White Sox’ rebuild generating ‘market momentum’

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Pitching coach Don Cooper remembers the roar of 2005, when good crowds flocked to U.S. Cellular Field to witness a World Series run.

Cooper, the only current staffer who popped champagne corks 13 seasons ago, wants to hear it again. In fact, he wants to feel a more noticeable buzz this season, even though the rebuilding White Sox aren’t expected to put a winning product on the field.

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“[Fan support] is important to us,’’ Cooper said between phone calls to season-ticket holders from Guaranteed Rate Field a couple of weeks ago. “When the stadium is packed — and not just on opening day — it energizes our players, as well as the coaches, and how much the players want to perform. I know because I’m in the dugout. They want to give the fans who come out the best.’’

Fans try to catch a home run by Tim Anderson against the Astros at Guaranteed Rate Field on Aug. 9, 2017. (AP)

“When it’s packed, it’s easy to perform for those fans,’’ shortstop Tim Anderson said. “The energy is already set from them.’’

When there are only 7,000 fans in the seats, “I like that, too, because you know who’s with you even when you’re losing,’’ Anderson said. “But I feel like we’re at the start of something good.’’

Everyone felt the energy around SoxFest last month, which sold out after two years of coming up short. It was spurred by the feel-good vibe around the rebuild, and it stayed strong during the first full-squad workout on a cool and breezy Monday at Camelback Ranch. Top prospects Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Luis Robert and Alec Hansen — to name a few — were the main attractions, but none of them figures to be in a Sox uniform on opening day. It’s too soon.

Even so, the rebuild seems to be generating ticket sales for the real games, which begin in five weeks.

Vice president for marketing and sales Brooks Boyer said the club doesn’t release specifics on season-ticket numbers, “but our season-ticket renewal rate has exceeded our expectations, and new season-ticket sales are pacing well ahead of last year [by one month].

“Obviously, the strong renewal rate and new sales, coupled with the fan enthusiasm for the team direction from SoxFest, give us reason to be optimistic. We still have a lot of work to do, but we certainly have some market momentum.’’

The long-standing belief that the Sox, who until last season consistently put competitive teams on the field or went down trying, would suffer badly at the gate if they didn’t win or make the effort to was refuted in 2017. They averaged 20,117 fans (13th of 15 American League teams) after averaging 21,559 (12th) in 2016, not much of a drop. By comparison, they averaged 28,924 in 2005 (seventh) and 36,511 (third) in the World Series coattails year of ’06.

It doesn’t hurt that tanking is in vogue, thanks to the Astros and Cubs making it work. Cooper said Sox fans are right to be buying in.

“We’re getting closer,’’ Cooper said. “It’s coming as a team. We’re going to be back.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.
Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

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