Chicago baseball's sales pitch
Cubs, White Sox face different challenges moving tickets for sub-.500 teams
CHICAGO -- It was perfect baseball weather Monday night, 70 degrees with clear skies, and the price at U.S. Cellular Field was just as welcoming: half-off.
But the announced attendance was just 23,358 for a mid-May game against division rival Detroit Tigers. And that's a problem. Even worse, it was the Chicago White Sox's fourth-best gate in 19 home games. The only three better came in the opening series of the season.
"You have to ask yourself, is price the biggest factor?" Sox vice president and chief marketing officer Brooks 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."
The White Sox suffered a major attendance decrease last season, losing 193,261 fans from the previous season. Their per-game average of 24,705 was nearly 12,000 less than in 2006. Boyer wouldn't reveal season ticket numbers, but admitted they are their lowest since the 2005 season.
White Sox fans are known to be tough customers, and Boyer thinks the drop has as much to do with fans' reticence as it does with the team's performance, which hasn't been good.
"I think there are a couple of things," he said. "No. 1, there's the commitment. Baseball is a commitment of time. The other thing is, how easily can you get rid of tickets you're not using? Can you go to the secondary market and make back your money or a portion of the money? Last year, our performance, we were 'All-In' but our play wasn't overly inspiring. It frustrated a lot of people."
Now with Adam Dunn hitting bombs and Ozzie Guillen dropping expletive bombs in Miami, the Sox are treading water. According to baseballreference.com, through 19 home games, the Sox are down 1,755 fans from this time last season, dropping from an average of 22,050 to 20,295, which puts them among the bottom four in baseball.
Boyer said they planned for a slow start after a drop in season ticket renewals, even as they cut season ticket prices by nearly 29 percent. How do these numbers affect fans? With attendance like that, it might be tough for the White Sox to expand payroll anytime soon.
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"We knew in the offseason we would be challenged because of what was happening with renewals," Boyer said. "This isn't all that big of a shock to us. The biggest telltale sign will be in June when school is out. We'll see how the team is performing and see what walk-ups look like."
Boyer said walk-up sales have been strong for games with premium giveaways, and the team is trying to remind fans that available tickets are dynamically priced, which means they can go up or down, price-wise, depending on the demand or a special event. There is a dynamic price button on the front page of the website. Boyer said some of the outfield seats have dipped below season ticket prices, which is rare.
"That's our job," Boyer said. "To try and communicate that the best we can. We want to try and get people to go to whitesox.com first, rather than Google "cheapest White Sox tickets" or go straight to StubHub. Our tickets are dynamically priced and competitive with those on the secondary market."
The White Sox are testing out ticket delivery via credit cards with a Fan Pass program that is being test-driven through complimentary tickets. Fans get ticket information sent to their credit cards and use them to enter the game. Tickets are then printed out at the gate, like boarding passes at the airport.
While the White Sox are trying to draw attention to available seats at relatively low prices, the Cubs' biggest problem is informing fans that higher-priced seats are still available for this weekend's Cubs-Sox series.
Just a smattering of single bowl tickets are available for Saturday and Sunday, according to the team's website, along with a good amount of bleacher seats (one can buy the maximum 19 seats online). Friday's game offers more inventory across the stadium.
Colin Faulkner, the Cubs' vice president of ticket sales, said the Cubs are "battling the perception that the BP Crosstown Cup is sold out."
"It's easy to take a quick look at the secondary market and see the bulk of tickets are selling above face value," Faulkner said. "So I think people don't know there are tickets available this weekend. It's something different. People aren't used to knowing there are tickets available."
The secondary market is flooded with expensive tickets. According to Will Flaherty, director of communications for secondary ticket website SeatGeek (seatgeek.com), this series is being priced as one of the most expensive at Wrigley in the last three years. The average price for a weekend ticket on the secondary market is $127.47. Last year's Cubs-Sox series had a final average of $106, and in 2010, that average was $92.67.
Cubs tickets haven't been flying off the virtual shelves on the secondary market. Outside of Opening Day, when the average ticket was $132, the most expensive average ticket for any Cubs game was $72.73 for a Dodgers game on May 5, Flaherty said.
Interestingly, both teams' tickets have sold for similar amounts on the secondary market, according to SeatGeek. The Cubs rank 13th with an average resale price of $55.43, while the White Sox are 15th at $52.80. To compare, Boston has a resale average of $79.25.
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The Cubs' multi-tiered pricing structure makes this crosstown series quite expensive. For this series, which is in the Cubs' highest tier, a single bleacher seat costs $96.54 for Friday's game, $132.38 for Saturday and $115.58 Sunday. An upper-deck box infield seat for Friday costs $89.82. All prices include tax and fees. And if you're really feeling the excitement about seeing top sub-.500 teams, dugout box seats are available at $379.90 per ticket.
The Cubs have had some smaller-than announced crowds throughout the early portion of the season, but according to those announced numbers, they are drawing 2,299 more fans than last season, through 19 games, and are in the top 10 in attendance at 37,086 per game. Faulkner said they are happy with their sales. The Cubs kept prices static for most of the ballpark, while dropping prices in the bleachers.
Cubs vice president of communications Julian Green said there will be "enhanced" security for the series, which takes place at the same time as the NATO meetings downtown, but nothing that will hinder fans enjoying the game. There also won't be a block party for this game, depriving fans of a chance to take a picture with the BP Cup.