Bruce Levine of 670 The Score recently made some irritating comments. The message was that the Chicago White Sox' attendance revenue, or lack thereof, inhibits their ability to make any significant offseason additions. Chicago’s attendance reached above two million in 2022. It’s safe to assume the comments are regarding an expected dip in next season's attendance, but a drop-off after the abysmal 2022 season should come as no surprise.
The high point of a rebuild that began in 2016 occurred on a summer night in Iowa. Tim Anderson’s walk-off homer in the 2021 Field of Dreams game vs. the New York Yankees was an iconic, unforgettable moment in MLB history. The White Sox proved they could beat one of the best in the national spotlight, and the team fans were waiting for finally arrived.
This is what most fans were all-in for when Chicago tore its roster down to the studs in 2016. White Sox supporters spent three losing seasons salivating over a future perennial contender that could rival the likes of the Houston Astros or New York Yankees.
The irony is that the Sox missed the moment’s meaning and the movie’s message.
Fast forward through the mediocre final two months of 2021, a first-round playoff exit, and a hugely disappointing 2022 season. A painstaking rebuild now appears to be on the brink of disaster.
The White Sox front office poorly managed financial resources and created a monster. An often-injured, underperforming, poorly constructed roster finished .500 and forced a franchise legend out the door. They were the laughingstock of MLB at a few junctures because of managerial and fundamental errors on the field.
Now 16 months after the magic of the Field of Dreams game, the Chicago White Sox are sending their fans a familiar message. The comments regarding attendance are coming from Bruce Levine, who has covered the White Sox organization for more than 30 years. It’s not a stretch to believe he’s acting as the mouthpiece of the organization as this same message has come from the top in the past.
Conveying this message through the media is cowardly but not surprising. Back in October, the White Sox canceled SoxFest 2023 with no substantial explanation. The organization's annual cash-grab pep rally will no longer take place due to “multiple factors,” whatever that means. The same organization emailed out a survey in early June to get the pulse of fans while the team was five games out of first and below .500. Tone-deaf could be their middle name at this point.
They’ll exhaust every possible avenue before facing fans directly. They had a subpar 2022 offseason and made one move at the trade deadline (which arguably made the team worse). So far this offseason, the White Sox have acquired Adam Engel’s replacement, Victor Reyes, and a starting pitcher with a long injury history, Mike Clevinger. Their inactivity has been frustrating, to say the least. Rick Hahn has stated that the trade market is where they are likely to make additions, and hopefully those are coming. However, telling fans “if you come (to games), we will build it" is embarrassing.
Time is a Flat Circle
The White Sox have delivered a similar tone-deaf message to fans through the media in the past. Kenny Williams, then a GM, noted in 2011 that deadline acquisitions were unlikely because of low attendance.
"The answer is no if I'm being completely honest with you. And I wish I were lying," Williams said. "But the fact of the matter is we haven't earned our fans' patronage up to this point in the fashion that we played and the weather hasn't helped as well so we're a little behind the eight ball financially."
He doesn’t own the fault of his boss’s unwillingness to spend like a major-market team, but Williams had to take one for the company, which comes with the territory of his job. Some fans may appreciate the hard truth about the team’s financial situation, but it’s difficult to brush off those comments. The irony and lack of self-awareness are astounding considering the marketing for the 2011 season, the infamous “all-in" year.
Stuck in the Mud
The Chicago White Sox have put their fans through the wringer. From 2010-2019, they had just one winning season. In that timeframe, Rick Hahn’s first rebuild failed. Ownership then allowed the same brain trust to rebuild again, all while wasting nine great years from franchise legend Jose Abreu. They have produced two playoff wins this decade, but after failing to improve their team in 2022, they’ve stagnated.
Little improvement to the roster has been made thus far in what is likely to be the final shot at a winner with this core group of players. If the White Sox are concerned about fan attendance, they should be, and it should serve as motivation for impactful additions. Chicago’s front office and ownership should be all-in, just as most fans have been since 2016. But instead, the Sox are making excuses.
Everything has been downhill in the 16 months since the Field of Dreams game. A team with a promising future has turned an excited fan base into an apathetic one. The White Sox need not worry about future attendance if meaningful improvement doesn’t occur on the field in 2023. An empty Guaranteed Rate Field in 2024 would send a message, but it’s hard to imagine it won’t fall on deaf ears.