Conference call with Brooks Boyer about White Sox ticket prices, marketing and more

Jonathan Daniel

The White Sox's marketing chief talks to bloggers about the reduction in ticket and parking prices, and other ways the Sox sell themselves to fans.

After spending much of last week talking to the media about the White Sox's ticket and parking price reductions coming up next season, Brooks Boyer, the team's senior vice president of sales and marketing, took a turn doing the same with White Sox bloggers on a conference call.

Since U-God wasn't on the call, you won't get the enjoyment and luxury of reading a full transcript. South Side Hit Girl and White Sox Interactive have additional accounts, should you think I wasn't thorough enough.

About the survey

Regarding the results of the survey conducted by Rich Luker, Boyer said, "There were really no "oh wows." The volume did catch Luker by surprise, though. Boyer said he had 300 to 400 pages of responses, emphasizing the bulk by dropping it down on his desk for all to hear -- and that surpassed all expectations by quite a bit. So while the nature of the complaints didn't offer any shockers, he said the unexpected specificity allowed the Sox to confirm suspicions and motivate them to know what will begin to help.

He said that the on-field product and style of play did not register anywhere among the most common complaints, which did register as somewhat of a surprise.

"Our fans would rather see a team compete and play hard than win," Boyer said. "Some of you guys are going to post that, and they're going to say, 'Brooks is really drinking too much in the office,' but that's what the report shows," he added. "They want to see a team that goes out and competes and represents the fan base. That's more important than wins and losses."

He pointed to the attendance numbers as additional evidence that winning may not be everything when it comes to purchasing decisions, although it's still incredibly important to sustaining attendance.

Boyer also noted the Sox's gains with younger age groups, and says the price reduction in the corner sections is aimed at getting families to the ballpark at a prices they can plan around.

About those prices

"The first [price] cut that we did, as we looked at it -- I remember sitting with Jerry [Reinsdorf] and saying, 'How do you feel about this? Does this feel right?'," Boyer said. "And his answer was, 'I don't think it's aggressive enough.'"

So he calls the reduction "very aggressive," but with a focused approach. Thanks to data and predictive analysis provided by MLB, he says the adjusted prices are now in line around the park.

"If you looked at our outfield prices -- and we should have done this a while back -- we were the fourth-highest outfield and bleacher prices in all of baseball. That's not the right spot for us to be," he said.

"At the same time, we were in the lower quarter to third of our prices in between the skins of the infield in the lower box. We were one of the last teams -- if not the last team -- to have the same price in Row 1 all the way to the last row. So we made some adjustments in our premium lower box and that's the area where some of those ticket prices went up. Not all the ticket prices in the premium lower box, but the first 26 rows. [...] So they went up, and now they're in the 50th percentile."

Ultimately, Boyer now says the outfield prices were lowered to where the Sox should be, and the premium lower box prices are closer to their mark, though maybe still a little less than the Sox could charge based on the provided.

*Dynamic pricing will remain, but prime and premier pricing won't, and neither will affect the $20 and $7 sections in the corners of the lower and upper decks, with the exception of the two Sox-Cubs games and Opening Day.

Dynamic pricing may never be as aggressive as fans think it should be (for instance, they're not going to cut the ticket prices on the day of the game, because that would undercut their advance sales), but there will be deals to be found. However, should the popularity of Yankees or Red Sox games return to their former heights, dynamic pricing will meet demand in the direction of higher prices, too. He reiterated that buying early (or buying season tickets) is the best bet for the best prices and best seats.

The Sox haven't assessed the prices of concessions for next year.

About the economy

"I can't sit here and say, 'The economy had a significant impact on our attendance last year,' because if I do that, one of you guys is going to write, 'What about the Tigers? That town was hit a lot harder and they drew 3 million people,'" Boyer said.

"I think the economy, over the last four or five years, has changed people's habits; the way that they choose to attend games, and games have become an event. And a lot of that has to do with the prices where a White Sox game has become Great America, where you go once a summer."

About the broadcast, in-game experience

In previous reports, Boyer said the reductions were among many off-season evaluations, and other areas like the broadcasts and in-game experience would get plenty of attention this winter as well. So what does that mean?

Well, on the topic of the awkward Hawk Harrelson-Steve Stone broadcasts at the end of the year, Boyer talked around whether the tendencies toward sadness and silence would be addressed, only noting that Harrelson and Stone have had to make adjustments to each other as defined broadcasters.

He did say that the negative perceptions of their relationship are overblown, saying fans incorrectly draw a conclusion that the physical distance between Harrelson and Stone in the broadcast booth is indicative of their personal and professional distance.

"Anyone who has visited the booth before, between the sheets and the books and the iPads and the monitors and the seat for any guest interviews, they sit that far apart because every inch of that table is being used," he said.

He went on to identify the three aspects of the broadcasts they emphasize:

  1. To teach the game in a manner that is relevant to experienced and new fans.
  2. To paint the picture of the action at the ballpark.
  3. To sell the ballpark experience.

Elaborating on the third point, Boyer said the goal is to give fans ample evidence from the broadcast and production quality that says, "We want you here, and you should be here and it's more fun here." That would seem to contradict the tone set by the booth in September, so maybe that's your answer, or maybe not.

For fans coming to the game, he said the Sox are assessing all steps of the show, from the bands outside to in-game activities to between-inning events to music to other parts that contribute atmosphere, to see what's resonating, because that has implications beyond our enjoyment. Many of those elements have sponsors, so finding out what fans anticipate or reject leads to better partnerships (and more money).

About the transportation situation

While the Red Line is out, the Green Line is operational, and just a couple blocks farther away. Boyer said the Sox will see whether shuttles are a feasible option, but either way, the Sox are talking with the city about making sure that walk is as safe and easy as possible.

About marketing

The way the 2011 season fizzled out changed the Sox's approach towards selling the 2012 team.

"It was a disaster all the way around. We even had an Adam Dunn spot for the 2011 season that we never aired because of his struggles. In my judgment, it was going to be very challenging to put our players out there last year, coming off the season that they did."

The ads they did run "really didn't involve the players at all. If we would've had a tough year like we did in '11, my fear was we're putting the players out there, and they wouldn't be looked at in a positive light. We created the 'Appreciate The Game' campaign around the fan, and fans talking to fans. And I think this year, it gives us a better chance coming off the year we had to have players talk to fans again, which I think is what people are more used to. They're used to seeing the players who are out there, and I think we've given ourselves a chance to get back to that."

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