White Sox and Attendance: Few Facts and a Lot of Fiction.

This is a bit of a rant, I’ll admit. By definition, a rant is not the most logical, thought out discussion of any given topic. It is tinged at the very least with emotion, at most a full blown rage. I’d like to think that I’m somewhere in the middle, not all capacity for reason lost. Even so, this isn’t my most syllogistic moment.

It revolves around attendance at White Sox games this year and to a limited extent for quite some time. If you frequently read this blog, (odds are the dozen of you do) you know that I’m a White Sox fan and make it to the ball park on a pretty regular basis, roughly 15-20 games a year. I feel like that is a pretty good investment. I enjoy the games a great deal, the company is always good and some years I’m even treated to a pennant race, like this year. I know, if you’ve been following my tweets of late, that you might think I equate being a fan with attendance to games. That isn’t the case. I’m much more in line with CeeAngi’s way of thinking and that shaming a fan base into attendance isn’t fair nor is it justified. Jerry Reinsdorf doesn’t need any more money. I also tend to enjoy the park when there are fewer fans. I don’t have to wait for food, the bathrooms are clean and I can pretty much sit wherever I want. I guess what finally brought me to a boiling point was the lack of visible support the White Sox  received this year as the division race heated up.

Fandom is a strange thing. There are multiple ways to follow a team, show support to that team and invest in that team. It doesn’t come down to just money or attendance. What has been constant since I’ve been a White Sox fan is the axiom, “if the team wins, the fans come out.” I think that is a very fair mode of fandom. If a team stinks, don’t go, pretty simple. That was not the case this year. The White Sox spent the majority of the season in first place and yet the fans have steadfastly refused to come out to the park. It is such a strange outlier to the usual pattern that it makes me crazy. Why aren’t fans coming out?

The answer is, I don’t really know. I do know that all of the posturing that many White Sox fans engage in regarding their team is false. The biggest canard is that fans go to Wrigley just to party and White Sox fans go to see the game. If that were true, then with a team in first place, where is everybody? What it comes down to is this: if we are such a savvy, knowledgeable fan base, then wasn’t the support there during this season? I can’t think of time when any team in Chicago was in the playoff hunt that the team was playing in front of a half-filled arena, yet the Sox did. It proves at the very least, that there are not many Sox fans in Chicago and perhaps the fans they do have are somehow disconnected from this current team. What is positively maddening, however, is how much Sox fans feel the need to make excuses for why fans aren’t showing up. Excuses that even at the most basic value are pitiful. What would make me feel better about my fellow fans is if more just simply said, “I don’t like going to games,” or “I don’t like this team.” Instead we get a litany of bogus reasons that become almost comical.

The first such reason is that Kenny Williams said the team was in a bit of a re-building mode during spring training. That lack of faith in the team, this concession that this isn’t going to be a competitive year,  led fans to stay away for the entire season. Really? A sound bite from one interview in March is enough to completely give up on the team for the entire season? That Kenny Williams is so clairvoyant that even though the evidence of the season proves that this is going to be a fun year, there is no reason to go games? Sooner or later it is all going to go pear-shaped? It is only by sheer coincidence the season collapsed. What’s more, Kenny made significant moves to improve this team, actions speaking much louder than words. It ultimately didn’t work out, but the idea that Kenny didn’t believe in this team and therefore fans shouldn’t is laughable. To point: if the inverse would have been said, if Kenny said, “We are going to the playoffs this year” that would have meant more ticket sales? That is absurd.

The next bogus assertion from fans, especially when looking at the lack of attendance the Sox have had over the course of the last seven years is that the ball park is in a bad neighborhood. Compared to where exactly? Elgin? Then sure. Compared to the rest of the city? Not so much. Looking at a crime map provided by the Chicago Police Department, crimes of all stripes are much more common around Wrigley Field, and not all of the drunk and disorderly type. I’ll be honest, I was shocked too. I even had to widen the search criteria to include the public housing which is within a half-mile of US Cellular and even then crime is much more prevalent around Wrigley than the South Side. I don’t necessarily mean this as a dig against the Cubs, well maybe a little, but it is quite telling that the steadfast perception that the area around US Cellular is unsafe is patently false. Granted, some of the neighborhoods within a couple of miles of US Cellular are some of the worst in the city, but unless you plan on parking in Englewood and walking to the park, you will be pretty safe in the immediate area of US Cellular, even a half-mile radius.

