cubs series earlier this year a few days before the game. The cheap seats were in the high $40s before taxes, service fees, and parking or el. It’s hard to justify going when for half the price of my ticket and parking, I can take my wife and daughter to a matinee with concessions.
A normal family of 5 cannot get to the ballpark and catch a game without spending upwards of $300. That’s sitting in the nosebleed section where kids can’t see anything happening on the field. If you don’t pay for the premium seats you can’t even get to walk the concourse and take advantage of the attractions designed for the kids.
I have a 10, 8 and 6 year old. They love baseball and LOVE the Sox (like their Mom and Dad) but it’s just unrealistic to drop that amount of cash on an evening out.
And trying to go without the kids — now sure, you’re buying less tickets and possibly the concessions costs are lower assuming we don’t even that out with some beer instead of several hot pretzels, but the cost of a babysitter for 7 hours at $15 per hour is another $100. Might as well bring the kids.
Who can afford that?
I have said for years that the teams should be paying players on current year performance - not on past performance. Get a hit, get paid. No hit - no pay, maybe no job, right? If you stopped performing at work, were sloppy with your columns, you’d get fired and they’d bring in someone that really wanted to get the job done.
I’ll tell you where this diehard Sox fan was this year, I was working nights. Ed Farmer and DJ kept me company. I usually make 3-4 games a year and had tickets for 3 games and after being laid off from February til early June I had no choice but to give away my tickets or listen to my wife say how good of a time she and her girlfriends had at the game. I’m hoping to make up for my absence this year when they get playing again in about 178 days.
When Kenny said last year that the Sox were going to be “rebuilding,” I figured that this would be a good year to take a break from my Weekend Season Ticket Package which I have had for about 25 years. I figured that if the GM says it, then it must be true! When they started winning I did go to about 3 or 4 games only. I would think that if I did that, maybe other season ticket holders did the same, especially with the economy the way it is.
1. 1 - 1 1/2 hours travel time with gas at almost $5/gallon. (Est. 3+ gallons)
2. Sox parking $20 minimum, free street parking non-existent.
3. Tickets for one person, anywhere from $25-60 on the cheap for a decent seat.
4. $7.75 Beers, $5 Pepsis, $5 Hot Dogs, $5 Churros or Elephant Ears or Dippin’ Dots
5. Tons of shootings and violence on South Side of Chicago, especially since I’m South Side street illiterate.
6. All Sox games on TV/Cable allow me to turn to “Diners, Dives, & Drive-Ins” at any time..
7. My sanitary bathroom less than 15 feet away, refrigerator 10 feet away.
8. The Dan Ryan and the CTA
9. No place within 2 blocks of the Cell to eat and drink at not owned by the Sox.
10. I don’t have $75-$150 person//game to spend on boring baseball and to pay Millionaire players’ salaries.
I am a lifelong (50 years) Sox fan who has lost my enthusiasm for going to Sox games. It’s a combination of things.
1) High cost (in order) of tickets, parking, beers and food, especially against top teams and fun promotion nights like Elvis night.
2) I like U.S. Cellular Field, but not being allowed to walk around lower level if my seats are upper deck. I want to be able to walk anywhere if I buy a ticket, not be relegated to upper deck area only.
3) I believe a baseball game should not be priced almost like a concert, play or even an NHL game. It’s not as big of an event to me.
4) They won the World Series, so the desire to see that happen in my lifetime has been satisfied. Now a team without that chance is not as desirable to pay such high prices for. I did not think this team was a serious contender as soon as Danks was hurt, not to mention a strikeout king batting third. I know he hit many HR’s, but how many RBI would a .285 (or better) batting third have had? HR teams get shut down in the playoffs, but usually don’t make them. We need higher batting averages to win it.
The answer to the Sox attendance problem boils down to demographics and marketing. You could fill over half the seats in Wrigley field with the population within walking distance of the park. By walking distance I mean within a few miles. Their median income is between $1 million and $50K with huge numbers of single people with money in their pocket. The population around Sox Park within walking distance is less than half that. Their median income is between $50K to $26K. There are very small pockets with incomes over $50K, but with a very low population. When you expand that area the median income of North Side fans remains relatively high compared to the South Side. Vast swaths of the population farther out from Wrigley have median incomes of $50K to $30K. Then you get into the suburbs with huge incomes. Around Sox Park you have vast swaths of very low median incomes. I’m talking $3K to $20K. And they never go to games. This contributes to the notion that baseball is a sport for white fans which is wrong. Still, the black population of the South Side is 93%. Bridgeport is the only area near the Sox that has a decent MI. You have to go as far away as Beverly, where the metra stops are full of Sox fans, to get to incomes that match those around Wrigley’s immediate vicinity. Farther out the median income decreases rather than increases. In the south suburbs where MI increases so does the percentage of Cub fans. It is also a fact that many suburbanites think The Cell is in a dangerous neighborhood. Hell, many people from Oak Lawn are afraid to go even go to Beverly.
The next major factor in low attendance is the monumental marketing mistake Einhorn and Reinsdorf made when they bought the Sox. The Cubs did not always “own the town”. In the 70’s Sox fans filled the ball park every night. Actually the White Sox beat the Cubs in attendance for many years. Remember the “Hit Men”? An entire generation of baseball fans could not see Tony LaRussa, Fisk, and Baines when they were taken off free TV yet they still drew fans because we grew up watching them. But in 1981, and for several years, thousands of youngsters could only see Cub games. Many of those kids became Cub fans. Now those kids are dads and their kids are Cub fans. This all happened just when Wrigleyville was becoming wealthy and the hip place to be. When I was a kid a Cub fan on the south side was rare. I would venture to say that the marketing problems began when they took the Sox off WGN and went to WFLD. The farther away one lived from the city the tougher it was to get good television reception. The feud with Harry Carey and Jimmy Piersall didn’t help either. I think people forget that.
If there was a study on attendance based on median income I would bet that a higher percentage of fans who go to games would be Sox fans. So, you put all these factors into the equation, you only get 15,000 fans on a weekday night in the middle of a pennant race.
A solution would be to bring back Little League Day. Any kid wearing a uniform could get in for free. Why Little League? Because they are baseball fans. This would include all kids, minorities and girls. Four games a year would be just about right. Dollar hot dogs and dollar sodas. They can have most of the upper deck. When I was a kid those not on a Little League team would borrow uniforms from the kids who were.
Finally, Major League Baseball has to get real about pricing. It is out of hand and it hurts the fan base. MBL needs the 99%.