The White Sox marketing department has to be thrilled with the numbers coming out of SoxFest 2013. Over the weekend, 7,300 people trekked through the halls of the Palmer House Hilton, an 11 percent jump from last year. The number of hotel packages went up by 20 percent.
Not bad for a team that collapsed down the stretch at the end of last season. When it comes to opening up the wallet, this year's crop of Sox fans are quite forgiving.
SoxFest ain't cheap, either. Saturday passes cost $50. Sunday passes were $35. Weekend passes were $70. If you wanted to stay at the hotel, you had to tack on an additional $278. If you're bringing family of four, you could end up spending $500 before taxes. Drinking and eating at the hotel isn't cheap, either. Cocktails at the lobby bar are $13. Beers are $7.
The total SoxFest experience = serious money. Even so, people decided the cost was worth it.
What was it? The 1983 reunion panel? There have been '83 reunions before. Members of the 2005 team were on hand last year. The surviving members of the '59 team were at the 2009 version of Sox Fest. Five hundred bucks worth of nostalgia is still a lot of money.
Or maybe, at long last, the fans have disposable income again. When you don't have a job ... or you have been forced to take a pay cut ..."food and shelter" take precedence over "meeting Tom Paciorek."
In other words, people have "Wimpy money" again.
This could bode well for Sox attendance in 2013. Head of marketing Brooks Boyer told Jim and others on the conference call that sales of 14-game season ticket packages are outpacing 2012 by "hundreds of percentage points." The team has already cut prices throughout the ballpark. A strong product plus a lower price point could equal substantially larger crowds at the ballpark this summer.
Fans did stay home last year, despite the pennant race. But they were watching the games. At the end of August, the Sox were drawing 70,000 households on Comcast Sports Net. They were actually outdrawing the Cubs on TV. The Dodgers attracted 100,000 households out of 5.6 million in the Los Angeles TV market last year and they just got 8 billion dollars from Time Warner to start a regional cable channel.
The explosion in local TV money could render attendance irrelevant ... or at the very least make it a smaller part of the economic equation. Sox executives love to say "we can't spend the money if you don't spend the money." Either way, they still find the money. In January of 2009, Kenny Williams told fans that Bartolo Colon was the best pitcher he could afford in a down economy. By August, that same Kenny Williams was paying Jake Peavy to be hurt. The money was always there.
That's because the Sox make a decent amount of money off of their TV deals with WGN and Comcast SportsNet. Speaking of the Cubs, their TV deal with WGN expires at the end of next year. It is widely speculated that the Cubs and Blackhawks will try to start their own regional cable channel. When it's all over, both teams will be billions of dollars richer.
That also means the White Sox and Bulls will become very valuable as well. After all, you can't really have a successful local sports channel without broadcast rights.
Fox Sports Net Chicago, the corporate successor to SportsVision and Sports Channel folded two years after the Sox, Cubs, Bulls, and Blackhawks decamped to Comcast SportsNet.
The Sox are locked in with Comcast and WGN through 2019. That doesn't mean the deal is ironclad. Every contract has an out clause of some kind.
What can the Sox fetch on the open market? Let's start at the 20-year, $1.6 billion deal Astros signed with Comcast in 2010. The Rangers got $3 billion from Fox Sports. The Angels are also getting $3 billion from Fox. The $8 billion the Dodgers got may be out of the question.
Before you start salivating over a multibillion dollar White Sox windfall, Boyer will tell you to hold your horses. From a conference call last year:
"Comcast Sports Net has a partnership that includes all the non-Bears Chicago teams and that's our cable partner and that agreement runs for quite a while. The other partner is the over the air partner in WGN. Our deal doesn't come up for quite some time. You're starting to hear about the Cubs and what they're going to be able to do with WGN. We'll see where the Chicago market ultimately goes. What you have to remember is, that although you look at our marketing territory, yes it's a major market. But to the east is a lot of water and there's no one buying cable in Lake Michigan. To the north is Brewers' territory. When you go south, you start running into St. Louis' territory. Our territory is really good, but it's not as robust as L.A. or the entire state of Texas."
He said those teams were the beneficiaries of being in the right place at the right time. The Sox could be in an even better place when the time comes. Sports are increasingly valuable to broadcast and cable outlets because they are DVR proof. You can watch an entire season of a TV show in one weekend. Sports are the only shows that draw eyeballs in the same numbers as the pre-DVR era.
If the loss of White Sox baseball keeps someone from cutting the cable and going Apple TV (or Roku) full time, the Sox broadcast rights will become even more valuable as times goes on.