This past weekend we should have been packed nut to butt in McCormick Place, talking about the highs and the lows of our favorite team, THEE Chicago White Sox. The off-season has been less than stellar (so far) and 2022 left a lot to be desired. Especially in a year when we felt like the White Sox should have dominated the AL Central. I’m guessing the chatter among fans would have been less than positive (just by looking at the Twitters) and we’d get the annual “why should I keep supporting this team” style questions during the town hall. Gotta love the smartass comments from the fans. We’re tough, but most of the time we are fair. But this blog isn’t gonna be about any of that, it’s gonna be about how to fix SoxFest for 2024 and beyond.
I started going to SoxFest in 2013, and if you have ever been to SoxFest you know there is a huge learning curve. One of the first fanatical White Sox fans I ever met was Michael, while in line for Paul Konerko. His kids were younger, but they all had the MVP passes and were getting things signed by Pauly. I remember asking him what they do with it all, he said they had a basement dedicated to all of the signed items. I was pretty sure he was a re-seller but, over the years running into him at games and the garage sales, he is just a collector. It’s crazy, it’s nuts, it’s fanatical…I love it.
Now back in 2013, I wasn’t the well known WST personality you see before you today. I was just the guy who was trying to, and succeeded in, going to 50 White Sox games for under $500. A few knew me, most didn’t. I was passing out baseball cards marking the accomplishment but that really didn’t make much of an impression on anyone. Michael kinda gave me the low down that Friday night and I ended up waiting for a wristband for 2 hours, followed by another 2 hours to get the autograph. That was my first night at SoxFest. It was exhausting, it was frustrating, it was a SoxFest classic. 4 hours for 40 seconds of meeting your favorite player.
In 2020 SoxFest moved from the Hyatt to McCormick Place. They ended the hotel packages and increased the room size. It was pretty awesome but also pretty packed. I know the staff took suggestions that year pretty seriously, but then the whole world flipped upside down. Most teams didn’t have fan festivals in ’21 or ’22, but many teams brought them back in ’23. Sadly though, citing “multiple factors”, the White Sox were not among them.
That left many fans frustrated, especially when your GM was saying that they needed to earn back the trust from their fans. Adding fuel to the fire was big brother up north announcing that their fan fest would be back in 2023. As a long time attendee I liked and understood the break, but it did sting a little having the Cubs live on TV having a full on festival in January. Every year I’ve wanted to write how to fix SoxFest and this year felt like the right year. Here are the top 5 things I would do to fix SoxFest in ’24…
Lower Ticket Price
The Braves recently had their fan festival and I noticed it was FREE for all fans. Now, they have a unique situation as they are in a warm weather area so they can have theirs at their park. The White Sox have to rent a venue, so I think some type of ticket revenue would be required to cover that and staffing costs. Let’s charge the adults, but kids should be free. Kids can do anything at SoxFest (they usually have a whole kids area with prizes, giveaways, clinics and SOUTHPAW) for free as long as they are with a paying adult. Kids tickets in previous years have been discounted, let’s just make it an even better discount. New / Younger fans should always be the focus, no better way to get them than having a huge party and giving them a ton of free stuff, including a Southpaw toothbrush.
All Autograph Sessions Are Ticketed / Paid Events
I first saw this idea when the Royals did it for their fan fest years ago. The Royals had different autograph sessions featuring current players, former players and coaches, you paid for the autographs BUT all the money went to the Royals Charities. Prices varied from session to session depending who the players were. I most recently saw the same idea used for Braves Fest 2023. In Atlanta, you paid $100 a session but you got all the stars. I think this is something that needs to be explored by the White Sox. There are too many people gaming the current system, upsetting many attendees. The current system is great for those who understand how it works, but the learning curve is pretty immense.
All the years I have been to SoxFest it has been a wristband system. What this means is you get a different colored wristband for a certain player at a certain time. Until that wristband is cut off you cannot get another wristband, stopping you from getting another autograph. What sucks for Saturday (easily the biggest day) is they will give out wristbands hours before the actual signing. So you might miss out on another player signing before that, cause you are waiting in line for a wristband. This forces you to plan out your weekend in advance. Some players only signed 2 days, some all 3, you had to make a plan on how to acquire who you needed and wanted. You also needed to have fallbacks in case the wristbands ran out for your #1 choice. That stress is real folks, so let’s remove it and support Sox Charities at the same time.
