Changing the dialogue about attendance

Kenny Williams said something interesting and out of character Thursday about the White Sox continually (six years in a row) flagging attendance, and how the organization plans to arrest the trend.

From Mark Gonzales of the Tribune:

“If I had to characterize this offseason, it’s not just the product we have to focus on putting on the field,” general manager Ken Williams said Wednesday. “It’s also the product we’re delivering to our fans to make them spend their discretionary dollars on our club and come to our park. It works hand in hand.”

“But I’m not about to point the finger, especially nowadays with the economy the way it is. I know they were watching or rooting at home because I’ve heard (they were).”

It’s a surprisingly unique perspective these days in Chicago, because it identifies the people selling the tickets and crafting the product as responsible for low sales, not the consumer.

However, it would have also been odd for Williams to parrot cries of “What more could they want?” about Sox fan apathy, given how upfront he’s been about being disappointed with his team missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

“We had a shot,” Williams said. “Had we gotten in, we would have matched up against every team better than we matched up against the teams of the last two weeks. If we could have just played .500 for the last two weeks. So when someone says it’s been a successful year, I’m like, no, you just don’t know. Shoot. It’s not. The only thing I take away from this now is disappointment.”

“They’re always in it!” is hardly a quality to hang one’s hat on as a GM in the AL Central, but now that Kenny is no longer the GM, he’s in a good position to start moving from his previous life of pushing the notion of quid pro quos of attendance-for-winning teams.

The all-in theme of 2011 pushed that on with gusto.  Williams was part of the effort, but the team standing on the amount of responsibility fans should feel was worded most directly by Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf:

“The term all-in I think really makes some sense here. If we draw what we drew last year, we will lose a lot of money. We decided to make a bet that if we put this team together the way we have, that it’ll contend and that people will come out and support it.”

But Williams worked solo to buildthe narrative about the White Sox requiring high-attendance in order to be players at the trade deadline.

White Sox general manager Ken Williams said his ability to make trades and add salary for a second-half pennant drive continues to depend on ticket sales, which have been lagging at U.S. Cellular Field even though the Sox are in first place.

“Yes,’’ Williams said. “I don’t want to expound. Then I get buried because I’m crying about money.’’

This wasn’t just putting the responsibility on fans to support the team, it was doing so while pushing a notion that teams are deciding their player budget month-to-month.  Cee Angi of The Platoon Advantage dismissed this idea just this past August.

“It’s a myth to assume that less people in the stands affects player payroll in a meaningful manner, especially in the age of revenue sharing. It’s important that we don’t confuse attendance with financial success.”

That’s why it’s particularly interesting to see Williams eschewing the attendance shaming narrative, because he’s done so very much to build it.  It’s going to take more than one end-of-season statement to undo years of hard work.


Follow James Fegan on Twitter @ JRFegan.  Also check out his full-time, daily blog, White Sox Observer


Tags: Attendance Chicago White Sox Kenny Williams

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