Try as they might to shed the label, the Chicago White Sox will likely forever be characterized as the little brother of this city's baseball scene, if not the entire civic sports landscape. Their crosstown rival to the North is a legitimate American institution, losing at an adorable rate, playing their games during the day in the closest thing sports has to a basilica. The Cubs can draw when they're bad because the Cubs are bigger than baseball -- no, not the pastime itself, but the way we understand the values of professional sports. The Cubs win even when they lose; they are quite possibly the only sports franchise in this country that transcends W's and L's. The White Sox are not so lucky. They do not play by the same rules, literally (DH) and figuratively.
No, the Sox have to attract fans the old fashioned way: first and foremost by winning, secondly with gimmicks and slogans. While "Disco Demolition Night" and some of Bill Veeck's other one-off tactics are practically ingrained in baseball lore at this point, the South Siders have been just as prolific coming up with sticky marketing campaigns in recent years. You still remember them. "Winning Ugly", "The Kids Can Play", "Win Or Die Trying". If only Mike Caruso or Joe Borchard had this type of longevity.
If there's a problem with a good slogan, it's how easily it can be turned against you. Just see last year's "All In": when the Sox started losing at an unforeseen rate, the catchphrase was perfect for the hashtag-punchline game of the modern era. "All In" became something just short of a meme, with clips of Adam Dunn striking out looking and Jake Peavy icing his elbow just begging to be interspersed with good old fashioned marketing speak.
After the egg landed so squarely on the face last season, what would the White Sox's marketing team -- helmed by the indomitable Brooks Boyer -- do for an encore? According to multiple sources, the Sox have decided on a slogan for 2012.
Appreciate The Game
Yes, "Appreciate the Game". It's a slogan as perfectly content with treading water as the franchise is in 2012. There's no promise of a playoff contender, no hint at future riches, and certainly nothing about Kenny Williams' least favorite buzzword -- rebuilding. "Appreciate the Game", then, seems like something of a rip-off of what's been the South Siders' unofficial slogan for years: "Chicago Tough".
Williams once used "Chicago Tough" when speaking in regards to former pitcher Jon Garland, a once highly-touted California-bred righty who was perceived to be too lackadaisical on the mound. Too-snarky bloggers like myself have long thought "CHICAGO TOUGH" read as satire; as if being born and raised in a cold, middle America metropolis gives a person an inherent edge in comparison to someone from, oh, anywhere else on the planet.
But, #realtalk for a second: Chicago eats up this type of blue collar tough-guy-speak. We idolize Mike Ditka and keep him wildly wealthy to this day because he was fiery and had a mustache just as much for winning Super Bowl XX. We love defense, loathe showboating, and romanticize about winning "the right way", as if such a way even exists.
Of course, the White Sox will have to do more than come up with another good slogan to pack U.S. Cellular Field in 2012. They'll have to win. At the moment, the arrow of the Sox's fortunes appears to be pointing down, not up. In that sense, "Appreciate the Game" is almost perfect: it's far from a rebranding, but doesn't fool anyone into thinking this team is, well, "all in". These Sox may not win many games this season, but dammit they will appreciate every last part of it. In this city, that should sell well.
Ricky O'Donnell is a writer and editor in Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. He is always very much available for hire. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.