A couple of weeks ago, Jerry Reinsdorf had a conversation on ESPN 1000′s Talking Baseball Podcast:
“We’ve really taken a chance,” Reinsdorf said on ESPN 1000′s “Talking Baseball.” “The term all-in I think really makes some sense here. If we draw what we drew last year, we will lose a lot of money. We decided to make a bet that if we put this team together the way we have, that it’ll contend and that people will come out and support it. Otherwise, we are definitely going to lose money. Fortunately over the years we’ve made a little here, we’ve made a little there and we can cover it if we lose. We won’t be able to lose money two years in a row.”
As a season ticket holder1 of the most expensive “regular”2 ticket price range, I feel like I am more than within my right to respond to Mr. Reinsdorf. It’s understandable to see Mr. Reinsdorf’s frustrations. The White Sox were 17th in total attendance last season and 15th in percentage of capacity filled for the season, despite being in the nation’s third largest market. Both New York teams and both Los Angeles teams all rank in the top 12 in both categories.
But the story doesn’t end there. Jim Margalus from South Side Sox wrote a piece a few weeks ago in response to the aforementioned ESPN.com piece. In that post, he links to the Fan Cost Index from April 2010. At that time the White Sox had the 4th highest ticket prices, up 4.3% from 2009 and the 4th highest overall cost under the composite value of Fan Cost Index, up 2.6% from 2008. Meanwhile the White Sox had the 7th highest payroll in 2010. So, 4th in ticket prices, 7th in payroll, 17th in attendance, all kind of works out even. When you are 4th in ticket prices, but 7th in payroll, maybe you shouldn’t complain about being 17th in attendance.
Margalus spends a lot of time comparing the White Sox to the Milwaukee Brewers, who have outdrawn the White Sox in attendance every year since 20063. Milwaukee, of course, has the advantage of being the only baseball team in Wisconsin, but the disadvantage of being in the 33rd largest market. In 2010, Milwaukee had the 8th lowest number in the Fan Cost Index, and that was after a 9.9% increase over 2009. But it isn’t just ticket prices, Miller Park is very easy to get to, located just outside the city along a major highway. It also has the advantage of having $8 parking. It cost $23 to park at US Cellular Field, like ticket prices the 4th highest mark in the league in 2010. The major league average is $12.24.
Parking cost is a major sore spot for me at US Cellular. It’s difficult to get in, the attendants are rude and it cost $23. At to it the Chicago traffic that is unavoidable because of where the park is, and the cost of food and drink, and going to a baseball game is an expensive affair, both in terms of money and time. Because of where my wife and I work, we will sometimes let our tickets go unused on weeknights because it’s better to just eat the tickets than spend more money and all the time required for us to get to the game on time.
Mr. Reinsdorf has said that the White Sox can’t afford to lose money two years in a row. It’s difficult to determine from this comment whether that means the White Sox lost money in 2010 or not. I do know the White Sox increased their payroll by about 20% this year. I also know that ticket prices were increased as well, but certainly not 20%. Meaning that on attendance alone the White Sox will need to see a significant increase to make up this difference. This will prove to be very challenging.
Although the White Sox appear to have improved on paper, they won 88 games last season already. I don’t see a way regular season attendance will increase, so playoff games will be required to make up the difference. Reinsdorf can talk about he wants about increasing payroll, but you put butts in the seats by winning games. The White Sox saw solid attendance the year after winning the World Series, a season they won 90 games but finished 3rd and missed the playoffs. In 2007 the White Sox dropped back to 15th, but also finished 18 games under .500. They bounced back and won the division in 2008, but again 15th in attendance. This time a playoff run did not add to attendance the following year.
The problem is that the White Sox are one of the teams in MLB that must depend on consistent success to draw fans. Their crosstown peers have the advantage of being located in an area where lots of young professionals live, and play a lot of day games that make it convenient for city-dwellers and workers to skip work (early) for a game. White Sox cater more to the blue collar south side residents and families, all of whom can’t shell out $150 to take a family of four to a game.
So Mr. Reinsdorf, if you want fans to go “all in,” you need to win. It doesn’t matter what the payroll is or who the players are, just win. That or lower ticket prices. The problem is that you can’t have both ways. If the team isn’t winning and ticket prices are high, you better have something else going for you, which a team like the Cubs have. With the amount of money I pay for season tickets, and the fact that prices keep going up, I can tell you that I am one season ticket holder who won’t stick around for a gutting of the team. Not when I could take the yearly money I spend on tickets, buy a huge television and filet mignons for every game instead.