Sox hope CTA project doesn't affect crowds

The Sox estimate about 20 percent of their fans use mass transit to attend their games. David Banks/Getty Images

Not to overlook anything, but the Chicago White Sox already are preparing for challenges that will start to crop up in the month of May.

The concern actually has nothing to do with matchups against the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Boston Red Sox, not to mention four games with the Cubs. Instead it has to do with logistical challenges for fans wanting to attend games at U.S. Cellular Field.

Starting May 19, the day before the White Sox open a three-game series with the Red Sox and an eight-game homestand, the CTA Red Line will be shut down along the Dan Ryan. That means the Red Line stop at 35th street, just outside the ballpark will not be in operation for an estimated five months.

From Cermak-Chinatown to 95th/Dan Ryan, the Red Line as it is currently mapped out, will not be in operation through the summer.

For fans who use the Red Line as their means for attending games, their routine will be inconvenienced. The White Sox are well aware of the situation, but are far from concerned.

"We don't expect any major impact," White Sox spokesperson Scott Reifert said. "Just under 20 percent of our fans utilize the Red Line to get to our games. They are very sophisticated users of mass transit and the CTA has already done a great job of educating riders."

The Red Line actually will be rerouted along the Green Line tracks, which means the closest train stop to U.S. Cellular Field, once construction begins, will be the Illinois Institute of Technology stop on the northeast corner of 35th and State.

The new Red Line stop is a little more than a block away from the old one, but not as well-known as the train stop in the middle of the expressway.

"Our fans will have to walk another block or so to reach the stop in the middle of the IIT campus, but we do not expect Red Line renovations to impact our attendance," Reifert said.

A potential alternative is the 2-year-old Metra stop at 35th street for the Rock Island line that travels between the LaSalle Station and Joliet. That stop is closer to the ballpark than the temporary CTA Red Line stop at 35th and State.

Any impact on attendance figures to be felt by the organization that is paying out over $110 million in player salaries for the upcoming season, although $7 million of the $13.5 million owed to Paul Konerko will be paid out in $1 million installments every year until 2020.

Before the 2011 season started, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said that the White Sox were aiming for a yearly attendance of 2.7 million to cover a franchise-high $127 million in player salaries. Instead, the White Sox drew 2.0 million during a disappointing season on the field, down from 2.2 million in 2010.

In fact, White Sox home attendance has dropped every year since they drew 2.96 million fans in 2006, the year after they won the World Series.

Last season, the White Sox were able to cut some $30 million from the payroll and had a much better season on the field. Attendance fell again, though, to 1.97 million over 81 home dates, the first time it had been under 2 million since 2004.

Recent trends show that economic factors, and not necessarily play on the field, had a bigger impact on White Sox attendance.

The White Sox do not plan on adding their own shuttle buses to make up for any Red Line inconveniences and that parking rates won't be changed in anticipation of more fans driving to games this year. Reifert did note that parking prices will continue to be reduced on Family Sundays.

The White Sox have 13 home Sunday dates this season, three of which are in the first month of the season.