Interview with White Sox VP of Marketing, Brooks Boyer

Interview with White Sox VP of Marketing, Brooks Boyer

Hey look, there he is in the background! // Phil Velasquez, Chicago Tribune

It's the end of the month again, which means the good folks at the White Sox PR department have decided it's time to toss an interview to their poor, downtrodden bloggers.  Because we're just a few hyperventilating breaths from Opening Day, the higher-ups decided that nothing would get us more amped for the start of baseball then....VP of Marketing Brooks Boyer.

Perhaps a little counter-intuitive, but the team wanted to make their fanbase aware of all the promotions and development coming to U.S. Cellular in 2011.  After all, they do need your money at the end of the day.
One doesn't expect to squeeze some hyper-candid moments out of the VP of Marketing, but for his part, Boyer spoke at great length with all of us on the call for around 30 minutes, and well past the point where Marty Maloney expected him to.

Given the amount of information, I'll try to parse it down to what I was actually interested in.
Brooks Boyer: I think the two new amenities to the ballpark that are going to make an impact not only on attendance but ease(?) of fans is Bacardi in the Park...We've partnered with the Gibson's group and think that the restaurant/bar is going to be a phenomenal option for fans before and after games, and you could certainly even watch the games there...There are 67 TVs in the bar/restaurant and hopefully a very lively atmosphere.  It's got three levels, so we're going to be able to host private parties that people want to have on off days, but to start we're only going to be open on game days, but we're looking to be open all day on game days. 

Personally for me, any game day has the goal to minimize how much of the day's food & spirits I have to pay the park-rate for, but if you're the type to be scheduling parties at the stadium or perusing the ballpark for hours ahead of time, this really sounds like it will put the Sox at the top of the in-stadium bar/burger emporium market.

BB: Second, is the Metra stop at 35th street, that being along the Rock Island Line.  I really think that this is a great opportunity for us to market along that line, and allow fans to bypass the traffic, especially on a cumbersome Friday...We have worked with the Metra where there's going to be a dedicated train to leave right after the game, and we'll be able to have a Sox line.  The games that are not during the day, we've got a line set-up where there's going to be a dedicated Sox train before the game.  But for those weekday games that we have, it will be a regular schedule.

I live in Logan Square, and on game days travel with my sister from Hyde Park, so when I hear about Metra lines, it's kinda like mentioning shoe shopping.  From everything I've heard though, this is simply a Godsend for South Suburban fans.

