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WSI News - WSI Spotlight

Arizona Heat
by Pascal Marco

Bang for your Buck!

by Pascal Marco

It dawned on me as I watched my fourth White Sox Spring training game in six days that baseball truly is all about big business. And I’m not just talking about players’ salaries.

How about seven-dollar-and-fifty cent, 12-ounce beers, or eight-dollar, dried-out cheeseburgers? Don’t forget those three-dollar-and-fifty cent bottles of water. And that’s after you’re in the park. Good seats in the shade will cost you at least twenty-dollars-- much, much more if you scalp them as I did for the Sox vs. the Cubs at Ho Ho Kam Park.

Oh, and I almost forgot the double sawbuck it will cost you to park in an alley for games at Scottsdale Stadium.

Baseball--Cactus League baseball, that is--has become an expensive experience. Most fans come here, though, from out-of-town, on spring break from brutal Midwest or East Coast or Northwest winters. They’re here on vacation and expect to spend an extra buck or two because, well, because they’re on vacation.

Logic and reason seems thrown out the window when folks come to Arizona in the winter. But, still, overall, what kind of bang for your buck should you expect to get when you go to watch your favorite major league team play ball in the hot sun of a southwest winter?

As I sat through every game, three of them extra inning affairs, with my friend, Tony, who was attending the Cactus League Spring Training experience for the first time, I couldn’t help but wonder what the true reason for holding Spring Training should be.

As fans, are we willing to put up with mediocre baseball because we’re on vacation, no matter what the cost? Fans--serious fans, not Cubs fans--come to watch spring training games to see what the prospects are for their team the coming season. It’s the ultimate fantasy baseball league for rabid (and not so rabid fans), albeit it doesn’t drag on for 162 games, but is played out in a little less than a month.

Tony is a life-long Chicago guy who buys four, box seats right behind home plate at Comiskey (sorry, U.S. Cellular Field). He’s held the seats for as long as he can remember, and has them again for this coming year, too. I, too, was once a season ticket holder like Tony and many other die-hard Sox fans. I had bought what was the first 20 game package, introduced I believe for the 1983 season. I bought them because Sox ownership promised that for every seat you purchased you were guaranteed an additional seat for the 50th Anniversary All-Star Game, which was to be played that year at old Comiskey. Not really being able to afford it, I nevertheless signed on for two seats--second row from the right center field wall, right above the BULLPEN II sign stenciled in huge white letters on the green brick.

I remember my dad, a die-hard Sox fan, telling me how he had attended the very first All Star game in 1933 at Comiskey when he was 17. He watched Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and all the other memorable American League stars of the day, like the Sox’ own All Star, starting outfielder Al Simmons, against formidable National leaguers like Carl Hubbell and Cubs’ star Gabby Hartnett. My grand plan was to surprise my dad with the two extra tickets, one for him and one for my mom, which is just what I did. It was a great, great feeling to be able to do that for him that magical year of 1983 and the Sox winning the division championship was just icing on the cake.

I remained a season ticket holder through 1993, 11 seasons, until I moved to Arizona in 1994. It took the Sox 10 years to get back in the playoffs after demolishing the American League Central in 1983 when they finished 22 ½ games ahead, and yet they went down in ‘93 without a struggle, swept in three games by the Toronto Blue Jays.

After moving to Arizona, I missed not being able to attend baseball games when the 1994 season rolled around, but that strike year changed my heart about the game. The Sox looked like a shoe-in for back-to-back division titles in ’94, but the strike-shortened year dashed those hopes of them being in the playoffs in consecutive years, something they still have not accomplished in their storied history.

Which brings me finally to my point: Although my dad’s words (“There’s just certain questions you don’t ask, Son.”) were ringing in my ears, at our last spring game I blurted out the question to my friend anyhow. “How much do your season tickets cost you, Tony?”

“A lot,” came his curt reply, as if my question forced him to remind himself of just how large a check he had to send to the coffers of Mr. Reinsdorf, et al. He then rattled off a calculation, figuring in the cost of premium game vs. non-premium game tickets (something I personally think is one of the biggest con jobs in sports ticket pricing, where club ownership has determined that for some games, such as when the Yankees or Red Sox are visiting, those tickets will be sold at a “premium” price over and above the normal price of the ticket).

Then he added the cost of parking.

Sub-total: somewhere on the high side of $13,000.

This, of course, does not include the purchase of those uneventful U.S Cellular hot dogs and brats, over-priced beer, and cotton candy and popcorn that tastes left over from The South Side Hit Men days.

“Wow,” I thought. Then I asked him the question that maybe he really didn’t want to have asked. “Do you think you’re getting your money’s worth?”

Tony couldn’t answer me quickly enough. “I’ll tell you what, after what I’ve seen this spring, and after what I sat through last year, if these guys don’t put a competitive team on the field that shows me they want to win another championship, and does win another championship, then I’m not going to be a season ticket holder next year. I’m not going to sit through another season like ’07 ever again. That team let everyone down, even themselves. If they don’t perform this year, screw ‘em.”

There’s just something about Sox fans when it comes to spending their hard-earned money--wisely, that is. Cubs fans, and others who read this story, might think, “Hey, you’re not livin’ in the ‘70’s!” However, Sox fans are extremely cautious when it comes to throwing their money around, not like our counterparts on the North Side. The Cubs have committed over $800 million over the last 5 years trying to buy a championship and in that time have a cumulative record under .500.

Baseball fans love a statistic like that. So, here’s another one to mull over for a moment: Cactus League baseball brings in over $300 million dollars to the State of Arizona’s economy in a period a little more than a month long. A survey done by the Cactus League Baseball Association reported that San Francisco Giants fans spend the most per person while visiting for the 30 or so games, around $436 per day. The fans that spend the least? You guessed it--White Sox fans at $190 per day.

Are Sox fans cheap? One might easily conclude that. But I prefer to think of us as smart shoppers. We spend our money wisely on the highest quality product. If we find out that product doesn’t perform, we return it, and demand our money back. If only it could be that way with the Sox product Tony and thousands of others are buying this year. They bought and watched a quality product in 2005, one of the finest baseball championship teams of all-time, statistically at least. What happened to that team? Where have they gone?

Sox fans are buying another product to watch in ’08. If the quality’s not there again as it wasn’t last year, or lacks the drive to succeed, the desire to win it all again, then maybe season ticket holders should start demanding their money back.

Go Sox!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pascal Marco is a free-lance writer who splits his time between Scottsdale, Arizona (where he formed the Arizona Sox Posse in 2005), and Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Born and raised on Chicago’s South Side, he has been a Sox fan since the unforgettable Go-Go White Sox days and is a regular contributor to www.whitesoxinteractive.com. He can be reached at reply85254@aol.com.

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