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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Brooks Gets It!
by Hal Vickery

Brooks Boyer gets it. He has spent a lot of time talking to the fans since taking over as marketing director of the White Sox, and he has listened. That was apparent during his appearances at SoxFest last week and in an interview this week appearing on the Sox website.

One thing Boyer has done that his predecessor never did was actually talk to the fans. He appeared on the radio early and often after taking over the job. During those appearances, he gave his email address. From a perusal of posts on the WSI message boards since those first days, it is obvious that a lot of fans have responded.

In the interview on the Sox website, , Boyer let the fans know that he listens to all of their suggestions, and acts on the ones that have promise. He noted, “People have all sorts of ideas--some of them good, some of them bad. Some of them we could use. Some of them that might be good enough to polish up and do certain things. I know that there's no way to make everyone happy all the time.”

The key is the ability to discern the good ideas and those that can be improved upon to make good ideas. The Sox are marketing to a different audience than their North Side competition for entertainment dollars. In recent years, the other ball park in town has become the “World’s Largest Beer Garden.” The Sox are marketing to families.

Therein lies the challenge for Boyer. There are now four other ball clubs in the Chicago area marketing to the same audience as the Sox: the Kane County Cougars in Geneva, the Windy City Thunderbolts in Crestwood, the Joliet Jackhammers, and the Gary Southshore Railcats. All market to families at a much lower price.

To the avid baseball fan, there is a big difference between seeing a prospect, or former prospect, or possible future prospect in one of the minor league venues and a major leaguer. However, the skill level of the ball players doesn’t matter much to a child of five or six. What matters to the child is the entertainment.

Kids love to pose for pictures with mascots like Ozzie (of the Cougars) or Jammer (of the Jackhammers). At SoxFest the number of little kids swarming around the Sox mascot Southpaw was amazing. And unlike a couple of former Sox mascots, whoever is under the costume has a sense of comedy.

At the Windy City Sox Fans booth, we have bowls of candy and bubble gum that kids can take. At one point Southpaw came by the booth and gestured toward the bowls. I gave my standard response: “Take all you want.”

Southpaw’s response was perfect. He made a gesture as if to say, “Really?” Then he picked up the bowl and put it and its contents in his mouth, rubbing his stomach. Everyone thought it was pretty funny.

The addition of Southpaw last summer, coupled with the new “Fundamentals” area the Sox will be adding this spring, will help make the Sox better able to compete on a more level playing field with their lower priced competition.

Boyer did not address another key issue in the interview: ticket pricing. The Sox have gone the same route as many other major league clubs by charging different rates for various games. The north siders have been doing this for several years. Weekend games cost more, as do games with certain opponents. Monday games are still half price, but Tuesday games no longer are discounted.

Believe it or not, this was a good move, one that Boyer addressed as early as last summer, when he revealed that the half-price Tuesdays were under scrutiny. Those were the games that seemed to have the most problems with rowdy fans. There is a reason for that, one that WSI’s George Bova has written about for several years.

The preponderance of half-price tickets says something about the franchise. Unfortunately what it says is, “We can’t get fans to come out here, so we’re going to let you in for less.” It’s begging for fans at its worst. It makes the Sox second-class citizens. Worse, the price range on those half-price nights is approximately what fans would pay to see a AAA game.

In the Sox’ latest radio commercial, that issue is dealt with, and the message is, “You’d better get your tickets early because if you don’t, you might not get what you want come June or July.” It’s a whole lot better than the half-price strategy that told fans, “We know you don’t want to see us, so we won’t encourage you to buy tickets in advance. We’ll let you buy cheap tickets on the day of the game.”

The Sox have depended far too much on walk-up sales for far too long. This was a move that was overdue, and Boyer had the courage to make it.

In addition, for the first time, the Sox actually began selling multi-game packages before SoxFest. In fact, nine and thirteen game packages went on sale in November, the same time the local minor league clubs put there ticket packages on sale. Some complained that the choice for package games was limited this year, but the minor league clubs are even more strict, going so far as giving a list of dates for the entire package. By contrast, the Sox deal offers much more freedom of choice.

Then as a kicker, Boyer did one other thing. He got the jump on the Cubs. Sox tickets went on sale a full month before Cubs tickets. Individual game tickets went on sale at SoxFest and at the ball park on January 15. This is perfect marketing.

This year SoxFest preceded the north siders’ convention. The story going around at SoxFest was that new hotel management had messed up convention dates, putting the Sox gathering two weeks early, and a week before the other club’s. If it was a blunder, the Sox need to follow up on it. For once SoxFest preceded the Super Bowl. The Sox were the only game in town. They had a huge fan gathering, and they were selling tickets. They got the drop on the other club.

To make things even sweeter, for those fans who were unable to go to SoxFest but who wanted to purchase tickets on the first day they were available, Aaron Rowand and Paul Konerko were there to greet fans, bringing a little bit of SoxFest to the winter chill outside of The Cell.

In the interview, Boyer discussed how the experience at a Sox game is different from that on the North Side. His response says a lot: “We will be something completely different from Wrigley Field. There's no comparison. We have too much stuff here. The Wrigley Field experience can't compare itself to us. They don't have a Diamond Vision. They don't have the technology we have. They don't have the organist we have. They have an organ, but they don't have the organist we have.

“They don't have the Fundamentals deck. They don't have the Conference and Learning Center. They don't have terrace suites like we have. We have certain things that they don't have that makes our experience unique. I don't ever find myself comparing us against the Cubs because the experiences are so different.”

Of course the first thing that struck me was the obvious appreciation of Nancy Faust which was sadly lacking in the past when a high level employee , responding to the fact that people line up outside her booth during the game, said, “Maybe the other ninety-nine percent of the people in the seats think she stinks.” In fact, last week Nancy made her first appearance at SoxFest in over ten years.

Something else then struck me. Sox fans need to stop being defensive about the cell. We need to quit listening to and making comparisons between the two ball parks in town. We need to appreciate what we have. If Brooks Boyer has done nothing else, he has pointed that out, and it was long overdue.

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

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