BB: What we're most excited about is the product we're going to have out on the field
Right around here is where I expected Brooks to announce beer on tap on all the bases, and was disappointed.
Mark Liptak, White Sox Interactive: Brooks, at WSI, a lot of folks were commenting and talking about the new organist hire, Lori.  Can you take me through the process of how that all evolved?
BB: Well the process was that we had an open call.  We had dozens of qualified candidates that came to us.  We met with Lori, and ultimately brought her along with 7 other finalists to play in the stadium.  We opened up the stadium, had them come and play, and had people sit in the stands to listen.  Not only is she a talented organist, but she is someone who had a charisma about her that is very infectious, reminiscent of someone who manned the booth for a very long time.
She is someone who can continue the tradition that the White Sox have set the standard for in baseball with organ playing, and that will continue to be a part of our entertainment package that we offer to people when they come to the ballpark.
Nancy Faust retired last season after 40 years.  While it was certainly encouraging that the Sox hired a replacement and didn't go the "Screw it, we'll just play Soulja Boy all the time now!" route, I feel this woman will be most noticed for not being Nancy for the first couple years.
Jim Margalus, South Side Sox: With regards to the Dynamic Pricing option, last year when you tried it out for the last series, I kept an eye on some tickets down the right field line, and the prices didn't seem very dynamic.  I think they were set at $50 and didn't move one bit.  Is that indicative of what it will be like going forward or can you flesh out what that's suppose to mean to fans?
If you read Jim, and I hope you do, you know that he was tracking Dynamic Pricing since it was introduced and kept note as it registered essentially zero impact on ticket pricing.
BB: We were using a company called [indecipherable] out of Dallas, TX that is analyzing all of our data.  We have a team of people from our ticketing department that is examining the possibilities of Dynamic Pricing for all of our games.  We hope to be able to do it for the entire ballpark, our initial focus is going to be on the Stadium lower box, maybe some outfield seats.  We're going to look at all the things that come into play and ultimately determine a purchase selection.  That could be our record, weather, pitching matchup, it all gets put into our computer and it spits out a recommendation.  Now we can take that recommendation, or we don't have to.  
What you won't see is our prices fall below our season-ticket holder price.  That is the floor that we have set.  
As we go forward, this is going to be a way where we can allow fans that want to go to a game and find a good price, it should be able to help those fans, because at the same time if they're looking for a particular seat--they'll pay a premium--but they'll be able to get that particular seat.
So, those hopes about Dynamic Pricing meaning that the team will slash prices in the upper deck in an attempt to fill them as gameday approaches, should probably be allowed to die here.  Discount tickets are not coming to the team site anytime soon, but perhaps an easier tool for finding seats right next to the one your buddy already bought--and then overpaying for it--is coming.
Just to paraphrase and toss out a lot of stuff here on sponsors, the pizza at the Cell is being switched to DiGiorno.  Your memories of the brand and what it will taste like made in mass quantities and left in a heater will probably diverge at some point.  
Discussion hovers around budget for a while.  They are overbudget, but they intended to be overbudget.  Does that make it the planned excess the budget itself?  How has the national economic environment affected budgets as a whole?  And so on... 
JJ Stankevitz, White Sox Beerleaguer: Naturally I'm going to ask you about beer.  Goose Island just got bought out by Anheuser-Busch, does that affect anything, given that Miller Lite is the official beer of the White Sox?
BB: No, it really doesn't affect us.  Our relationship with Miller is so deep.  They're a major partner in a city that they own and they dominate. 
What AB does, we certainly keep our eyes on, but our job is to sell as many Miller Lite as possible.
Sub out "possible" for "within reason", and you got yourself a slogan there.
JJ (I think): The Goose Island won't be removed from any of the concession stands, right?
BB: No, if you search really hard you can still get a Budweiser in the ballpark. You just have to really look for it.
Jenny Zelle, Gaper's Block:  Can you talk a little bit about the Craft Beer stands replacing Beers of the World?
BB: One of the things we thought might make sense because we have some very distinguished pallets at the ballpark is to try to do a little bit of the craft beers that you have or have not heard of, and see if that is something that's attractive to fans.  I can't name off the top of my head all the beers that were selected, but one of the thing we pride ourselves is the food selection, and that includes the beverage section as well.  We want to be able to offer something to people that maybe they won't try anywhere else but since they're at the ballpark they'll give it a shot.
JZ: I was hoping you would say that you were adding Three Floyds to the ballpark

BB: That's a good idea, but we'll leave that one up to SportService, we're not going to put our fist down and say this is what has to be there

This is the moment, he's weakened!

Me: Would you guys ever consider expanding what's sold in the seats?  Because it's kind of a selection of well--it's Miller Lite or MGD--so it's kind of a choice between drinking craft beer or watching the game.
BB: No, we'll always stick with Miller Lite and MGD.  We want to make sure that's offered to the fans.  One of our responsibilities is to make sure we promote that Miller Lite and MGD brand.  We think that those are the two brands our fans like the best.


I never had any illusions that there wasn't an exclusivity deal for the walk-through vendors, but that final line about "the brands our fans like the best" had a finality that stung.  Sad day, folks.  Or if you just love MGD to death, then whatever.

Cheryl Norman, South Side Hit Girl: What specifically do you feel that you guys do to bring in more female fans involved and at the same time not insulting those fans.  Just to give you an idea of where all this is coming from.  Presently, Victoria's Secret Pink Line has made some shirts that a lot of women find offensive with lines like "Meet me behind the dugout", and then there's a shirt that says "Chicks dig diamonds" that a lot of women find offensive.  I was wondering what you guys did to bring in more fans without alienating female fans already in existence.

This was an interesting moment, if only for the sudden switch from Brooks talking about beer for a prolonged stretch to being on his toes again.  

