CHICAGO -- The White Sox, like every club, believe that if the organization puts a competitive team on the field, the fans will come to U.S. Cellular Field.
But that concept did not hold true in 2012, when 1,965,955 watched a White Sox squad that sat atop the American League Central for 117 days. As a result, the White Sox have begun aggressive steps to reach out to their fan base and entice more people to attend games in 2013.
On Thursday, the White Sox released the first step in this program by announcing the dramatic lowering of ticket prices. Bleacher and outfield reserve sections will have the biggest drop in 2013 season-ticket prices, as they are falling 32 and 30 percent. As an example, four full-season 2013 bleacher tickets will cost $2,800 less than in 2012.
Full-season tickets will be available for as low as $810/per seat and split-season plans for as low as $297/per seat (both Upper Reserved). On split-season tickets, all 27-game plans are decreasing in price by more than 25 percent on average.
One of the biggest changes is that corner seats in the lower deck will be available for $20 per game and upper-deck corner seats will be available for $7 on a daily basis all season long (excluding only Opening Day and the two Cubs games in May), which accounts for nearly 5,000 seats per game. The cost of parking also is being dropped to $20, down from $25 and $23.
"Step 1 was to connect further with fans who did come out here, and reconnect with fans who weren't coming, to create new ones," said White Sox senior vice president of sales and marketing Brooks Boyer. "People's habits have changed. When they are coming. How many times. We are trying to reverse that, or change their habits.
"Price was a big factor, price of parking was a big factor. We brought parking down. We are doing things to make the ballpark experience better, and we are really fired up about getting to the season to get people out there and really enjoy the White Sox experience."
The process didn't happen overnight, as the White Sox began in August by commissioning a comprehensive research project from Rich Luker, who is the creator of The ESPN Sports Poll, author of "Simple Community," and the Up Next trend columnist for Sports Business Journal.
Luker helped examine White Sox fan sentiments on a variety of issues, ranging from ticket prices to other factors affecting the decision to attend White Sox games.
"There's no silver bullet," said Boyer of the White Sox attendance, which has declined for six straight years since setting the franchise record of 2,957,414 in 2006. "It's not pricing that is going to take us from where we are to 2.5 million and beyond."
Boyer said that time commitment is the No. 1 factor in influencing fans going to games, followed by price of tickets, price of parking and what is spent at the ballpark. The White Sox can't control how long it takes for fans to get to games, nor can they control the length of a game.
They can take the results of Luker's research and develop a new ticket-pricing model that provides fans more value opportunities to attend games. More than 87 percent of all full-season tickets for the 2013 season are either dropping in price or staying the same. More than 54 percent of the full-season tickets are dropping an average of 26 percent.
The overall economy certainly is a factor in the drop in attendance. But Boyer pointed out that the Tigers drew more than 3 million people this past season in a geographic region with greater financial distress than Chicago. So the White Sox are doing whatever they can to make U.S. Cellular Field a destination, instead of an occasional summer stopping point.
Additional announcements regarding pricing for seven- and 14-game ticket plans, and individual tickets will come later this offseason. While Boyer is determined to reach new fans, any effort to increase attendance starts with fans that already support the Sox in person.
"Those are the people we want to be aggressive for. They created the atmosphere," Boyer said. "When we had 22,000 or 23,000 on a given night, they made it feel like 35,000 by being so into it. We want to create a better atmosphere for our terrific fans.
"Nothing is magical about [drawing] 2 million. That should be [a] bare minimum. Of course, it's disappointing when attendance decreases and we have a good year. Attendance was going to be what it was going to be, as long as we maximize each day to the best and support payroll.
"Fans matter, they make a difference," Boyer said. "We want to give every fan an opportunity to make that difference and create that special atmosphere or culture."