Chicago White Sox vice-president and chief marketing officer Brooks Boyer was informative, insightful and entertaining during his lecture at Saint Xavier University on Dec. 16. He was no match for 28-year Sox season ticket holder Barbara O’Toole, however.
Boyer was the latest to take the dais as part of the Breakfast with the Experts series sponsored by the Beverly Area Planning Association (BAPA) and SXU. He spoke for approximately 30 minutes before taking questions from those who had paid $20 a plate to attend. One of the first questions was from O’Toole, and it was a doozy. The question about Sox Fest was not a curveball or changeup, to borrow from baseball vernacular, but rather a fastball right down the middle.
“Why do I have to take a room at the Palmer House [hotel]? It seems like an illegal tie. I’m not going to sue the Sox, but I do want to know why,” O’Toole asked Boyer.
Boyer showed that he wasn’t a bad tap dancer when he responded, “The philosophy is all about paying for the event.”
To that, O’Toole countered, “Then raise the ticket prices [for Sox Fest].”
“It’s kind of how we have to do business. We have to pay for the event,” Boyer reiterated. He spoke a language that all Chicagoans understand when he added, “The Palmer House was one of the only places we could go. We [White Sox] get a kickback or a cut from every room that is used. In the City of Chicago, it’s union. There’s no way around that.”
O’Toole said after the event, “He really didn’t answer the question. I don’t buy that about the hotel. I go to 60 or 65 [Sox] games a year. I go for the baseball. I’m not there for ‘Mullet Night’ or ‘Elvis Night.’ Going to Sox Fest is like getting some baseball in the offseason. I live in the city. I could take the train in. Why should I have to stay at a hotel?”
O’Toole concluded, “Why don’t they just have Sox Fest at the ball park?”
According to the Chicago White Sox website, a weekend pass for SoxFest is available only if fans purchase a two-night package deal for $259 plus taxes and fees. The White Sox mandate that purchasers book a room at the Palmer House, where the event will be held. If the event does not sell out, a limited number of Saturday-only and Sunday-only passes may be sold. SoxFest is Jan. 22-24.
O’Toole was one of approximately one hundred serious Sox fans (and a few admitted Cubs fans) who had breakfast at the Center on the SXU campus and listened to Boyer’s lecture on “The Business of Baseball.” For the most part, everyone seemed to be on the same page with Boyer, who described going to U.S. Celluar Field as “a driveway to driveway experience.” Boyer and fans defended the Sox ball park.
“I’ve been to many ball parks, and it [U.S. Celluar Field] is among the best. I don’t understand why people knock the park,” one fan told Boyer.
“Criticism of the ball park isn’t current,” Boyer agreed. “That comes from people who haven’t been to U.S. Celluar Field lately.
Over the last six years, the White Sox have spent an estimated $80 million on improvements to the ball park. Boyer told the audience, “We’re trying to make people as happy as we can. We want you to walk out of the ballpark and say, ‘Wow! I feel like I got value for my money.’ In the city of Chicago, we’re lucky to have two great ballpark experiences. Ours is just better.”
Boyer believes Sox fans will have that ‘Wow” experience again during 2010 because of good young talent and personnel moves made by Sox general manager Kenny Williams. Boyer mentioned holdover young stars Gordon Beckham and Carlos Quentin and mid-season acquisition Jake Peavy. New members of the Sox lineup will include Juan Pierre, picked up from the Dodgers on Dec. 15, and free agent signee J.J. Putz (pronounced poots). Pierre will play center field. Putz will be a set-up man for the closer, who will be either Matt Thornton or Bobby Jenks.
Boyer confirmed a link between his putting fans in the stands and the general manager’s ability to acquire talent when he said, “Kenny says that if fans don’t come out, the Sox won’t have money to compete.” Alluding to the Sox projected 2010 payroll of approximately $100 million, Boyer quipped, “I told Kenny, ‘Dude, could you please stop telling people you don’t have any money. The reason you don’t have any money is because you spent it.”
Referencing the 2003 book Moneyball, a fan asked Boyer if he would hire a general manager who completely relies on statistics. Written by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is the story of how Oakland A’s president (then GM) Billy Beane based all of his decisions on statistics while operating the franchise on a very low (by baseball standards) budget.
“The guy out there [Beane] hasn’t won any rings,” Boyer responded. He drew laughter when he added, “If you asked Ozzie [Sox manager Guillen] about Moneyball, he’d probably say, ‘Are we going to the casino?’”
Boyer said that the Sox 2010 slogan, “It’s White Sox baseball. It’s black and white,” is based upon the team’s passion, pride and tradition. White Sox tradition also was brought up by a fan in attendance who asked how much of Bill Veeck’s legacy is left. Veeck was the legendary promoter who owned the Sox twice. The first time was in the early 1960s, and the second time was in the mid-1970’s. Some of those at the breakfast mentioned that they had read Veeck’s autobiography, Veeck as in Wreck.
“Bill Veeck reached out to fans. He was the guy who would hang out with them in the parking lot and drink with them at the bar,” said Boyer. Alluding to Veeck’s problems as owner of the St. Louis Browns and the Sox, Boyer added, “He wasn’t a good businessman. He ran a couple of teams into the ground. He was a great promoter.”
Speaking of promotions, one ongoing Sox promotion, “Mullet Night,” came from Boyer, who is a native of Concord, Mich. Boyer referred to Concord as “the Mullet capital of the world.” On “Mullet Night” fans display their own unusual hairdos or wear wild wigs. They also can get a haircut from one of the event’s sponsors, Great Clips.
Boyer talked about joining the White Sox staff in 2004. “It was the height of Cubdom. The Cubs were just four outs from the World Series. We [Sox] stunk. Ozzie Guillen had just been named manager. He’s introduced, and he talks about drinking beer in the clubhouse, and nobody can understand him,” recalled Boyer.
Prior to joining the White Sox, Boyer spent six years working for the same owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, with the Chicago Bulls. It was the Jordan Era, but it wasn’t always glamorous, at least not for Boyer.
“Steve Shonwald was the vice president of marketing, and he said to me, ‘We’re getting inquiries about restroom advertising, and I want you to check into it.’ So I ended up writing a business plan. Later, Steve said to me, ‘Mr. Reinsdorf really likes your plan. We want you to be in charge of this.’ I was really excited, and then I thought, ‘Wait a minute. I’m selling ads that go above urinals and toilets.’”
Boyer is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, where he also played basketball. He needled himself and fellow Notre Dame alums when he said, “We’re the smartest people in the world, right?” A few hands went up after he asked, “Are there any other Domers out there?”
Boyer displayed his sense of humor early in his presentation. After learning there were a few Cubs fans in attendance, he said with a smile, “For you guys, we’ll make sure we speak a little slower and a little louder.”