Boyer: Any buzz must translate to wins
Club recognizes hype meaningless without results
CHICAGO -- A positive buzz already has been tied to the 2010 Chicago White Sox, without a pitch being thrown or a bat being swung.It comes from having staff ace Jake Peavy for a full season, not to mention possessing one of the best pitching staffs in the American League. It comes from the hope that Alex Rios will bounce back from his 2009 campaign and Carlos Quentin will bounce back from injuries and lead a formidable offense. It also comes from figuring to fight it out with the Twins, the Tigers and the rest of a winnable AL Central. Whatever the reasons, that buzz certainly stands as a major positive for White Sox vice president and chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer. When individual tickets for the 2010 season go on sale Feb. 12, that buzz could translate into increased purchases, and that increase ultimately could help Chicago's chances in a push for a postseason run. During a 20-minute sitdown with MLB.com at SoxFest, Boyer talked about topics ranging from ticket sales, to the club's overall business plan, to the intricacies of the team's financial state, to the broadcast teams. Here are excerpts from that interview.
MLB.com's White Sox reporter, Scott Merkin: It was recently announced that 7-Eleven will not be part of the White Sox sponsorship program in 2010. What, if anything, do you care to say about that change?Boyer: We anticipated it, quite honestly, coming into the year. We thought for a few weeks that maybe it could be resurrected. But just like anyone else, convenience store category has been zapped and there's new leadership. Good people, but it's just not in the cards." In reference to returning a minute earlier to the customary 7:10 p.m. start times, Boyer smiled and added: "Players are just going to have to get ready so much earlier." MLB.com: You never did get the Slurpee machine in the clubhouse, as Paul Konerko had once mentioned. Boyer: Konerko wanted the Slurpee machine, and that's one of the failures of my career thus far. I'm sure [White Sox director of conditioning] Allen Thomas appreciates that. We were only going to put diet products in there. MLB.com: I remember speaking with [club chairman] Jerry Reinsdorf last year, when he talked about being more worried about 2010 than he was with financial concerns for 2009. Is that still true? Boyer: No, I feel pretty good. You know the model. Money in, down the hall to [general manager Kenny Williams], minus expenses, puts the players out on the field. So far, we are in pretty good shape. Season ticket-wise, our renewals were very strong. A lot has to do with the positiveness around the team. Our sponsorships, we seem to be pacing where we want to pace. That is always a big variable because you can hit a few you didn't expect and lose a few you don't expect, but we are right on. We have work to do, but we are right on. The product we have on the field is better this year than it was last year. Even if there are tweaks or changes to what we have right now, if we went into the season with what we have right now, I'm sure a lot of prognosticators will pick us at the top of the AL Central. For White Sox fans, winning is a very important factor to their purchasing decisions. April and May last year, we got pummeled by horrible weather. I think we had 14 rain delays in April and May, and that really stung us. When it's 3 o'clock and you look outside and you are trying to determine if you are taking anyone to the ballpark and it's storming, it's not a good thing. Hopefully, we get a little bit better weather in April and May, and hopefully we have a little bit better team in September than we did last year. That certainly carries a lot of weight. How we budgeted, we feel very confident, as we sit here right now, we feel confident we will be able to support a payroll that's north of $100 million.
MLB.com: There's also the ability built in for Williams to make in-season additions, even of the higher-end variety?
Boyer: There certainly is. Jerry really knows the budget, forward and backward. We will have those discussions and he's always on me about making sure that I'm right.
I was really wrong last year. But this business model, and I'm biased because I live in this world, it couldn't be any better for a baseball organization. It shows the commitment to winning. Every dollar we make goes into this product on the field.
MLB.com: How were you wrong last year with the budget?
Boyer: My revenue projections were way off. I made the assumption we would draw about 2.5 million fans -- final 2009 attendance was 2,284,163. With April and May and then September ...
