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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

A plan to Save our Sox!

As I wrote in my last column, the Chicago White Sox are a team in serious trouble.  Railing against what they consider fair-weather fans, a biased media and others that would be considered enemies of the franchise is no solution.  These constant complaints have not helped the team during the last few years and have probably done a lot to hurt the cause.  A drastic change in attitude and philosophy has to happen within the organization if it has any serious thoughts about competing for the sports/entertainment dollar in Chicago.  Here is what I would do if the I owned the Chicago White Sox:

 Recognize that the average fan is the true backbone of the team.  Under this ownership, it became clear that the corporate fan and the season ticket holders were most important.  It does make sense that people who spend more on the team should have more perks.  They should have better parking, first shot at playoff tickets and so on.  However, the overwhelming majority of fans can’t afford skyboxes or season tickets.  And while they are not the economic backbone of the team as they once were, they are also the most loyal.  They don’t come to the ballpark because it is the in thing to do or because they want a tax write off.  These are the fans that have become truly alienated and it shows in attendance.

 Completely change the public relations face of the team.  The White Sox must stop this “us versus them” mentality.  No matter how unfair things may seem, it does no good to lash out.  This circling of the wagons only leaves the impression that the team takes no responsibility for the situation it faces.  Yes, fan support can be better.  However tepid fan support alone does not account for no World Series appearances in over 40 years.  Yes, the media is unfair sometimes.  However, no public person or enterprise gets completely fair media coverage.  Additionally, the media has supported Jerry Reinsdorf in the past and that includes the White Flag Trade.  The bottom line here is that criticism of the media and the fans has proved counter productive.  This dynamic has to change or the future of the Sox will remain in jeopardy.

 Make a real commitment to winning now and tell fans what the team really needs from them.  I agree totally with a recent WSI column written by Mark Liptak.  Mark suggested that the Sox hold a press conference, make a real financial commitment to building a winning team, give the fans an actual attendance number that is required for the team to be viable and say the clock is running.  If the White Sox make a true effort to put together a winning team, and the fans don’t come, then the team will have a real complaint.  Also then, if the team moves the fans will know that’s how a business has to operate sometimes.  But trying to build a winning team the cheap way won’t work on the field or at the gate.  It just isn't realistic to expect fans to be patient through years of rebuilding when the team hasn't won a World Series in 84 years.

 Act as a voice of reason in negotiations with the Players’ Union.  Baseball cannot afford another long work stoppage.  Again, no matter unfair things may seem, taking a hard line with the union will only severely damage baseball.  The White Sox were hurt the worst by the 1994 strike.  The team will really suffer if fans believe Jerry Reinsdorf is behind another strike or lockout.  We fans have been told that 1994 is ancient history.  It won’t be ancient history if the 2002 season is threatened in any way. 

 Truly mend fences with the fans.  The White Sox should send an edict to players and organization personnel.  Fan criticism should be limited to inappropriate fan behavior at the ballpark.  The term “fair-weather” should never be used.  Complaining about attendance should never occur.  Players should be told if they violate this edict, they will be traded.  Other White Sox employees will be fired.  This team desperately needs to re-connect with its fan base.  This will never happen if the team continually comes across as having a hatred for its own following.

As anyone can see from most of these suggestions, money is not involved.  It is matter of attitude and perspective.  At least the Sox have stopped their denial routine about Comiskey and are making changes.  Now, they need to make changes elsewhere.  For the sake of themselves, the team and the fans, it is time to recognize the old ways have not worked.  The future of the franchise depends on it.

Editor's Note:  Dan Helpingstine is a free lance writer living in Highland, Indiana.  In the early 80's, he worked as a stringer for The Times, then based in Hammond, Indiana, covering business-labor news.  For six years, he worked as a part-time sportswriter for the Merrillville Herald, a weekly that was a part of a chain of weeklies in Lake and Porter Counties.  He covered high school football and basketball.  In 1995, Helpingstine had a short story published in a murder mystery anthology entitled Murder Is My Business.  He also has had articles on the JFK murder published in the Post-Tribune of Gary.  His new book is titled "Through Hope and Despair."  It is the story of one fan's roller coaster ride with the luckless White Sox.

More features from Dan Helpingstine here!

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