2017 will be remembered as a transformational year in White Sox history. A fulcrum of sorts, a delineation of organizational change. The tear down and rebuild of 2017 in many ways provided us with the most exciting season of White Sox baseball in nearly a decade.
You all know the story. The team, stripped down to the studs and then promptly rebuilt with numerous trades, resulting a star-studded farm system, one of the best in all of baseball. All of a sudden, a trifling franchise has a firm direction and a future full of stability and home grown hope.
The wheels have already been in motion in regards to the on-field rebuild. Rick Hahn made his moves, the manager is there, the players are in place to be developed, the harvest is plentiful. All that is needed there is time and patience.
My focus and goal here is to address some areas where I think the White Sox can develop outside of the diamond.
The on-field rebuild has been a shot in the arm to a passionate fan base that had been slightly disillusioned in recent years. All of a sudden there is a lot of excitement surrounding White Sox baseball, and with that comes a chance for the organization to fan the flames of that buzz.
As Rick Hahn has said over and over again, this whole thing is being built for sustained success. That applies outside the lines as well.
Investing and developing down 35th Street and around Bridgeport
Let’s preface this by acknowledging that Bridgeport is not Wrigleyville, and may never be able to be. The cultural experience of going to a Sox game is totally different than a Cubs game, and that’s a good thing. However, one major draw that pulls people toward the Cubs is the experience to be had outside of the ballpark.
Even in bad years the Cubs can rely on drawing fans to games because of the neighborhood where they play (and their national brand). The White Sox by and large do not have that luxury. That’s partly why the Sox have a bigger tailgate culture as opposed to bar-hopping, etc. There’s just not much to do in the area. The team, and fans more so, should do all we can to continue to build that strong and exciting tailgating culture (#SoxMafia).
With that being said, I would love it if the team made an effort to develop and invest in the area surrounding Guaranteed Rate Field. I’m no business whiz, so I can’t tell you how exactly this would all work and be possible. But if the Sox could create a big time atmosphere in the neighborhood surrounding the stadium, you’re telling me that wouldn’t help bring in fans, especially younger ones?
I know 35th and Shields isn’t the “nicest” area. But if a development project could bring in apartments, some restaurants, a bunch of bars, some micro-breweries, wouldn’t that be awesome? Just imagine strolling down 35th street, filled with fans decked in black and white dipping into their favorite new open bars and breweries, all walking distance from the park, with live entertainment and other attractions along the way. The Astros have done a great job building something like this around Minute Maud Park in Houston (in the last few years alongside their rebuild, sound familiar?).
I understand that this idea is far-fetched, and would maybe take 10-20 years even to fully establish something like this. But I don’t think a little investment around the park is a bad idea for the Sox. Ride the wave of winning that will be bringing a lot of people to Bridgeport in the coming years.
**One major factor in this area development plan is whether or not the White Sox are seriously committed to Bridgeport long term. If the eventual new ownership group looks for a potential move to the South Loop or the suburbs after this current lease, then investing money in the area would be pointless. But that’s a much larger conversation for a different day.
Cultivate an atmosphere around the park on game days
This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the Bridgeport development plan. The Sox have to continue to create or facilitate some sort of atmosphere outside of the ballpark. That solution could be live entertainment, more tailgating, opening some bars, food trucks, or all of the above.
We all know that a consistent winning Sox team will draw fans to fill that park, despite what some attendance trolls believe. Of course, winning cures all, and the more people you have at games the bigger atmosphere you’ll have outside of it. Simple cause and effect. But continued efforts to draw more people to the park, and to neighboring areas, is always welcomed. I think it creates a foundational culture of people desiring experiences around going to the game itself, something that the Cubs do really well.
If tailgating is indeed the simple answer to this question, then let’s do it and make it the place to be.
Create a clear marketing plan, centered around team identity and star players
Having a targeted marketing strategy for this next era of White Sox baseball is arguably just as important as success on the field. The Sox need a marketing plan that generates interest from the common fan and diehard fan alike. While also drawing people to the ballpark, introducing talented young stars to the entire city, and holding true to elements of the Sox traditional blue-collar identity.
Once again like the Hawks, and the Cubs in recent years, the biggest part of this advertising campaign is showcasing their young stars. Those other two organization’s marketing teams did such a tremendous job making sure the faces of their stars were known across town. You think about guys like Toews and Kane, and Rizzo and Bryant, hell even Javy Baez, those are now household names across town. Of course winning helps, but the advertising done by those teams created a buzz before the wins came.
Marketing efforts like “One Goal” and “Fly The W” helped create and establish an identity for Hawks and Cubs fans to grab onto and run with. Things like “Good Guys Wear Black” and “Grinder Rules” were great campaigns that helped the Sox connect with their fans. They created an identity that mirrored the team. It’s yet to be seen what this next Sox team’s “identity” will be exactly. But when it eventually becomes clear, the marketing team needs to jump on it.
Ads showcasing Yoan Moncada, Eloy Jimenez, Michael Kopech, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Lucas Giolito, etc need to be popping up all across town. On billboards, TVs, trains, buses, buildings, phones, all of it. Make Chicago know their faces and names, generate an interest and incentive to come see these guys play, even before the wins come. Make sure Chicago knows what’s going on with the White Sox, and who these new heroes are.
Continue to build an effective social and digital media strategy and identity
Having a good social media presence may arguably be the most important element in our time. Your online brand is your brand in many cases. We see professional sports franchises take great advantage of this with engaging and entertaining social media accounts, able to bring fans information and access in new ways every day.
The White Sox currently have a very solid presence on social media. I think they do a good job with their twitter, not just giving highlights but showcasing players, coaches and fans behind the scenes.
Another important role that social media plays, I believe, is fanning the flames of the buzz of excitement as a team improves and starts winning. We saw this when the Cubs starting their rise. Their Twitter (one of the most entertaining in baseball. They do such a great job) rode the wave of excitement along with the fans, and reflected the growing excitement surrounding Cubs baseball.
The Sox now have the opportunity to try to do some of the same things. Everyone loves a good GIF game and witty commentary. The challenge, of course, is toeing that line of professional vs. unprofessional. There is a critical balance to be found.
But as I mentioned earlier, your social media presence is your vehicle to the fans in this day and age. In some cases it is some fans only interaction with the team. There are so many opportunities to be taken advantage of in the current world of social media and sports, and a development of their platforms will continue to pay dividends for the White Sox.
Continue to make on-field success a priority
Despite what many people may believe, you don’t need gimmicks to fill the ballpark. Time and time again White Sox fans have proven that they will fill that stadium to watch a winning and exciting baseball team. If all goes right, they’ll have it, and the fans will show up.
The point of all this is to say that if the organization continues to make winning and on-field success a priority, the rest of this stuff (attendance, marketing, etc) will all follow. Success outside the lines will partially be a byproduct of winning, generating buzz and excitement around every single part of White Sox baseball.
Keep blasting the fireworks, keep the awesome concessions and beer options at GRF (have dollar beer and hot dog nights), bring back the ‘Blackout’ once October baseball returns, keep playing “Hey, Hey, Hey Goodbye” on the organ after home runs and pitcher exits, start playing “Go Go White Sox” after wins (we need a song), bring back some of the things that gave Old Comiskey its charm.
I have this feeling that the fans are dying to grab on to a White Sox culture and experience, along with believing in the team on the field. A successful and targeted marketing strategy can provide the exact thing that we’re desiring to grab a hold of.