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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Blabbing about Attendance!
by Hal Vickery

The annual nonsense about Sox attendance vs. Cubs attendance continues unabated.  The latest episode of this lunacy occurred Friday on Mike Murphy’s morning sportsblab fest on WSCR (670 AM). 

Murphy claimed to have had a brainstorm, although brain cramp might be a much better term to describe the premise of the attendance segment.   It came while he was looking at the average attendance figures for the Sox and Cubs and noticed that the Cubs are outdrawing the Sox by about a 2-to-1 ratio. 

He then surmised that if (and a mighty big if at that) the actual ratio of Cubs to Sox fans is 2-to-1, then the Sox are doing a good job of marketing the club.  After making that proposal then, he asked the fans to call in with their estimate as to the relative numbers of Cubs and Sox fans in the metropolitan area. 

What the fans had to say is pretty much irrelevant, although one, a Sox fan, made a good point by noting that there are an awful lot of tour buses coming in from Iowa (the catch-all location for anyone coming in from outside of the Chicago area).   

However, no one really caught the major fallacy in Murphy’s premise.  Murphy did note that the Cubs have already sold out the majority of their games.  However, no one has reported how many of those tickets were sold to the Tribune Co.’s in-house ticket scalping operation.  The Sox, on the other hand, rely a lot on walk-up ticket sales. 

This means if the Sox are having a good year, ticket sales increase tremendously.  Last year was a good example.  Ticket sales last April were comparable to this year’s, even with a season ticket base purported to be in the neighborhood of 12,000.  A lot of those season tickets were one-time only sales to people purchasing All-Star Game tickets. 

The true fallacy comes, though, when one looks at Sox ticket sales every April (and every May for that matter).  Here is a note for any media types who stumble onto this column for some reason.  Please write this down in your notepads and commit it to memory: 

The Sox do not draw a lot of fans before Memorial Day weekend.  As we here last week, the only April games Sox fans care to go to are Opening Day (which did sell out despite the catcalls of some in the media that there were literally hundreds of seats available the weekend before the game) and against decent teams like the Yankees. 

They also fail to note that the average attendance per game for the Sox when they came out of their spring coma (an annual event during Gen. Disarray’s time at the helm) was in the neighborhood of 30,000.   

So here is another note for the scribes and pundits to put into their notebooks: 

If the Sox perform well, they sell more tickets.  You might have seen phenomenon if you had been paying attention to what happens in other cities.  The Cleveland Indians stank for three decades, and their fans didn’t show up in far greater numbers than Sox fans.  In the ‘90s attendance was good, and (lo and behold) so were the Indians.  The games at their new ball park sold out on a daily basis. 

Does this sound familiar?  The Sox in the early 1990s had a very good club and were winning.  City season attendance were set at new Comiskey Park. 

But then something happened to the Indians.  The club went into the downward cycle that all teams go into.  Nowadays you can walk up to the ticket window on the day of a game and get a ticket at Jacobs Field. 

Does that sound familiar?  After the bitter disappointment of having a possible World Series appearance cancelled by a strike, the Sox bubble burst.  The team floundered.  Attendance dropped. 

It’s a cyclical thing.  Even the New York Yankees aren’t immune from it.  Yankees attendance took a nosedive in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.  Do any of the media types remember that it wasn’t that long ago that George Steinbrenner was talking about New York City financing a new stadium because The Cathedral in the Bronx was in a terrible location? 

You haven’t heard any of that since the Yankees have been consistently putting winning teams on the field, though.   

The Dodgers under the ownership of Rupert Murdock saw a large drop in attendance.  In recent years it has been the Anaheim Angels who have been the darlings of SoCal.  It is also true that the Angels put together a World Champion a couple of years ago.  Millions of people under the age of 20 can’t remember the last time the Dodgers won anything. 

There is one other thing of which the pundits should take note: 

There have been two aberrations to the general rule that winners draw fans while losers do not:  The New York Mets of the 1960s and the Chicago Cubs of the 1990s and 2000s.  Both teams became known as lovable losers.  Mets fans who weren’t even a gleam in their parents’ eyes can tell you all about Marvelous Marv Throneberry.   

Mets fans, however, were disaffected Dodgers and Giants fans.  They were just glad to have National League baseball back in New York and were willing to embrace anything that came along after being abandoned by the Dodgers and Giants following the 1957 season. 

Cubs fans are another story.  Their “lovableness“ is beat into their heads by the Tribune Co. juggernaut and their unwitting accomplices in the rest of the local media.  The funny thing is that these supposedly savvy media types don’t even realize they’re being sucked in by the Tribune.   

One wonders if these media types are the same people who as kids would do anything stupid just because “everybody’s doing it.”  The Tribune Co. set out the make the Cubs trendy, no matter how bad their team is, by selling the “Wrigleyville” experience.   

They used their newspapers and superstation to make the Cubs into a national brand.  The amazing thing is that the rest of the sports editors in the city are a part of their competition’s marketing campaign.  I guess that says something about the people who are responsible for bringing us the news. 

P.T. Barnum is given credit for saying that there is a sucker born every minute.  It’s obvious that many of them hold positions of responsibility on the local media.  Of course it also helps when one also doesn’t have any kind of memory. 

The same people who help the Tribune Co.’s marketing campaign are the same people who can’t remember from year to year how well the White Sox draw during various months of the season.  They can’t tell you that the peak months for Sox ticket sales are June through August. 

No, they’re too wrapped up in the Cubs experience.  They’re too wrapped up in the Mecca that is Wrigleyville.  Mike Murphy can almost be forgiven for his stupid question on Friday, but the same can’t be said for his sidekick, self-proclaimed Sox fan Fred Huebner. 

Why doesn’t he point out these little details?  An on-air argument in which the Sox fans blasts every false premise proposed by the Cubs fan would be great radio.  Unfortunately Huebner’s memory is as just as short, or even shorter, than everyone else in the local media.  He forgets these little points. 

And that’s why lately I’ve been spending less time listening to those two clowns and spending more time listening to the return of Tommy Edwards and Larry Lujack.  “Celebrity Worship” and “Animal Stories” are a whole lot more entertaining than listening to the same old Sox attendance rants every day. 


Editor's Note: Hal Vickery has been a White Sox fan since 1955 when he was five years old. For much of that time he also had a secondary rooting interest in the Cubs, which he has shown the good sense to abandon. When not cheering for or writing about the Sox, Hal teachers chemistry and physics at North Boone High School, in Poplar Grove, IL. Hal commutes there daily from Joliet, where he lives with his wife Lee, and their dog, Buster T. Beagle. Hal's opinions are not necessarily those of North Boone High School, his wife, or Buster T. Beagle. You can write Hal at hvickery@svs.com.

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