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If you lower the price, they will come.
In an attempt to counter the lukewarm response to the White Sox's early-season success, the team's dynamic pricing strategy offered $5 seats last week for the Toronto series. Lo and behold, people showed up.
We sat high and deep in the right field corner last Wednesday in Section 508 - only slightly closer than Kankakee - where fans embraced the price break.
"If they keep doing this, we'll come out more," said Gerry Bardachowski of Plainfield, despite witnessing a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays. "We'll bring our grandchildren."
Bardachowski, who teaches at Bolingbrook High School and St. Xavier University, and his wife, Diane, are no strangers at the Cell. They attend about a dozen games a year, and price is a factor - "my limit is $30 to $35," he said - determining how many games they see and where they sit. They're already looking forward to the Minnesota series on July 23-25. According to Bardachowski, a $31 ticket in the lower deck of right field also includes a $10 voucher for food. Now that's dynamic!
Furthermore, the faraway vantage point didn't bother them. "I like them," he said of his seats in the third row. "I'm not sure I'd like to get 30 rows back, but these are fine."
Bardachowski was wearing a Sox hat and jacket with the discernible autograph of Ron Kittle adorning both items. It turns out that the former Sox slugger visited with Diane's father last March when her dad was in hospice care in Plainfield.
"He sat and talked with so many people," Diane said, adding that Kittle makes himself available for a number of similar visits every year. "My dad died the next day," she said, but the apparel will be handed down to future Bardachowskis.
Three generations of the Hmura family from New Lenox were sitting about ten rows behind the Bardachowskis. Three-year-old Reid was accompanied by his dad, uncle, and grandparents Tracy and Jeff. They read about the cheap - perhaps I should say "inexpensive" - seats in the Sun-Times.
"I paid $39 for five tickets," said Grandpa Jeff, explaining that taxes and a "convenience" fee were added. "I'd sit up here again. I don't think they [the seats] are bad at all. Tell them [the Sox] to do this more."
The largest group in the section belonged to third-graders, parents, and teachers from the Eberhart School at 65th and Kedzie. Since her class achieved the school's highest reading level, teacher Nancy Maldonado organized the excursion for the group of 51. This was only her second Sox game ever, and only one of her 24 students had ever been to the Cell.
So why not take the kids to Six Flags or the zoo?
"We're part of a South Side team, and we had to come to support them," said Maldonado with a touch of indignity that I had suggested a different reward for her scholars. Before coming to the game, the students "learned about innings and how to get to the game," said Maldonado. "We talked about the city's grid system [of streets]."
Being a school night, at the stroke of nine o'clock, it was time to leave, and the kids and their chaperones filed out.
Moments later the Jumbotron featured the Guess the Attendance contest. I've been to quite a few games this season, but this was the first time since Opening Day that I can recall management announcing how many people were in the park. Maybe I haven't been very alert, but I get the impression that the team hasn't been eager to call attention to the fact that the Sox rank ninth in the American League in attendance.
Wednesday's draw was announced at 25,672, which was the largest weekday attendance of the season until 25,743 watched the Sox beat the Jays the next night. The Sox usually don't draw many fans for Toronto, so obviously ticket prices resulted in a larger than usual crowd at the Cell.
After Dayan Viciedo struck out to end Brandon Morrow's two-hit mastery over our athletes, I asked the young usher at the exit whether she usually worked this section. She shook her head. "There's usually no one over here," she pointed out.
Much has been written about the apparent lack of fan interest in the 2012 White Sox, while the crosstown Cubs continue to draw close to 40,000. What's the big deal?
I get pumped up if the Sox draw a full house for a big game when the crowd is knowledgeable, noisy, and totally into it. But I also don't object to stretching out across adjoining empty seats when there's 20,000 people in the park, enjoying baseball in a relaxed, laid-back atmosphere like Sunday when few people were in Section 101, where we baked in the sun watching the Sox tumbled to the Astros.
I also am not concerned about ballplayers who claim they need motivation from big crowds. Again, just look to the North Side. Think the full houses are helping those guys? What about pride, talent, teamwork, professionalism, and a six-figure paycheck every two weeks? Thirty thousand fans a game would be nice, but the players have no control over that aspect of the game. They do have control over using their skills to reach their potential.
Furthermore, no one needs to worry whether the Sox will begin to draw more people as the summer marches on. The team is much better than anyone - except maybe the players themselves, who have newfound confidence under Robin Ventura - expected, and the wonders of dynamic pricing are not an illusion. Five-dollar tickets already are jump-starting attendance figures.
However, if the Sox remain in contention for a division championship, we'll see how dynamic the pricing will become. Management's disclaimer, "As the season progresses, ticket prices will be adjusted, either upward or downward, based on market demand," tells us that those attractive deals may disappear if the wins pile up and fans pack the Cell. Or, as Yogi Berra said, "No one goes there anymore, it's too crowded."
Roger Wallenstein is our man on the White Sox beat. He welcomes your comments.
1. From Frederick Nachman:
Another great column. Frank sat in that section for Game 1 of the World Series. The price was actually a bargain: $599. Got in on eBay the day of the game; everything else - including seats further back and some most likely with obstructed views - were going for $1,000.
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