SBD/Issue 138/MLB Season Preview

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  • MLB Preview Issue

     
    With the MLB season opening in earnest today, THE DAILY offers the first of our two-day preview highlighting some of the important issues facing the sport. Today, we provide reviews of the much-anticipated openings of Citi Field and the new Yankee Stadium, a Q&A with Marlins President David Samson, a roundtable discussion with MLB execs, and, of course, all the news from over the weekend.

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  • MLB Breaking Ad Campaign With "This is Beyond Baseball" Tag Line

    MLB's New Multi-Media Ad
    Campaign Is League's Largest Ever
    MLB this week will open the ’09 season by breaking its first new tag line in three years: “This is Beyond Baseball,” according to Terry Lefton in this week’s SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. MLB Senior VP & CMO Jacqueline Parkes indicated that the multi-media ad campaign is the league’s “largest ever, with MLB rights holders slated to dedicate the equivalent of $65[M] in asset media to the campaign over the course of the season.” MLB’s ad agency, McCann-Erickson, “assisted with the work, which grew out of research that showed the bonds -- on and off the field -- that baseball fans have for the game.” Parkes: “Consumers kept playing back to us that the game is a part of our lives and connects them in a way that is ownable only by baseball.” Twenty ads “will run nationally on MLB rights holders Fox, ESPN, TBS and the MLB Network, and locally on broadcasts of MLB teams’ rights holders.” More than 10 spots “will focus on star players,” starting with Giants P Tim Lincecum and Phillies 1B Ryan Howard. The “Beyond Baseball” campaign follows MLB’s “I Live For This” campaign, which dates back six seasons and was preceded by “What a Game” (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/6 issue).

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  • Fourteen Of MLB's 30 Teams Start With Lower Payroll Than In '08

    Fourteen of MLB's 30 teams open the '09 season with a lower opening-day payroll than a year ago, while 10 of those 14 are cutting salary by at least $10M, according to a survey cited by Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf: "That is an amazing number. This isn't just the baseball economy. But the owners who subsidized losses for their team with their businesses don't have businesses as profitable anymore." According to the survey, the average MLB salary increased 4% to $3.26M from opening day '08. The Yankees once again top MLB with a payroll of $201.4M, which is down $8M from the beginning of last season, followed by the Mets at $149.3M and the Cubs at $134.8M. The Red Sox have MLB's fourth-highest payroll at $121.7M, down $12M from last season. Below are the top five and bottom five teams in terms of MLB payroll for '09 (USA TODAY, 4/6).

    RANK
    TEAM
    TOTAL PAYROLL
    1
    Yankees
    $201,449,189
    2
    Mets
    $149,373,987
    3
    Cubs
    $134,809,000
    4
    Red Sox
    $121,745,999
    5
    Tigers
    $115,085,145
    26
    A's
    $62,310,000
    27
    Nationals
    $60,328,000
    28
    Pirates
    $48,693,000
    29
    Padres
    $43,734,200
    30
    Marlins
    $36,834,000

    TRIAL BY FIRE: The GLOBE & MAIL's Brad Wheeler reported while MLB is "bracing for a drop in overall attendance" this season, tickets for opening day are "being scooped up quicker than a one-hopper to the pitcher, and most major-league franchises expect their ballparks to be full for their season starters" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/4). In Toronto, Garth Woolsey wrote there is "no immediate danger" of MLB teams "going under or the industry requiring a government bailout, but it is the first major team sport in North America to open its season face to face with the recession" (TORONTO STAR, 4/4). In Hartford, Don Amore wrote this spring and summer "will be the ultimate test if baseball has become recession-proof" (HARTFORD COURANT, 4/5).

