Bruce Levine of ESPN.com:
The White Sox commissioned a study during the 2012 season to examine fan behavior and why individual ticket sales were down despite an improved record. Sports consultant Rich Luker, who created the ESPN Sports Poll in 1994, used nine focus groups and 8,000 in-depth surveys of fans who bought tickets in 2011. Luker told ESPN Chicago his research showed that personal economics, fans’ belief that the games were too expensive, and life changes were the biggest factors in fans buying fewer tickets in 2012, not team performance.
“Too expensive” is a relative term. A $5 sandwich is too expensive to some. A $100,000 car is not expensive to others. The White Sox are right around the top 5 in most expensive ticket prices in baseball, yet no one would consider them to be in the top 5 performance-wise since their 2005 World Series run. This is a franchise in the second largest market that has never made the playoffs in two consecutive seasons. Sure the crosstown Chicago Cubs have had an even longer run of futility, but until a couple of years ago they packed their park every night.
The theory that “team performance” doesn’t factor in is ludicrous. Sure there are exceptions to the rule. The Oakland Athletics have had a terrible time drawing fans despite consistently being competitive. But the Detroit Tigers are playing in one of the most depressed cities in the country and drew 3 million fans this season. Most would assume this was because they were putting a good team on the field. Sure it took them until to the final month of the season to take over first place, but they were highly regarded going into the season.
Kenny Williams gets credit for putting together solid teams, mostly from “spare parts.” Sure he went and signed Adam Dunn, but that signing looked terrible in the first year and lots of teams were scared of his inability to do anything but homer, strikeout or walk. Most of the guys Williams gets are via trade, and most of the time he is getting them at a discounted price. That’s certainly a way to win games, but it’s a harder product to sell to fans. The closest thing to a home grown superstar the White Sox have had was Mark Buehrle. And as much as he was loved by fans, he was hardly a superstar.
I famously pronounced the 2005 team as terrible and was not excited when the season started. Of course after the World Series no one let me live it down. But it’s been since Magglio Ordonez since the White Sox had anything close to a superstar as an everyday player. That seems unusual for a team in the nation’s 3rd most populated city.
I am not suggesting the White Sox commence with needless spending, but I think it there is a direct correlation between the product on the field and the fans in the seats. And maybe it’s less about wins and losses and more about the guys on the field. The White Sox payroll and market size might not represent a small market team, but the kind of guys they put on the field sometimes feels that way. And teams like the A’s and Rays have proven that winning alone isn’t enough.
I don’t doubt that if the White Sox strung together a few consecutive playoff runs, and maybe another World Series that they could start drawing fans more consistently. But in the meantime, they need to improve the product on the field to really make a difference.