With the Chicago White Sox emerging as a surprise contender in the A.L. Central, it stands to reason Kenny Williams, the team's ultra-aggressive general manager, would like to do his typical wheeling and/or dealing as the baseball calendar inches closer to the July 31 trade deadline. The White Sox could use another starting pitcher now that John Danks is out indefinitely. They definitely stand to upgrade at third base. Still, the latest noise out of the South Side is one with a familiar refrain: because of poor attendance, the Sox may not be able to tack-on much payroll to the budget.
As some have postulated, Jerry Reinsdorf can always shed money by trading Luol Deng! But no, no, we don't advise that one bit. Besides, the White Sox have already been spending the Bulls' money for years. What's not a laughing matter is that attendance is again an overarching storyline for the South Siders. This has been particularly evident during this week's crosstown series with the Chicago Cubs.
The Sox drew just over 33,000 fans to the park in the series opener on Monday. That would be the lowest attendance in U.S. Cellular Field history for a Cubs-Sox game, with the previous low being 35,155 last season. The record stood all of one day, as only 30,282 people showed up on Tuesday. These are the contests the Sox are supposed to sell out. Instead, there's still empty seats all across The Cell.
Yes, attendance has been low this year, even for a franchise that at best hopes to finish in the middle of the pack in regards to paying customers at the end of each season. The Sox are averaging just 21,670 fans per game this season, which ranks them 27 out of 30 in baseball. With the team evolving into a division leader and a pleasant surprise, why can't the South Side fill the stands?
Well, perhaps the White Sox should look in the mirror. A 2011 study by Team Marking Report had the White Sox at the third highest average ticket price in the game, at $40.67. Only the Red Sox, Yankees and Cubs sold their tickets for a higher average price. The mean cost league-wide to attend a baseball game last season? That would be $26.91.
Whatever, cue the guilt trip. It's not the first time. Actually, it's something closer to a recurring plea. Buy tickets, White Sox fans, or you will get the rebuilding effort you deserve. The Sox don't *have* to try to win games, and they certainly won't if they're playing in front of an empty house.
Of course, it's an issue that's always been lathered in hypocrisy. Reinsdorf and Williams can make headlines every year by telling the fans to Do Their Jobs and Support The Team, but the threats are often baseless. In 2010, when the Sox took on the gigantic contracts of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios mid-season, they finished 17th in attendance and were coming off a season in which they finished 16th. They even traded for Peavy while he was on the DL. The point being, Jerry Reinsdorf loves his White Sox so very much. Just like you and I. If Williams needs money, he knows he can usually find it. If not, who needs Omer Asik anyways?
Long-time blog game OG Tom Fornelli raised many good points during a Twitter screed about White Sox attendance through his South Side Asylum account on Tuesday. Among them: it's much cheaper for fans to buy tickets the day of a game through StubHub or another after-market retailer. Secondhand ticket exchanges also often house much better seats at lower rates than what the nosebleeds are selling for through the Sox's official outlets.
As summer continues and the White Sox (hopefully) remain in contention, attendance should spike some. Here's attendance numbers at U.S. Cellular over the last nine seasons. As you can see, 27th best in the majors qualifies as a bit of an outlier.
|Year||Average attendance||League-wide rank|
Which is to say: the White Sox aren't going to average 21,000 fans per game this season. We will show up a bit more frequently. We always do.
Attendance is a tricky issue most places, not just for the White Sox. And let's be honest: though Chicago is the third largest city in this country, it's tough to support two baseball teams, especially in an economy as downtrodden as the current one. My best estimates put the Cubs/Sox fan breakdown at 65-35 in favor of the Cubs. The Cubs still sell tickets, even when they suck. The Sox aren't as lucky, because they simply don't have that many fans.
Sports are also often better on TV. Football definitely is. It's debatable in baseball, as I'm still a sucker for romanticizing about beer and hot dogs and warm weather at the ballpark. But you know what's a lot cheaper? Watching the game on that big high-definition TV you blew too much money on.
What's really unfortunate for Williams and Reinsdorf is that the latest plea to boost attendance comes as the Sox are in the middle of a June swoon. The South Siders have lost five series in a row, and yesterday's 2-1 defeat at the hands of the lowly Cubs makes it six losses in the last seven games for Robin Ventura's team.
Is this a team Chicago wants to pay to see? It could be, thanks mostly to a piss-poor division that should keep things competitive all summer. The Sox's loss yesterday dropped the them out of first place in the A.L. Central, but the Cleveland Indians shouldn't scare anyone. The suddenly surging Detroit Tigers, winners of seven of their last 10, very well could. But so long as the Sox are in the thick of a playoff race, there simply isn't much else to entertain the sports-focused section of Chicago's mind. Bourbonnais is still over a month away. Here's hoping the Sox can fend off Detroit and Cleveland for at least that long.
Ricky O'Donnell is the editor of SB Nation Chicago and the founder of the Chicago sports blog Tremendous Upside Potential. Follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.