This is my proposal, I would like to see a group of players (a mix of stars, prospects, former players, coaches, broadcasters) signing together for both days. The Sox can even theme it depending on who is showing up that year. Imagine an All-Star 1B Line-Up featuring Paul Konerko, Frank Thomas and Andrew Vaughn, that ticket will cost you $100, but you get all 3 guys and you are guaranteed to get them on that specific day. Right now, you could get shut out for any stars and have to settle for whomever didn’t have a line during that time.
Now, to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to get their top choices, You can only get certain players 1 time during the weekend. What that means is if you get that All-Star Lineup on Saturday, you can’t get it on Sunday too. That should allow more people to get that experience. Let’s make the big sessions 500 tickets a day and once they sell out they are gone. You will get a QR code with all the details that you must scan LIVE from your Ballpark App (just like your game ticket). IMO this will temper the expectations of what your SoxFest autograph experience will be. Being more upfront on what you will get should also make fans happier no more surprise disappointment when you don’t get who you want.
One more thing that the Braves did was allow their season ticket holders to purchase autograph session tickets before the general public. I am ALWAYS 100% in support of anything that adds value to my season tickets, which this would for sure. One rule though, the tickets would NOT be transferable to someone. You buy them, you need to either use them or give them back. No resale allowed. Keeps it fair for everyone and doesn’t allow season ticket holders to buy them up and then sell to the non-ticket plan folks.
More Vendors Including Former Players
One of the best things (TO ME) about SoxFest was the vendor area. You had merch vendors selling their wears for rock bottom prices. I always got my fitted caps there the season after they were released. I didn’t care if my hat had a patch from the previous year, a $15 fitted cap is a great deal. I bought the previous years jerseys too, which they were always trying to unload. The Sports Depot always had great deals and a huge selection, even Clark Street Sports and Grandstand were there. But my favorite was the independent dealers selling old promo items and souvenirs. I found lots of deals on those tables, including vintage bobbleheads. Your boy would love to set up a few tables with my wears and maybe even some 108 gear. It’d be like an indoor White Sox Swap-O-Rama! With BEER!
Another thing I’d like to see is former players signing and selling their wears in their own personal booths. Imagine Ron Kittle not only signing autographs, but also trying to sell you a custom Ron Kittle Charities cigar cutter / cigar travel case set for the low low price of $49.99! Right next to him you have Jack “Blackjack” McDowell with all his bands CDs and t-shirts promoting his podcast. BlackJack is also doing something I wish other former players would do, make their own bobbleheads! The Sox are very lacking when it comes to the great teams of the 90’s getting their own bobbles. Bo Jackson, Frank Thomas and Robin Ventura got one, but there are so many more that should get that honor.
Separate the Panel Stage vs Autograph Stages
There are two types of fans at SoxFest, people that wanna get autographs and people that wanna listen to the panels. The Sox have some fun panels hosted by the broadcast teams, featuring the players talking about themselves. They have had the former players up there too, telling stories from the good ol’ days. In 2020 the stage for these presentations was in the same room as the rest of the fest. Going forward I think it makes sense to keep these in different rooms. It would be beneficial to both crowds IMO.
Media Row Including Podcasts
One thing that I talked with Brooks Boyer about at SoxFest 2020 was returning to having a “media row” including PODCASTS. Imagine us broadcasting live on the YouTubes while Lance Lynn crushes beers with us and we talk steaks. Or seeing Herb Lawrence running a race against Yasmani Grandal. Just some great cheesy shit. It almost makes too much sense. Our guy Chorizy is a huge Star Wars guy (Check out his podcast with Josh Nelson of Sox Machine) and when they have their big conventions, the fan podcasts get taken care of. We need that respect too, we’ve earned it.
And there you have it…5 changes that will undoubtedly improve SoxFest 2024 for the better! Is there something you would like to see change? Have an issue with anything I have proposed? Please drop a comment here or on the Twitters with your thoughts and ideas! We all just wanna have a better time and most importantly get SoxFest back up and running for 2024.