Since riding the World Series title to a franchise-record attendance in 2006, the White Sox have seen their attendance drop in each of the last eight years. They drew 1.65 million fans in 2014, which is just 56 percent of the 2.96 million they drew during the championship afterglow season.
ESPNChicago's Jon Greenberg says Brooks Boyer is hellbent on reversing the trend this season, with several internal initiatives in play to capitalize on the offseason excitement that has helped increase season ticket packages to an unclear degree.
Besides boosting the sales staff with full-time employees chanting "one more ticket" and targeting Jeff Samardzija territory in Northwest Indiana, the Sox are also making a big data push. That flirts with Big Brother territory ...
With their "data warehouse" program, the front office is also tracking fan activities to an intense degree.
"We have 13 data points that come into our platform and we can see what happens on a Tuesday night between 7 and 8," Boyer said. "We can see what's going on with sales of hot dogs, then be able to analyze who's using their tickets, how often they're using their tickets and be able to push promotions."
... but Boyer says the goal is to make the game-going experience more personal for top customers:
Boyer said the team was in the beginning stages of building a true incentive program to reward loyal fans.
"You bought your tickets and your tickets are digital," he said. "There are ways to know if you bought two hot dogs. If I know you're a season-ticket holder and every game you're coming in, sitting in your two seats and you're buying two hot dogs, how cool would it be if when we know you're in the ballpark, for one of our reps to come down and say, 'Jon, here's some free hot dogs on us.' "
Boyer's answers were relatively cautious on the whole, but there's no trace of attendance-shaming in them. And actually, they've been pretty proactive the last couple years, what with reducing the cost of attending games, starting Family Sundays, increasing giveaways, forming the K Zone for Sale/Condor Nest, and adopting the 1983 uniforms into their regular rotation, to name several actions.
That hustle was nullified by a collapse in the on-field product and a marginalization of the crosstown series, but with the Sox-Cubs series returning to a summer weekend, a triumphant offseason, a Paul Konerko number retirement ceremony, and the 10-year anniversary of the World Series team, that sector of the front office should finally get to reap some of the rewards.
Another thing going for the White Sox's marketing efforts: Adam Eaton.
The welcome wagon that Eaton rolled out for new teammates on Twitter this winter also extended to offline connections:
"The one thing I noticed last year and it's going to continue on was Paul Konerko always did a great job of welcoming new guys in," Eaton explains. "He'd basically call everybody and say welcome to the team, this is how it's supposed to be done, this is how we're going to play the game. He did that for me and now I'm doing it to the other guys."
Zach Duke, Adam LaRoche, David Robertson, Jeff Samardzija, Melky Cabrera, Dan Jennings, Rob Brantly, etc., they all received a "Welcome to the White Sox" message from Eaton.
He and Samardzija live in Arizona in the offseason and quickly realized that they're both big car enthusiasts. So last week, they went together to a Barrett Jackson auction event in Scottsdale.
That personal touch was on display at SoxFest, too:
There's no point in considering its actual impact on wins and losses, but the enthusiasm is welcome.
The last two times the White Sox appeared to have a young and charismatic player who could serve as the point person for outreach efforts, the best-laid plans went awry. Nick Swisher wormed his way out of the clubhouse and Gordon Beckham plunged into a vortex of sadness, and so the emphasis returned to black-and-white images of stone faces paired with some "Back To The Salt Mines" tagline.
That's been the safe play, but it's also a tricky one. White Sox fans may chiefly self-identify as serious, but there's a subsection of self-serious White Sox fans that wears grudges on its sleeves like World Series patches, and any kind of spin is going to be roundly rejected.
That group isn't going to be the key to increasing attendance. The goal is to convert casual/fringe fans into addicts, and that's probably easier when there's a visibly productive player producing visible fun on an everyday basis.