    Brewers' Ticket Sales At 1.75 Million, Up 10%
    From Same Period A Year Ago
    STILL SEEING SUCCESS: Angels Owner Arte Moreno said that the team has retained about 90%, approximately 27,000, of its season-ticket holders from '08, while "nearly all of the 76 luxury boxes at Angel Stadium have been leased." In California, Jeff Miller noted the team has sold more than 3 million tickets in each of the past six seasons, including at least 3.3 million for the past five. An attendance "dip is forecast for 2009 but not a cliff-dive drop," and the Angels are "better off than several teams" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 4/4). In Milwaukee, Don Walker reported the Brewers already have sold 1.75 million tickets, about 10% more than prior to the '08 season, while the team's payroll has jumped from around $80M to $87M this year. The Brewers drew just north of 3 million fans to Miller Park last season, but a source said that the team will "have to attract somewhere between" 2.8-2.9 million "just to break even." Brewers Owner Mark Attanasio: "We are doing everything in our power to win. We budget to break even. I was very concerned that if we budget to a conservative attendance mark, and budgeted a payroll according to that, you came up with a $70[M] payroll. The message would have been, 'You made the playoffs, now it's back to the same old Brewers'" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 4/5).

    WAIT & SEE: In Miami, Clark Spencer notes while the Marlins are expecting a crowd of about 25,000-30,000 for today's season-opener against the Nationals, club officials are "not sure what to expect in the way of attendance for the other 80 games because of the sour economic climate." Marlins President David Samson: "We're going to have to see how the economy does. We're going to have to see how people react to all the events we're doing." The Marlins last season ranked last in MLB home attendance, and Samson said he would "like to match last year and maybe see a little increase" (MIAMI HERALD, 4/6). Orioles Dir of Communications Greg Bader said the club is "pleased that overall, we aren't seeing what some predicted in terms of a major decrease or the losses of customers that some industries are seeing." Bader added that "corporate advertising and suite sales have remained similar to last year and that the season-ticket renewal rate is also steady, though customers are buying fewer tickets per order." Bader said that the Orioles are "cautiously optimistic about matching last year's" home attendance of 1,950,075 (Baltimore SUN, 4/6). The Rangers last season drew their fewest fans in 20 years, and Rangers Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Andrew Silverman said that the team "focused during the off-season on the need to boost ticket sales and will continue to monitor the situation." Also, the team is discounting several items at the ballpark, and Silverman said, "It's all about affordability" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 4/5).

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  • MLB Roundtable Part I: Execs Discuss Sales In Tough Economy

    Roundtable Discussion Focuses On Baseball's
    Fight To Maintain Relevancy With Consumers
    After a historic half-decade runup in attendance and revenues, MLB opens the '09 season in a very different place. The recession -- facing baseball for an entire offseason selling cycle -- has blunted that growth curve and instead has the league eyeing a dropoff at the turnstiles and undertaking a fervent fight to maintain its reach and relevancy with consumers. To probe into the baseball sales landscape, SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily held a wide-ranging discussion with Mets Exec VP/Business Operations Dave Howard, Braves Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Derek Schiller, White Sox VP & CMO Brooks Boyer and MLB Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Marketing John Brody last month in our N.Y. offices. The following is part one of the discussion. See tomorrow's issue of The Daily for part two.

    Q: How are sales going, particularly with regard to tickets?

    Schiller: The current environment for us in ticket sales is balanced. There are certain areas that are down, and there are certain areas that are up. For [selling] full-season tickets, that’s a much more difficult environment, both on the renewal and on the new sale side. Conversely, we’re actually well ahead on smaller game packages. Individual tickets just went on sale last week [early March], so it’s way, way too early to tell on that. But overall, I would say our total sales volume is about the same. It’s just a different mix.

    Q: Are you projecting, then, to be flat overall for the season?

    Schiller: I would not make that a prediction right now because the trends that we’re seeing are different. The mix of ticket sales is coming from different places. It’s not something we’ve seen over the past couple of years. There’s a different approach people are taking in the way that they’re purchasing tickets, at least in Atlanta.

    Q: Dave, your situation is obviously very different. You have a new stadium, but the capacity relative to Shea Stadium is down, so that will affect the numbers. Within that dynamic, what trends are you seeing?

