- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox have been in first place most of the season, but as September nears, they still haven’t gained much steam at the gate.
The Sox’s attendance woes have been well-documented -- they are averaging 24,506 fans, 24th-best figure in baseball -- but even Sox employees have been surprised at the low numbers with the first-place Yankees in town this week.
The White Sox drew 27,561 for Monday’s game and 24,247 on Tuesday. With a chance for the first home sweep over the Yankees in 21 years, the Sox drew 26,042 Wednesday for a series average of 26,319.
Is that bad?
Not really, given some context. While the Yankees are one of the most popular draws in baseball, they lead the league with an average road attendance of 34,760, when they visit U.S. Cellular Field, the schedule matters more than the records.
How much? About 10,000 fans per game depending on whether it’s a weekday or weekend series.
Since 2007, during the previous three weekday series when the Yankees were in town, the series averaged 27,717 fans.
During the last two weekend series, which included one Thursday game, the series average was 37,351.
White Sox Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Brooks Boyer declined comment through a PR representative, and when an ESPNChicago reporter approached him, he politely said he had an appointment to keep on the field.
In mid-May after the Sox drew 23,358 for a Tigers game on a half-price Monday, Boyer blamed the lagging attendance on fans’ dissatisfaction.
"You have to ask yourself, is price the biggest factor?" Boyer said. "I don't think price is the biggest factor on a value Monday. If people aren't there on a day like last night, when prices are half the regular price, is it price? Maybe we need to do more to get the trust of our fans."
Since then, the Sox have certainly tried. The Sox came into the game with a 67-55 record, 34-26 at home. Prices, thanks in part to the new dynamic ticket pricing plan, were high for this series. On Wednesday, tickets ranged from $28-$29 in the upper deck to $85 in the lower level. Five price-points were between $41 and $55.
Sox attendance has been sliding since the 2006 honeymoon season, when the Sox drew nearly 3 million fans, or an average of 36,511. Last year, the Sox drew an average of 24,705 fans, losing 193,261 paid tickets from the previous season.
Last season, the Yankees came in town for a four-game series from Monday-Thursday, Aug. 1-4, and the average crowd was 24,441. The Sox were below .500 during the waning days of the Ozzie Guillen regime.
In 2010, when the Sox were 10 games over .500 and the series fell over the weekend, Aug. 27-29, the series averaged a robust 38,947.
In 2009, the Sox were in third, barely over .500, but the series ran Thursday-Sunday July 30-Aug. 2, and the Sox averaged 36,155.
In 2008, when the Sox were in first place the early-season series ran Tuesday-Thursday and the Sox only drew 26,669. In 2007, with the Sox languishing in fourth in early June, the series ran Monday-Thursday and the Sox drew 31,779.
Do players notice when the ballpark is full of empty green seats? Of course. But what can they do?
“As players, it’s nice to have the crowd,” Paul Konerko said. “And the fans that do come out are great, they’re loud and they’re into it. So it’s always tough to get on anyone, because they’re here. I think we still feel like they’ll come. If we keep playing well and obviously when we get closer to the end, they probably will. It just really doesn’t factor into a player’s day, worrying about the attendance.”
When it was suggested that Sox fans are staying home to watch the games to catch Hawk Harrelson’s TV call, Konerko laughed.
“Maybe,” he said. “I listened to him for nine days (when he was on the disabled list). It was awesome. i was lucky enough to catch Wimpy (Tom Paciorek) stepping in for Stoney (Steve Stone), so it was a bonus.”
Maybe that’s a solution. Pipe Hawk into the sound system. Eh, that’s probably a “stretch.”