BB: The only one I've seen--I guess I have to start paying better attention to Victoria's Secret--is "I only kiss White Sox fans".  Those type of shock value type things; it's all gimmicky and it's short-term.  When you're talking about marketing to women, I'd rather talk to the woman whose driving the vanload of kids, where the kids are beating her up about wanting to go to a game.  I'd rather talk to her because that's not just building the fanbase for now, it's building it for the future.
I'd rather focus on our 3-year, 5-year, 10-year plan when it comes to marketing to women.  What we have to ultimately promote is not the kitschy singles crowd that might appeal to the 22-27 year old, but make sure that the values we represent in our advertising and in the things we do at the ballpark really make women feel comfortable coming to the ballpark.  Making them feel that the White Sox really represent me.
Now if our buyers or team store bring some of that in, am I going to go in there and demand they take it out...probably not.  I'm the father of four girls, but if that's what floats somebody's boat, we offer options.
JM: You mentioned the BP Crosstown cup.  Last year the oil spill threw a bit of a monkeywrench--
BB: Yes it did!
JM: Going forward is it going to be a bit of a more muted presentation or do you think it will be able to overcome the black mark of the whole environmental disaster.
BB: It certainly limited what we could do last year.  The reality is that they're partners with us.  They made a commitment to us, and it's our job to execute the agreement, and obviously that pulls you into two different directions.  We've sat with BP, I've seen their presentation on what they want to do, how aggressive they want to be, and I'm really excited about the partnership.
They do want to put themselves in the position to take all the elements of the partnership and execute upon them

Count BP as one of many--if not all--corporations unwilling to back off and just declare a loss on their sponsorship investment without an adequate attempt to recoup the value of the deal.

CN: With the explosion of social media in recent years, how does that change what you guys do for marketing purposes, if at all?
BB: Social media is the quickest way to talk to people.  A lot of teams have used social media in order to offer quick, discounted tickets.  
For us, core fans are the ones who are following on Twitter and Facebook, so you have to be smarter about it and build that base.  When I started with the Bulls 18 years ago, we were sending mailings to people, and that was a big time-consuming process.  Now we can talk to our fans directly.  That allows you to control the message, rather than let someone else pass the message for you, and that's what social media allows you to do.  
You're going to see a very aggressive approach, especially on our Twitter.  We're going to promote our Twitter and Facebook more than we have before, we want to promote our community whether you're a hard-core fan, or a casual fan.  

We're working with Ticketmaster right now to set to be able for someone to purchase a ticket and immediately show on their Twitter or Facebook account which game they're going to.  I wouldn't be surprised if in the next year, you can buy a ticket, and immediately look up who will be sitting next to you, see their facebook photo, and know where people are sitting.

This is all very interesting, but you can't discuss the White Sox and Twitter for too long without....

JZ: Will more White Sox players be joining Twitter?

BB: Uhhhmmm.........

That's probably a good place to call it.

Remember, this was an EXTREMELY long transcript, so if anything seems shortened, or not fleshed out, it's because I omitted parts I felt redundant or unnecessary in order to make this post only as ungodly long as it already is.  Any questions about a response that seems not genuine, I'll be willing to go back to the tape and clarify.  Thanks again to Marty Maloney of the White Sox for setting this up.

Colin at SSS calculates when your complaints gain merit.
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  • Sign. I'd really like to hear someone provide a rationale for NOT pricing tickets in the UD to sell.

    What possible benefit could there be for having it sit 25-50% full at its current average price of ~$28, as opposed to being 75-100% full at a price of $10? Even if they resulted in the same number of dollars collected for ticket sales, incidental purchases MUST push the cheap pricing over the top in total dollars collected.

  • In reply to MatthewWeflen:

    Yeah, my fault on that.

    I knew Margalus would ask about the dynamic pricing since he's been tracking it for a while, so when Brooks's answer was pretty sweepingly dismissive of the idea of pricing seats to sell in response to the level of demand, we all kind of dropped our hope of the team pushing some sort of program where you could find bargain tickets.

    They don't see it as a sacrifice they have to make. While it's definitely on me to press a more direct question there and I REALLY need to be more assertive in these calls in the future (this was my 3rd), I would put the probability that Brooks would just tell us that they believe they can build a winner and that if they do, they won't have a problem figuring out what to do with those seats.

    That's been the party line all off-season, and he's in Marketing. It's his job to push that idea, especially to us.

    Why they're set to take that bet is up to speculation, and my guess is that they're not as out on a limb as they portray, and can afford to aggressively pursue max profit like that. If they were really in danger, like you say, it would make more sense to hedge their bets, get more people in, and break even on concessions.

    Thanks for reading as always, and thanks for the comments that push me harder than I might work otherwise. I'm excited/terrified for what my goofy projection formula for runs scored spits out.

  • "Sign" should read "sigh." :)

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