“Damn, I was enjoying being the only committed row in the section, ” said Chris Lamberti of White Sox Observer Wednesday as our next-seat neighbors departed in disgust during the walk-athon loss to the Indians that lost the AL Central lead for the White Sox.
Previously, we had been part of the only completely full row–or at least the closest to the field–in beautiful section 141, and Chris was lamenting the further deterioration of support. It was an important game, and it’s cool to have big, energetic crowds at important games. At that moment, our analysis wasn’t extending much beyond that level.
Nor does this statement.
— Jonathan Eig (@jonathaneig) September 27, 2012
I have to give a hat-tip to Jim Margalus of South Side Sox for pointing this out, because I stopped following Eig of ChicagoSide Sports for some other comment that I cannot remember. It’s disappointing that the White Sox fanbase didn’t show up during the home stretch; it certainly bummed out the players. But it was also oddly prescient of the fans to hide out of sight considering what’s unfolded, and Eig is opening up a whole different bag of cats with this “deserves” talk.
It juxtaposes fans as needing to show some investment–of their presence, and thus their money– into a successful team, which is an assertion I think I can limit myself to having just three problems with.
1. The financial commitment of fans toward the White Sox can’t really be questioned, since it’s built in. They paid for the ballpark that they choose to infrequently visit at high-end prices. They even recently paid for the overpriced bar that was recently wedged onto it, just to provide some support to the Sox budget. The city populace is hardly sitting off to the side while Reinsdorf holds a bake sale so he can afford to fly out prospects to the Arizona Fall League.
2. Fans are consumers, not stakeholders. They neither are responsible for building the product nor do they profit off of its success. Fandom and loyalty to a team makes winning sweeter, but acting as if being a ‘loyal fan’–a concept exploited in marketing endlessly–is behavior that is owed in any way, shape, or form is contrary to how a consumer economy is supposed to work, and exactly how we wind up in situations where owners have their fill of their state budget and its written off as the cost of having a team. A good product should draw consumers, and be maintained in order to keep them, not vice versa.
3. The White Sox exceeded our (us being the people rabid enough to read independent blogs on the team) miserable expectations for their season, but that may be taking a far too micro view of things. What exactly did the Sox do drastically differently this season that should have smashed away conceptions of them to fans who had written them off, or weren’t stirred into the pre-season sales market when Kenny Williams talked of rebuilding and returned all of their old tormentors from the year before?
I have been writing about this team for three years now, and have seen the same season three time with different dressings on–slow, enthusiasm-draining start, mid-season run to enter playoff discussion, dispiriting end-of-year fade. Expectations were certainly managed well enough that many were overjoyed by the prospects of this team grabbing a surprise playoff spot in the worst division in baseball, but apparently the same slightly-above average but non-elite product of the last five years wasn’t enough to spur a mid-season groundswell.
That’s what has to change to end this embarrassing slide into the bottom third of the league in attendance. Because skewering the customer base, assailing them for improper use of leisure funds, damning them for failing to be grateful for an expensive team with a pulse, is and will continue to be a non-starter.