Team at a crossroads, or hungry for attendance

Team at a crossroads, or hungry for attendance
PICTURED: Those seats behind the foul pole they can never fill // Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

In the wake of a three-game sweep of the Cubs, there's as much reason to be optimistic about the 2012 Sox as there ever has been.

They're back to .500, the starting rotation is healthy and performing well, and the AL Central looks to be up for grabs with projected powerhouse Detroit sporting a losing record.

Kenny Williams has gunned for the division crown in darker times, so it almost goes without saying that he sees a playoff opening when the Sox are the only AL Central team with a positive run differential.

The language is more ambiguous in Scott Merkin's recent piece on the direction of the franchise, and whether they'll go all-in for 2012, or trade their assets for prospects when the opportunity arises:

Williams won't go any deeper than the Twins series, though, when asked if he can wait until mid-August to see if this team can contend.

"Listen, I'm not going to talk about any of that," Williams said. "What I will say is this: You can think off the top of your head in five seconds of darn near two handfuls of games that should be under the win column for the White Sox. For whatever reason, something happened during the course of the game that got us off track and put an 'L' on the board as a result.

"You are not asking those questions if we won those games. You are asking a whole different set of questions that I wouldn't answer as well," added Williams with a wry smile. "Just let them play."

Williams' words are intentionally noncommittal toward any particular future, but since he's hardly uttered a peep in public all season save for resolving the Sale situation, there's a presumed purpose in him raising the topic at all; at least in the timing of it.

Jake Peavy is buoyed by his team's recent play, but thinks the decision whether to go for the crown depends on a third party:

“If we’re going to stay together as a team and not have some of these pieces traded away, we’re going to have to have some fan support and play good baseball,’’ Peavy said. “I hope our fans feed off this, and with school getting out, they’ll show up at the ballpark.

“I certainly don’t want [to be traded]. This is where I want to play. I love [manager] Robin [Ventura] and his staff and my teammates.’’

Jake's implication that the long-term direction of the franchise is dependent on immediate ticket returns is troubling enough to just be off-base, but the Sox have called upon the fans to step up their financial commitment in exchange for a competitive team before; as recently as last year:

"We've really taken a chance," Reinsdorf said on ESPN 1000's "Talking Baseball." "The term all-in I think really makes some sense here. If we draw what we drew last year, we will lose a lot of money. We decided to make a bet that if we put this team together the way we have, that it'll contend and that people will come out and support it. Otherwise, we are definitely going to lose money."

A somewhat familiar, but very different appeal is being made in Cleveland by pitcher Chris Perez, who termed the Indians' combination of a first-place record and last-place attendance "embarrassing".

He also added:

"It's a good baseball town. I don't know how to get back to that. Everyone says, 'winning, winning.' Well, we were in first place for three months last year. We come out strong this year, so obviously it's not a fluke."

Perez's complaints will probably get the backlash that any critique of the consumer will draw.  But his plea of 'We have a good product, why don't you want to be a part of this?', is a bit more sympathetic than 'Make it worth our while or we'll tear this all down'.

It's also lot less confusing, since the argument could be made for the Sox that a tear-down would be a wise move, now that so many veterans are looking like assets again.

Even taking the Sox claims that the 2011 payroll placed them in financial peril at face value, they followed up a call on fans to pay up front with a failure to hold up their end of the bargain, and Konerko himself admitted that the process of building back interest in the wake of that debacle will be long.

Ultimately the team will come to its own decision on whether rebuilding or staying the current course is the quickest way to bring playoff baseball to the South side.  But if their looking for the fans to provide a sign in the next two months, and suddenly invest big in this fledgling contender, they'll be left waiting in vain; which could be the most telling sign of all.

 

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  • As far as I can tell, Reinsdorf's continued insistance that he sinks or swims by way of single game ticket sales is an exercise in mythmaking.

    After Chair Jer made that statement in 2011, the Sox stunk and finished 21st in MLB in attendance. According to Forbes, the Sox still remained profitable with $10.7mil in operating income (down from $27.6mil), which fittingly ranked 21st in the league.

    The correlation between attendance and profit is not very strong. The Angels had a payroll a little higher than the Sox, were 5th in attendance, and ended up losing money in 2011. The Dodgers had a lower payroll than the Sox, were 11th in attendance, and ended up with an operating income of a mere $1.2 million.

    Only 3 teams lost money in 2011 according to Forbes. One of them, the Angels, went out and bought Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson. This was made possible by the Angels' new $3billion television agreement with Fox.

    Baseball profitablility is increasingly tied to television deals, based on contracts or money you can count on (unless you are a CPS teacher), as opposed to ticket sales.

    Jerry has sweet tax and revenue arrangements with the state and city as well, which protect him from taking a loss.

    I want to look into this a little deeper, but my guess is that the Sox aren't going to lose money, even if no one shows up to watch them play. But if Chair Jer can tell us that's the case and sell a few more tickets then well, why not? It's a pretty good marketing move to make fans believe that payroll (and by association: team success) is tied to attendance. Because that's the variable that determines whether the Sox are profitable by millions and millions, or profitable by millions and millions and millions.

  • In reply to Chris Lamberti:

    The argument of needing attendance to stay viable has enough holes to drive a mac truck through, and it's only an issue of what profit margin they're comfortable with. I offer that even if it was legit, the position of "come out to see the team or we'll rebuild" is a lousy one, and as a fan I flat-out don't appreciate it. We're consumers, not ungrateful kids who need to be cajoled into doing our chores. Plus, they either are doing what they can to win regardless of attendance, or they're in the wrong business. And rebuilding is either best for the team, or it isn't. The idea that they would hold on to a withering core of the team just because Sox fans were hyped enough for a .500 team to fill the park isn't encouraging either.

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