An earlier version of me, maybe the 2000 through 2019 model, was both fascinated and appalled by the White Sox’ middling attendance numbers. Why couldn’t the franchise get it right, what were the factors involved and where the heck were Sox fans?
I can see now, from the perch of advancing age, that there’s only one question that matters: Who cares? The 2021 team is very good, and fans aren’t exactly filling Guaranteed Rate Field. Those empty seats negatively affect my life how? They don’t. They’re only troubling if Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf thinks they’re troubling. Given that he has been aware of the attendance issue for the 40 years he has owned the club, he’s probably at peace with the current and historical reality. He’s also at peace with being fabulously rich.
You could make the point that the pandemic is making the vaccinated leery of rubbing shoulders in the stands with the unvaccinated. You could also make the point that TV viewership of Sox games on NBC Sports Chicago is up significantly from the 2019 season, before the pandemic hit. Choose your measuring stick.
Again: Who cares? It has taken me all this time to figure out that the only numbers that matter are wins and losses.
What also matters is that the Sox haven’t beaten anybody good this season. Kidding! (I think.)
I detest the phrase “it is what it is.’’ But the attendance issue really is what it is, and, barring a meteor that wipes out any proof that the uber-popular Cubs ever existed, it will always be thus for the Sox.
And that’s OK.
Sox fans know who they are. They don’t care that you care that they don’t go to the ballpark in droves. They’re a tight, fiercely loyal, relatively small group of people who will not be told how to support their team. What the success of this year’s young, incredibly exciting club tells us is that Sox fans are going to support their team passionately and often virtually. History tells us they do this whether there’s a virus out there or not.
Since the Sox opened the ballpark to full capacity (40,615) on June 25, the team has averaged 27,110 fans in 19 games. Not great, not bad, pretty much what you’d expect from this franchise and its fan base. The number is not commensurate with a team that was 20 games over .500 before the 1-0 loss to the Twins on Wednesday in Minnesota. But it is commensurate with an organization that usually struggles to lure fans into the ballpark. Even during the 2005 World Series season, the Sox averaged 28,924 in attendance, seventh out of 14 American League clubs. This season, they’re fifth at 16,239, but that average is skewed by the earlier, pandemic-driven stadium restrictions.
Since the June 25 “reopening,’’ fans have flocked to Guaranteed Rate when the quality of opponent has been higher. Attendance for each of the six games against the Astros and Indians was above 34,000. The Sox went 4-2 in those games. The fans can take a partial bow for that. I can say I don’t care about the team’s attendance — and I don’t — but when the Sox need their fans’ full-throated voices, they’re there.
The Sox face four teams with winning records in the next two weeks, a huge test for a club that has feasted on below-average competition this season. Six of the games in that span are at Guaranteed Rate — two against the Yankees and four against the Athletics. You know what to do, Sox fans.
Not that anybody is telling them what to do! Telling Sox fans what to do is the surest way to ensure that they won’t do what you want them to do.
They’ll go to a game when they’re ready, and they’ll go when they think their budget allows it. They won’t be guilted into going to the ballpark. It has never worked on this fan base. Remember all the times the team vowed it would only spend money on top free agents if more fans started attending games? An exercise in futility.
They’re a different tribe, these Sox loyalists.
Dare I suggest that their numbers have increased with Cubs fans’ irritation over ownership’s decision to take its foot off the gas after the 2016 World Series title? I have no way to quantify that increase, but I’ve had more than a few people tell me they’ve switched sides in the last few years. Now that they’re Sox followers, maybe they’re not going to Guaranteed Rate Field, either.
Who cares? Not me.