    Howard: We’re doing well, considering the marketplace. We’re ahead, year-to-date, with regard to season and plan [purchases] combined, about 9 percent ahead compared to where we were at this time last year. The response has been very good. I think what we’re seeing, though, is that price is an issue. Customers are shopping price, and the lower-priced inventory is moving more quickly than the premium inventory. I’m interested to see how that plays out as we get more into the open marketplace.

    Howard Says Mets' New Field
    Helping To Sell Tickets
    Q: That on-sale date for single-game sales seems a bit later than in prior years, closer to opening day. Is that the case?

    Howard: Historically, we’ve gone on sale [for single games] very late in February, and we’ve pushed that back a little bit, a couple weeks or so this year. That was in part because of the interest we’re getting in [full] seasons and plan business. There was also a process issue. We first started talking to our existing ticket holders last year [about Citi Field], and didn’t really get into the new business market until the offseason. There is interest there. I think what we’re finding now is that the building is helping us sell. The tours have been very effective in helping sell new business. 

    Q: What is the situation with suite sales at Citi Field?

    Howard: Suite sales were good. We’re sold out on suites. We had one company that made a commitment to us several months ago and as we got into the process again to get the deal signed, they reneged. So we are in the process of selling that suite, one of the Sterling Suites, on a quarterly basis. And we’re doing well with that – there’s quite a bit of interest. So we’re confident we’ll sell that. We actually have oversold the Empire Suites. So we’re one suite short in terms of fulfilling some of our marketing deals. So we’ll have to get creative in how we handle that.

    Q: Brooks, what’s the story in Chicago?

    Boyer: Ticketwise, we are pacing ahead of where we were last year. Obviously, coming off a successful season, making the playoffs, and you look at the city of Chicago, what’s going on on-the-field with both clubs and the high tide, helps both franchises. Similar to a lot of other clubs, our smaller plans are way, way outpacing where we were this time last year.
    Brody: As we see things from a slightly different trajectory, we’re always looking for indicators. And there’s a couple of key indicators. Number one, spring training attendance is up 2 percent to date from last year. Last year, for the regular season, we had our second-strongest year in the history of the sport. The [World Baseball Classic], that’s another indicator. Before we even began [the tournament], we were over a half million tickets sold. This is not a baseball issue, what’s going on in the economy, but a universal issue. How you deal with it is very important. The commissioner made a statement in October to all the club owners saying we need to be responsible to what’s going on around us. And we’ve seen that, not just from these three clubs, who are all responding as they should, but across the league, we’ve seen two-thirds of the clubs hold their ticket prices, or cut them. Clubs are really getting creative finding ways to give fans access to the affordable tickets, and in turn, give them access to our sport.

    Q: We saw a report the other day that the league is projecting attendance to be down as much as 20%. Is there any validity to that?

    Brody: I don’t think the league has made any projections. We’re talking to the clubs every day, trying to come up with ways to bring value to our customers, to bring affordable choices for them to test the sport. You have to remember, 60% of Americans, six out of every ten, have said they are fans of our sport. We join the NFL as the only two properties in our country who can say that. And when six out of ten people say they want to be part of your sport, you have to give them ways to do that. Creative ways, whether it’s in the ballpark, on TV, radio, and I think all the clubs and the league are prepared to do that. 

    Schiller Says Putting Budgets
    Together Been A Challenge
    Q: As you all go through the sales efforts, and you experience this dynamic of smaller buys, more mini-plan holders, later buys relative to the calendar, and so forth, how much stress is that putting on your operational budgets?

    Schiller: Putting together budgets for the season, I think for everybody, has been a challenge. It’s been a moving target. Remember, we’re putting together budgets, in our case, six months ago, and there’s a lot that’s happened to the economy nationally, and in Atlanta that’s affected how we might look at our budget and how confident we are, and different ways we might go about planning our revenues and expenses.

    Q: We talked last summer about your computerized model for projecting attendance. Has that model been compromised by what’s happening now with the economy?