You try to project based on what your best guess is for team performance. We study our schedule. You look at our schedule in July this year, which is always a big drawing month for us, it's not an overly attractive schedule because we are playing a lot of teams from the AL West (10 of 13 home games against Angels, Mariners and A's).
Anaheim does not have a lot of fans in Chicago or Oakland or Texas or Seattle, for that matter. If you look at our July schedule, where it's a heavy drawing month, it's kind of "eh." Then, Boston got put way at the end of the year when kids are back at school and it's a Monday through Thursday (Sept. 27-30). You would much rather have a Boston Thursday through Sunday.
So, the schedule makers didn't do us a lot of favors, but you play the hand you are dealt and you budget around that. You have to take all those factors into consideration. OK, what happens if we get bad weather, and you look at the schedule and see what you project those type of attendances will be. A Tuesday in April is different than a Tuesday in July.
MLB.com: Do you take into consideration if the team is, let's say, not bad but not great. Let's say they are right around .500. Is that built into the contingency plan?
Boyer: We do our budgets based on what we think the product is going to be, not 95 wins or 100 wins. Not 70 wins. If either of those two things take place, that's when you can start running off course.
Obviously, if we do something like we did in '05, where it's wire to wire [in first place] and people are all fired up and jamming the park, it took us beyond. But like last year, we kind of went the other way, even though we ended up winning 79 games. It was kind of an ugly 79.
We had horrible weather and we were out of it and then we popped our heads up like we were creeping in, and then we went on that road trip [3-8 at end of August] and it made September kind of a disaster. You take all these things into consideration.
If it goes horribly the other way, then maybe that's when the sell off [of players] needs to start.
MLB.com: The 2007 season obviously was a bigger disappointment on the field than 2009.
Boyer: Yes, but it wasn't because we had that really high season ticket base. So, it wasn't as bad, but it was a disaster for the fans.
MLB.com: In terms of following the White Sox, it was deceiving they won 72 because it wasn't a very good team. So, did 2008 have much less ticket sales going into the season than this year? Those really were the only two rough years in the past decade.
Boyer: They probably were pretty close. After '07, the high was gone. The World Series glow, it kind of dropped. We've been able to maintain since then. We may be kind of at our balancing point, which is significantly up from '04, but not nearly as high as '06 and '07, which for us were off the charts.
MLB.com: But you think there's a good buzz around this team, which obviously influences ticket sales?
Boyer: Coming out of [SoxFest] weekend, it's always a good litmus test for us. You get a sense of the general fan reaction, and I sit in on a lot of the seminars, because the applause can teach you a lot.
What did we learn at SoxFest? We learned Ozzie [Guillen] is Ozzie. He's funny. He's engaging. But we all know he's smart and he knows what he wants out of this team. It's kind of like our ad campaign: it's black or white with him.
Fans certainly love Gordon Beckham. They seem to really have taken a liking to Juan Pierre because he serves a certain need. There was a seminar with Mark Buehrle, Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski, and this is still Buehrle's and Konerko's team. Those guys are the guys.
People got a chance to meet Peavy and you've seen it and read it in your articles and everyone else's article about what this guy is all about. But to hear it from him, it really gets you fired up.
We've got an ace. We've got a bulldog who wants the ball every five days. He doesn't want to get you out. He wants to get you out quickly. That's what has excited a lot of people.
Now, it's the core of the core at SoxFest. You have the core fans there. Does that resonate to casual fans? You know, that's why we do the advertising campaign to try to reach those casual fans, while not alienating our core fans.
MLB.com: You got a great response last year for the commercials you did with A.J., Carlos Quentin and Roger Bossard. Do you have humorous commercials planned like those for 2010?
Boyer: I think this year's commercials, if they go off the way we want them to go off, are a little more grinderish. Because you are going with a tagline of "It's Black or White," all based on the honesty of the team and a work ethic, I don't think they are going to be as funny as they were. I think they are going to be cool, but we have some viral things planned that we think have a chance to be funny and engaging and so truthful.