I’m going to bypass the reason that people don’t go to US Cellular is because it isn’t Wrigley Field because this post is mostly about White Sox fans who aren’t attending games. I have heard some White Sox fans complain that there isn’t much to do around the park. I will admit there is some validity to this, however it is a bit of a double edged-sword. One of the best things about US Cellular is the ample parking around the park. The organization even promotes and encourages tailgating at the park which is a staple of the Bears and NFL experience and last time I checked there isn’t a lot around Soldier Field either. Also, for a fan base that tries to define itself as the anti-Cub contingent complaining about a lack of atmosphere around the park seems a bit disingenuous. Finally, while it will never rival the area around Wrigley for bars and restaurants, it does rival many other sporting venues around the city. A short walk from the park there are a couple of decent bars, there are two bars attached to the stadium itself, and I can think of a couple of good restaurants in the area as well. I particularly like Pablo Pistolas and Pleasant House Pies. Again, not the dining atmosphere of other neighborhoods, but stuff is there if you look.

Interestingly, I talk to people who identify themselves as White Sox fans who still complain about the ball park itself. In all honesty, what more do these folks want? The team has almost completely redesigned the ballpark to fit what people were complaining about; they put a roof on, got rid of the blue seats added even more amenities from food to special seating sections to a fantastic team shop. The cost of tickets? I suppose. It isn’t in everyone’s budget. Two things however, the team has half-price Mondays and the secondary market on Stubhub is remarkably cheap. The lowest price I bought at this year was $8.00. I can’t imagine that is out of the budget for a lot of folks, some for sure, but in a metro area of close to 10 million, 30,000 people can’t come up with 8 bucks? (I know not every ticket is $8, but work with me here.) The argument that it is too expensive to go to US Cellular really doesn’t hold up, especially if you can afford a movie in the city of Chicago.

Recently I’ve heard an old saw that still boggles my mind, that being Jerry Reinsdorf is cheap and people don’t like him as an owner. No, he doesn’t spend as much as some teams, but the payroll of the Sox is consistently in the top ten throughout MLB.  Some years the team does slip out of the top ten, but it is only by a spot or two.   Could it be more? Yes, it could but I wouldn’t call spending upwards of $100 million cheap either.  Blaming attendance on lack of spending is a bit bogus; however looking at how much money is put into the team and ballpark in the last ten years it’s really hard to keep beating the cheap owner drum. As far as not liking Reinsdorf personally that is a really weak reason not to go see a team play, a limp excuse used as a crunch to belay one’s own laziness and/or apathy. Reinsdorf has owned two of the franchises that have brought 7 of the last 8 championships Chicago teams have won, he isn’t a public buffoon and he doesn’t seem to meddle too much in the running of his teams. The last part is my own speculation, but the loyalty Reinsdorf inspires in his management teams gives me a pretty strong belief that working for the guys isn’t too bad. Also, what more do fans want? He pays the bills, the team is reasonably competitive and he isn’t out making an ass of himself on a regular basis.

So why do I care? Why have I been having Twitter discussions over this issue as the season winds down? If I’m going to unpack it I suppose it comes down to a few reasons. First, I have lived through the specter of a team leaving its town. It is an awful experience and I don’t want to see that happen here. Now, when the Browns left Cleveland, attendance wasn’t truly an issue, and yet Art Modell still cited it as a reason for leaving. If Reinsdorf got wind of an offer for his team, knowing how chummy he is with Bud Selig and MLB, what will be the first reason given for pulling up stakes? I’ve got a pretty good idea. Having said that, I don’t think it is in the offing any time soon, but if a team as tied to a city, with the attendance they had in a mausoleum of a stadium like the Browns can move, the White Sox could move as well. No franchise is immovable; some are incredibly unlikely, but still not impossible. Either way I wouldn’t put the White Sox on the “never will move in a million years list.”

Another reason I care, honestly, and it is petty I assure you, is that I don’t like having to defend my fandom against the lame attacks of low attendance. I know I shouldn’t care, as I usually retort there are no trophies for attendance, but all the same it gets kind of depressing and more than a little annoying to continually have to answer questions and jibes about the lack of fans at the stadium.

Along those same lines, I want to go to a pennant race game that is at a filled stadium. It is just more fun to have a big, energetic crowd at a big game, short lines at the concessions be damned. (Speaking of: if you want an excellent treat at the game that never has a line, regardless of the crowd go to Wow Bao. Heavenly.) Also, Chris Rongey has pointed out, the players do notice and while, again I don’t think they are meaning to admonish the fans, they enjoy a bigger atmosphere for a bigger game. I don’t think it affects their performances, but it’s only human to want more people to come and watch. At their hearts they are entertainers after all, not robots.

Which leads me to my final reason for caring. I want to share. This past season was fun; this team was fun to watch, except for the last few weeks. I want more people to see it, live and in person. The stadium is a great place to watch a game. I wish more people would check it out. I like that the neighborhood around the stadium is distinct from the areas of Chicago that I’m most familiar. I wish more people would be willing to check it out as well. I wish most of all that White Sox fans who don’t attend games would stop trying coming up with lame excuses for not going and just shut up. If they don’t want to go, fine don’t go but stop trying to give me external reasons for it. The fact that Sox fans don’t go has little to do with the team, the ballpark, or the neighborhood, but much more about the fans themselves.

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