Mending the Sox

A summer-long stint in first place hasn’t been enough to sell out the Cell. What would it take? Six experts opine.

 Illustration: John Ueland

For most of this past summer the White Sox have had the best record in baseball-and yet they couldn’t sell out the recently renovated 40,615-seat U.S. Cellular Field. At press time the highest paid attendance was 39,610 on June 24th, when the Pale Hose pulverized the Cubs, 12-2. Through July, the average attendance was 27,910. We asked some marketing experts and a couple of pinch hitters what the Sox could do to get the word out next season.

PLAYER: Lor Gold, executive VP and chief creative officer
TEAM: Draft Chicago integrative marketing
STATS: Clients include Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble
GAME PLAN: Position the Sox better as a South Side team. “South Siders are not feeling welcome since the stadium was ripped down. You have to build a new tradition-fast.” Schedule ballplayer personal appearances in schools and elsewhere. Free admission for kids with paid adult after the first inning; everyone gets in free after the second inning (to fill empty seats). “No more crazy disco nights and things like bringing your dog to the park. How about bringing a kid?”
EXTRA BASES: A new ad campaign aimed at old South Side fans would say, “We miss you. We want you back.”
OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Has been married to a Sox fan for 30 years.

PLAYER: David Blumberg, account supervisor
TEAM: Manning, Selvage & Lee public relations in Chicago
STATS: Group effort from one of the country’s largest PR firms, whose clients include the U.S. Army, General Motors, Nestlé, and Nike
GAME PLAN: Make it more fun to go to the stadium. Hold Taste of Chicago–type events in Lot B with live music and food from South Side restaurants. Get 30 party buses decked out with large White Sox logos and libations to shuttle fans to games.
EXTRA BASES: A “Sox Wishes” contest, in which fans can submit ideas to the Web site, where they are voted on. Each Saturday a winner lives out his or her dream, such as proposing at home plate, skydiving into the park, or being beer guy for a day.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Meet-and-greets with players at Navy Pier and Daley Plaza, where they hand out free ticket packages to a lucky few.

PLAYER: Mike North, sports radio personality
TEAM: WSCR-AM (670)
STATS: Lifelong Sox fan, onetime hot dog vendor
GAME PLAN: Edgy new promotions, such as Harry Potter book–burning night (“Like Disco Demolition, only you get in free if you bring a book"); No Bra Tuesdays (“Women who aren’t wearing bras get in for half price"); and Cremation Night (“Anybody who’s lost a loved one can scatter their ashes at home plate: bring an urn, get in free").
EXTRA BASES: Cubs Gear Night (“Anybody that brings in Cubs anything, gets in free")
OUT OF LEFT FIELD: First job, at 16, was selling hot dogs at Comiskey Park and Wrigley Field.

PLAYER: Jamie Shuttleworth, senior VP, director of planning
TEAM: Foote Cone & Belding, Chicago advertising agency
STATS: Group effort by the Chicago office, whose clients include KFC, Coors, Kraft, and the Brookfield Zoo
GAME PLAN: Local loyalties are hard to change, so market “the best team in baseball” to visitors from out of town. “It’s a huge market to tap into. I can see tourists going home to Japan and telling people they’ve seen the best team in baseball. It would be a huge draw.” Target visitors through concierges, schedules printed on hotel keycard covers, et cetera.
EXTRA BASES: Shuttle them to the game on a Chicago gangland tour–style bus and “give them a great experience on the way there.”

PLAYERS: Molly Walker and Adam Kruse, senior research analysts and Cub fans
TEAM: MPG North America (the media planning and buying unit of the agency holding company Havas), in Boston
STATS: Clients include AutoZone, McDonald’s, and Volvo
GAME PLAN: Get a new slogan. Or two. Or three. “Chicago White Sox-Aim High!”; “Chicago White Sox-Give us a shot”; “White Sox-you bet we’ll win”; “White Sox-we drink even more down here!”; and “The Chicago White Sox-Our team will steal your heart. Our fans will steal your money.”
OUT OF LEFT FIELD: “White Sox-where you can be the DH! (But you can only hit opposing first-base coaches.)”

PLAYER: Matt Spiegel, president and founder
TEAM: Resolution Media, a Chicago search engine and direct marketing agency
STATS: Clients include Bosch Tools and Rand McNally
GAME PLAN: A new promotion called Upgrade Night, which is kept under wraps until that day. “You buy your tickets and you might be randomly selected to have your seats upgraded to box, behind home plate, or skybox. Not just one-offs, but they upgrade the entire park until they fill all of the unsold seats.”
EXTRA BASES: “It will generate excitement around getting to the park and wondering if that upper deck seat will really turn out to be on the first base line. The second effect is that it fills in all of the seats [in view of the TV cameras].”
OUT OF LEFT FIELD: Give away Cubs tickets at the game.

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