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Sox Run Up Off-Field Score -- Division Title Boosts Advertiser Interest, Sponsorship Deals (In the News)

Oct. 26, 2005

Chicago Tribune

Sox run up off-field score Division title boosts advertiser interest, sponsorship deals

By Geoff Dougherty Tribune staff reporter

White Sox fans will have to wait a week, and possibly longer, to know where their team's championship bid will end, but the marketing outlook is much clearer for the South Siders.

This year's team, which won the club's first division title since 2000, drew 2.3 million fans to U.S. Cellular Field, the highest in 12 years. Sox executives already are seeing benefits from increased attendance.

"Any time you have a playoff-caliber team, it's going to help you," said Brooks Boyer, the team's vice president for marketing.

For example, Motorola Inc., which had a marketing arrangement with the Sox several years ago and let it drop, is in talks to restart that relationship, Boyer said.

And Boyer, the former Bulls executive hired last year to revitalize the Sox marketing program, said he's close to putting together deals with a handful of advertisers that were less than enthusiastic when the team was out of playoff contention.

"We couldn't get a return phone call then," he said.

Boyer declined to discuss other contacts he has had with potential sponsors but said he anticipates the team's dream season will pay off in sponsorships and ticket sales.

Still, the Sox face competition from entertainment options ranging from movies to shopping and other sports teams, like the Bears. And, of course, there's always Chicago's other baseball team.

The Cubs, owned by Tribune Co., drew 3.1 million fans to Wrigley Field this season. Attendance has hovered around 3 million since the North Side team snared a playoff berth in 2003. In the preceding year, attendance was 2.7 million, more than the Sox drew this year.

"They are the 800-pound gorilla in this town. That's no secret," said Boyer. "But I'd rather be compared to them than have someone say we're not in their league."

The Sox will focus on encouraging fans who bought singlegame tickets this year to invest in multiple-game packages or season tickets, Boyer said.

Though this year's slogan "Win or die trying" drew fans to the ballpark, the team will shift the Sox message away from performance on the field, he said.

"We're not to the point yet where winning and losing can be a moot issue," Boyer said. "Hopefully, what we'll be able to do over the next few years is make the ballpark so fun that winning and losing become less of an issue."

That's a good plan, said Kirk Wakefield, a professor at Baylor University's business school, who conducts research on sports marketing. "If you choose to promote on the basis of how the team does, you're taking things out of your own hands," he said. "You just don't know how long it's going to last."

The trick for the Sox will be to convert fair-weather fans into those who pay for several games a year. And doing that is difficult. Wakefield's research shows that a team's record is closely tied to attendance.

But if the team can come up with ticket packages that include a lot of extras, like parking, food deals or meals with players, it may succeed.

"They need to make it less about the game and more about all the other things you can do at the game," he said.

Rising attendance, in turn, drives interest from advertisers. "The end result is sponsors want in because they're reaching a wider audience and people are intensely engaged," he said. A team's high-profile sponsorships typically sell for between $1 million and $2 million a year anti are covered by threeyear agreements, Wakefield said. While the Sox won't be able to raise the tab on those deals substantially, the team won't have to put a lot of effort into renewing them, he said.

And in the second tier at sponsorships, typically priced in the low six figures, the Sox will be able to increase sales volume and, potentially, prices as well, Wakefield said.

"It's a lot easier to sell sponsorship deals when attendance is high," he said. "It's little easier to make that phone call." And even if this year's success proves to be a fluke, Wakefield said, the benefits will live on.

"Getting into the playoffs has an ongoing effect for the next couple of years," he said.

gdougherty@tribune.com

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