Tuesday conference call with Brooks
Starting a second thread, so the results from today's conference call don't get buried in the other thread. Here are the discussion points:
1. Brooks opened the call by saying the ticket price reductions are merely a first step. There will be a number of other announcements coming this offseason as the organization hopes to connect further with the fans. Their goal is to create a greater atmosphere in the ballpark. Obviously, that means getting more fans in the stands. Brooks said the Sox are aware some fans aren't attending as many games as in the past because their circumstances have changed, and the hope is the team can reconnect with those fans. At the same time, they hope to connect with and create new fans as well.
2. With regard to the surveys many of you filled out, the Sox weren't surprised by the results. Brooks said there weren't any "Oh, wow" moments where something was brought up that they didn't expect to see. Rich Luker, the guy the Sox hired to help them do the research, said he had never seen a group of fans respond to a survey the way Sox fans did. There were over 400 pages worth of comments. The biggest surprise of the whole process was the amount of detail the fans provided. The organization is grateful for the feedback, and it hammered home a lot of areas where they need to approve. Brooks said the organization is motivated to address the problem areas.
3. Believe it or not, ticket prices and parking fees weren't the most talked about thing in the 400 pages worth of comments. Rather, fans discussed the commitment of time it takes to attend a Sox game. It is not real easy to get to the ballpark, especially for fans in the suburbs with traffic and all. Add on top of that, you might need to leave work early to a get to a weeknight game, and because baseball doesn't have a clock, there's no predictability about when the game will end. Because of the economy and other factors, people have changed their habits over the last four or five years. Brooks said coming to a Sox game has become like going to Great America for some people -- it's a once-in-a-summer kind of thing. Obviously, that's not what the organization wants. They need to change people's habits back, and they know pricing isn't the silver bullet to fix the problem. It's a combination of things to form a better connection with fans: Pricing, improving the ballpark experience, better broadcasts, more interaction between fans and players, etc.
4. With regard to the depth of the price cuts, they studied where they rank in MLB in terms of their pricing, and they determined they had the fourth-highest prices for bleachers and outfield seats in MLB. Way too high. At the same time, they were in the lower quarter or the lower third of MLB in terms of pricing in the prime seats in between the skins of the infield. They wanted to bring their prices back line with being around the 50 percentile mark for all of MLB.
5. With regard to the TV broadcasts, Brooks said too much is made of Hawk and Steve sitting so far apart from each other in the booth. Nobody should read anything into that because the space between the two is the result of electronic equipment, stacks of paper, etc. Brooks said both Hawk and Steve have had to make adjustments in order to make the broadcast better. There are three things the Sox want both the TV and radio broadcasts to do: 1) Teach the game, 2) Paint a picture and 3) Sell the experience. They want these guys to give the fans a feel for what is going on in the ballpark, both in the stands and on the field. They want people who are watching on TV or listening on the radio to realize the game is more fun when you're there in person. The Sox want the broadcasts to make you as a fan want to come to the ballpark more often.
6. The question about the Red Line being closed next season was posed, and Brooks noted the Green Line will remain operational as an option for those who desire to use public transportation. They are looking at possibly having a shuttle running to and from the 35th Street Green Line stop before and after games. Since it is only a couple blocks away, the Sox are also looking at ways to make sure it is safe and easy to walk those two blocks. JB98 makes that walk after every game and sees no reason for concern, but apparently it's an issue for some folks.
7. The surveying isn't done. The Sox are looking at everything from the moment we as fans step on the grounds of the ballpark, whether it's outside the stadium, the in-game experience, the in-between-innings entertainment, the music. All of these things are going to be looked at, and fan input will be sought. Brooks noted a lot of the stuff in between innings is sponsored, and they want to maximize the benefit the sponsors are getting. By no means do they want to have things the fans look upon as frivolous.
8. Concession prices for next year have not been addressed yet. Obviously, they compare what they are charging to other sports venues in town and work with the vendors to come up with the pricing. That step has not been taken yet for the 2013 season. As far as the merchandising, they've taken steps to make sure the pricing at Chicago Sports Depot and in the ballpark is competitive with "the guys down the street" and other retailers.
9. On the topic of dynamic pricing, Brooks said it wasn't a big issue in their study. He did note there were a number of fans who just wanted to know what the price was going to be. The response to that is the $20 tickets in the corner of the lower deck and the $7 tickets in the corner of the upper deck. Those prices are fixed for 78 of the 81 games, Opening Day and the two home games against the Cubs being the exception. He also said the Sox need to do a better job of communicating with the fans to make them understand prices don't always go up on the day of the game. Sometimes they do go down depending on the demand. They obviously don't want to be in a situation where the pricing always goes down, because then no one would ever buy a ticket early. Brooks said with the fixed pricing in the upper deck, you can now get a family of four into the ballpark (with parking included) for less than $50. They want to get more young fans into the ballpark, and there will be more youth-focused initiatives announced later in the offseason.
10. The prime and premier games are a thing of the past. There will be no more labeling of games. Everything is just going to be dynamically priced. A lot of fans didn't go to, say, the Yankees games because of the premier pricing. Brooks noted that the cheapest tickets were the ones that didn't sell for those games, which seems counterintuitive, but it's clear those labels dissuaded certain fans from attending certain games.
11. Brooks said the fan's attitude toward the on-field product has changed in a year's time. Coming off the 2011 season, there was a lot of discontent about the won-loss record. This year's survey didn't indicate anything of the sort. In fact, the survey showed winning was NOT the fans' top priority. Rather, people want a team that competes hard and represents the fan base. The survey showed that is more important than the winning and losing. Brooks acknowledged that some people might respond to that by thinking he's been spending too much time drinking in his office. He acknowledged that winning is very important, and it's the most important thing for some fans. However, factors beyond winning and losing are more important for more fans. Brooks added that doesn't mean there is going to be any shift in the goals of the baseball operations department. They know they need to win.
12. Some interesting comments about the advertising campaigns. Brooks said they knew they had no momentum coming off a 2011 season that was a disaster in every way. As a matter of fact, they had an Adam Dunn commercial that never aired that year because of his struggles at the plate. Because of the discontent with the team, they thought it would be very challenging to put the players out there in any sort of advertising campaign. They had the two Robin spots early in the season to re-introduce him to the market, and then they built the "Appreciate the Game" campaign around the fans. They hired Poptent to create four spots, and those are the television ads we all saw throughout the season. They didn't involve the players in any of those spots, but they believe having a winning year this season gives them a chance to have the players start talking to the fans again. People are pleased with what Robin has done with the team. You have a budding ace in Chris Sale, Dunn and Rios produced closer to career norms, etc. So, we will see the players become involved in the advertising campaigns again for 2013.
13. There was one other question about season-ticket holders and dynamic pricing. There remains a gap between the STH price and the individual game pricing. Brooks said on only the rarest occasions would a dynamically-priced ticket sell for less than the STH price. Obviously, they want to encourage people to buy season plans, and the best way to do that is to convince people the best value resides in the ST packages.
JB's attendance record:
2004: 14-5; 2005: 16-8; 2006: 19-10; 2007: 8-12; 2008: 15-7; 2009: 6-13; 2010: 12-11; 2011: 9-8; 2012: 11-7; 2013: 8-9; 2014: 0-0; Total: 118-90.
Next game: March 31 vs. Minnesota
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