Did you know that White Sox attendance is actually ahead of 2012?
Through 21 home dates last year, 425,695 fans paid to enter U.S. Cellular Field. There have been 21 home dates this year, attracting 440,463 fans. So far, attendance has outpaced 2012 by a comfortable margin.
In fact, attendance could have been way ahead of last year, if not for two games that were postponed due to weather.
That's a remarkable accomplishment, especially since the White Sox marketing department has been running into some fairly significant headwinds. In addition to being bad (until very recently), the White Sox have not been very fun to watch. The offense can't find the big hit. The defense has a hard time catching the ball. Pitching has been the only fun part of the White Sox game.
The weather has been terrible. April of 2013 was the wettest April in Chicago since 1947. April was also cloudier (59 percent cloud cover compared to 48 percent), and cooler. All three should have conspired to push attendance way down.
What's the deal? Is it a hangover from last year? Are the White Sox finally getting the attendance bump they should have received while they were in first place last summer?
But a good performance doesn't necessarily mean increased box office the following year. The White Sox won the AL Central in dramatic fashion in 2008, but fewer fans went to the ballpark in 2009 (the Great Recession is partially to blame). The 2010 White Sox won 88 games, which was a nine-game improvement over the previous year. The good result, combined with the "All In" marketing campaign, should have inflated the numbers for 2011.
It didn't happen.
So this is a legit attendance bump. People are interested in White Sox baseball, despite the weather and the results.
Let's start with the most obvious difference between 2013 and 2012: Family Sundays. The Sox cut the cost of tickets and parking; children can run the bases after the game; fans can get autographs from current and former players; the team also wears the uniforms from 1983.
So far, there have been three "Family Sundays." I will also include the weather conditions, because they do play a role in whether people actually show up.
April 7: Cloudy, 52 degrees. 18,708
April 21: Cloudy, 53 degrees. 19,587
April 28: Cloudy, 64 degrees. 22,677
May 12: Cloudy, 52 degrees. 22,088
Compare that to Sunday dates from this time last year:
April 15: Sunny, 73 degrees. 25,143
April 29: Cloudy, 47 degrees. 22,811
May 13: Sunny, 58 degrees. 22,636
May 27: Sunny, 93 degrees. 22,182
Sundays have been fairly consistent. In 2012, the April 15 game was part of the home opener series against Detroit. The April 29 game was against Boston, and Red Sox Nation tends to travel well. But Sunday attendance leveled off at 22,000 - where it would remain until the Sox hosted the Brewers in late June.
The first two Sundays of 2013 were played under different conditions. The April 7 game against Seattle was the final game of the opening homestand. April 21 was more of the same, with the added fact that the team had won just three of their last 11. But attendance bounced back to 22K with the games against the Rays and Angels.
The White Sox pulled out all the stops on Sundays, but the added perks aren't driving the bump in attendance. There are two theories:
No. 1: Between the sub-par product and lousy weather, the lower prices actually boosted attendance. The numbers could have been much lower, if the White Sox charged prices from 2012.
No. 2: There is a baseline level of White Sox fans. The Sox attract around 2 million fans, give or take a hundred thousand fans. No matter what the White Sox do to move the needle, there is a fixed amount of people who will always show up.
In 2012, the White Sox posted their best attendance numbers in July, after the winning streak that put them into first place, but before Bears season (the Bears opener on Sept. 9 was one of the worst warm-weather Sundays of 2012).
The offense is showing signs of life. The Sox have a highly favorable schedule between now and the Fourth of July. This is the time to make a move. Between the (improving) product, and the warmer weather, we'll finally see if the pricing changes will #MakeAnImpact on attendance.
Or maybe, just maybe, the casual White Sox fan lacks The Will to Watch.