It's kind of, "Life isn't always black and white, but our baseball is." Playing on something like that is going to make it engaging.
MLB.com: Did you learn a little from last year, from the relatively low attendance in the Dodgers series at home -- just over 62,000 drawn combined from June 23-25 -- in particular, in regard to selecting games for premier pricing?
Boyer: Oh, absolutely. We learned a lot from that. Now, we learned that you can get bit, you can still make money because you have to pay the players, but it can look bad. The risk we are taking, specifically we had a lot of discussions around that Boston series. It is the Red Sox and we know Red Sox fans in the Midwest will come out to watch them.
Our gamble is will they come out to watch them during the week because we don't have a huge history or huge past with the Red Sox mid-week. We had them Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and Friday, Saturday and Sunday have been huge and Thursday has been weak, so that goes into making a decision.
Our gut tells us that Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, people will spread that out kind of evenly. It's not a weekend, where people will load up. We have that in our premier tier, so that's kind of our exposure this year.
MLB.com: Did you say sponsors have been added coming into this season?
Boyer: We've added some new ones and we are still working on getting some old ones back in. Not that big, huge significant one, like Comcast last year, who came on and took over the Fundamentals Deck. We had Stanley tools come on last year, but we haven't had that big hit yet. We've got plenty out there that we feel pretty good about, but we will see what happens.
MLB.com: In looking at the broadcasting side, do you feel the radio and television pairings you have now are as good as you could possibly have? You already know how strong things would be with Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone, but I heard nothing but great things about the radio team of Ed Farmer and Darrin Jackson.
Boyer: Absolutely. Those two were phenomenal. In all honesty, the only concern was what kind of attitude was Jackson going to take, going from the TV to the radio. And it was like he was a new broadcaster. He and Ed meshed, they worked out some kinks in Spring Training, and literally when we were in April, they sounded like a seasoned team. They've known each other for so long, and there are so many insider jokes that when it goes silent, they probably hit their mute buttons because they are laughing at each other.
It shows you they are two pros. There's a continuity that's so good between those two. It's not like I'm a parent here, but I'm really proud of the broadcast teams we have. From a passion standpoint and wanting to win, we have four guys that really want to see the White Sox win. They are all professionals, but they are professional homers, which White Sox fans appreciate.
To me, the TV team complements the radio team and visa versa. Whichever broadcast you listen to, we are sticking to our three core fundamentals.
We want them to teach the game. People will read this and e-mail you and say 'I know everything about the game. I don't need to be taught the game. I just need to be told what's going on.' But that's such a small piece of people who think they know everything. If you pay attention, you can learn something.
Paint that picture for the fan at home, and our guys do a great job of that. Teaching, Stone and DJ do a terrific job. Painting the picture, Hawk and Farmer are terrific at it.
Then, selling the experience, and these guys have bought into helping us be the best business we can be. We want to have great broadcasts and we want the team to be great and they all care. I hope these teams are around for a long, long time.
MLB.com: Hawk reiterated at SoxFest how he would like to pass on in the booth, maybe after one final home run call. Would you vote against that idea?
Boyer: You know, I think that's probably the best way for him to go out. I would be fine with that. It would be one of the coolest deaths ever. He would do some sort of call and it would be, 'Hawk? Hawk?' And the next day there would be someone else in there.
He just loves it so much. He's the type of guy that you take this away from him, and it would kill him. He needs to be in there.
MLB.com: Finally, in regard to attendance at Camelback Ranch, the team's spring home, do you expect attendance to pick up a little bit this year?
Boyer: Hopefully, but that remains to be seen. We are doing two night games -- March 15 vs. Royals, March 29 vs. Angels -- and we have such a cool facility that it will be interesting to see how those night games do. We put them on the days, Monday, that were always our worst attended during the day. So, we will see if that can stir up any interest.
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.