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The biggest problem with the attendance debate

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An easy sellout in previous years, the second interleague series between the Cubs and White Sox failed to fill U.S. Celllular. It didn't even come close, with some 25,000 seats unsold over the three games.

David Haugh jumped into the attendance fray and took the side of White Sox fans, suggesting that the amount of unsold seats suggests something is amiss with the approach:

But the Sox deserve some responsibility for keeping fans away during the most optimum week of the season. Thanks to dynamic pricing, City Series bleacher seats went for an outrageous $90 — hard for many families to justify in this economy.

"I wasn't comfortable taking the prices for this series lower,'' [Brooks] Boyer said. "But, when all is said and done, we can look at it and learn from this.''

Maybe they will, maybe they won't. But with the Milwaukee Brewers coming to down for another premium series, the situation won't be resolved for a while. That means we can go around and around on this -- and many did with Chris Rongey on Wednesday afternoon.

There were no survivors.

Here's the problem -- when the Sox raise the attendance issue and suggest the Sox fans don't support them enough, it inspires fans to list reasons why the Sox aren't worth supporting. For instance, the costs are absurd relative to demand, and dynamic pricing isn't grounded in reality. The fans aren't at fault for poor decision-making of previous years. The wounds haven't healed from the dereliction of duties last year.

I thought about it myself, and realized that the White Sox are one of four teams in all of baseball to never make the postseason in two consecutive years. And only one time have they advanced into October twice over a three-year period ... and that happened to set the scene for the Black Sox Scandal.

The three other franchises: the Rockies, the Marlins, and the Expos/Nationals. But those can be more easily excused. The White Sox have been around for 112 years. The other three franchises have existed for 84 years ... combined.

The Sox have never been a premium franchise for longer than a year. They've had good stretches, but they've never had a run, which is absurd when you think about the odds. They've been in eight-team leagues. They've been in five-team divisions with a wild card. Never have they finished first (or a strategic fourth) in back-to-back years. So they're left trying to set the prices ahead of performance, a shortcut to prestige with the hopes that the on-field performance eventually catches up. It's like the "Mad Men" episode where they're trying to formulate a pitch for the fashionable-but-faulty Jaguar -- it's a struggle to emphasize opulence when the car is better known for failing to reach its destination.

So I'm thinking how this might fit into 140 characters when it dawns on me: Why am I building a case against the team I root for?

I like the White Sox. No, I love the White Sox. That looks cheesy in text, but let's face it -- I wouldn't spend hours writing about them every day for the last 6+ years if I didn't. And there I was, watching others who love the White Sox express reasons why their team isn't special enough for the asking price, and wondering if they'd missed anything.

Do the White Sox realize they're encouraging their own fans to slag them when they raise the issue?


I don't think that's the intent, but I do think it's a byproduct of the approach. One particular exchange with Rongey struck me, when he said that the Sox generate half as much revenue with a packed house on half-price night than they do with 25,000 on a regular-price night:

Based on their pricing approach over the last several years, prior to this year's price cuts, they aren't trying to draw fans as much as they're trying to lure a certain kind of fan (this is especially true when considering Camelback Ranch). They're trying to get to people who don't blink at $55 bleacher seats, because those people won't blink at a stuffed burger, or drinks at Bacardi at the Park, or a jersey from the Chicago Sports Depot. It's not just selling a ticket, but a ticket-plus. That's the difference between a ballgame and an experience.

They're well within their right to do that, because the dollars certainly add up if it works. But apparently it's not working, because the Sox are allegedly hamstrung by insufficient attendance. That means something has to give, and rather than concede some ground in their attempt to built a first-class base, they take the chance that the fans who haven't bought in can absorb a badgering.

The second collection might work in church, but this is a business selling a luxury during a recession. If they present the case that fans haven't spent enough on them, it's natural for fans to respond with reasons why the Sox are not essential. Seventy percent of Chicagoland baseball fans will be happy to tell you at any time why the Sox aren't worth it, so it strikes me as counterintuitive -- and incredibly risky -- to play hardball with the other 30.