    Schiller: That’s a really interesting question. Obviously, we did use it to help out our budgeting process. In addition to helping our ticket sales, it’s useful from a scheduling standpoint. When we get our first draft of the schedule from the league, we evaluate it on a number of different metrics; there’s the team perspective and all the input that team operations has, and then we on the business operations side evaluate it. The model, we don’t have an indicator built in that helps us understand what the impact is from a significant economic downturn that is occurring. So we’re sort of in uncharted waters. But it’s one of many tools we use to look at the season going forward.

    Q: You guys have mentioned the World Baseball Classic a few times. It does appear there was less conflict this time between the business side of the game trying to build this event and baseball operations people protective of their individual clubs. But what has been the dynamic from your perspective trying to harmonize those two sides?

    Boyer: From the White Sox perspective, it’s up to the player. The player decides whether to participate. We only have one player playing in the Classic, [P] Matt Thornton. But it’s totally up to them. From a fan perspective, my perspective, the World Baseball Classic has been very fun to watch. It really is something, for our season, the timing is perfect. Dealing with a challenging economy heading into our season, I think it really highlights how great and important baseball is to people, how much they’re thirsting for it. And particularly in cold-weather markets like New York and Chicago, it helps people get excited for the season. There is no discussion at my end, I have absolutely no say whether or not a player goes to this.
    Schiller: I am extremely biased toward the World Baseball Classic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the International Baseball Federation that my father has. But I’m going to be the biggest fan there is for the World Baseball Classic. It only helps the game. It’s exposing many different people, many different ways to experience the game, in a slightly revised way, representing your country instead of the traditional representation of our individual markets, our individual MLB teams. It’s a terrific opportunity for us, and oh by the way, it’s a few weeks before the regular season begins. So it can only help from a marketing perspective, giving us additional exposure in all of our markets.

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  • Automaker Logos Featured On Comerica Park Fountain For Free

    GM, Ford, Chrysler Logos Will Be Displayed
    On Equal Plane Above The Fountain
    Tigers Owner Mike Ilitch, in response to the troubling times for Detroit's auto manufacturers, decided to feature the GM, Ford and Chrysler logos this season on Comerica Park's centerfield fountain for free, according to Mitch Albom of the DETROIT FREE PRESS. For the last few years, GM has sponsored the fountain and "paid a substantial fee to do so." But GM this year called the Tigers and said that "they could no longer afford" the sponsorship. There were "other bidders," and a "deal of three years worth between $1.5[M] and $2[M] was on the table." But Ilitch said "no thanks." Ilitch said of the team's decision to not sign a sponsor for the fountain this year, "It's just a small opportunity to respond to what's happening. ... I thought for a few weeks before deciding. I didn't want to offend anybody. I didn't want to put off the foreign carmakers. And I didn't want people to think we couldn't sell the fountain. As a businessman, you do worry about those things." Throughout the '09 season, the Chrysler, GM and Ford logos "will be on an equal plane above the fountain," and "beneath those logos will be a few new words: 'The Detroit Tigers support our automakers'" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 4/5).

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  • Even The Red Sox Face Uncertainty As Economy Haunts MLB Season

    Red Sox Average Ticket Price On StubHub
    Has Fallen About 22% Since '08
    Retreating corporate sponsors, "waning television ratings, fretful retailers, and lagging premium seat sales all confront the Red Sox this year," as the recession has "dulled the passion of some fans and taken a toll on the team's bottom line," according to a front-page piece by Hohler & Abelson of the BOSTON GLOBE. The Red Sox have "rarely faced a stormier financial climate." Buffeted by the loss of "some corporate sponsors, including major partners Nikon and PC Connection, the Sox also face slumping sales of premium hospitality suites, a sharp drop last year in television ratings, and a fading fever for baseball among some patrons." The Red Sox also were "unable to renew smaller sponsorship contracts with Filene's Basement and Cambridge Eye Center while DHL downsized its deal with the team." They also have "taken a hit" from companies like Bank of America, which have "scaled back spending" on all sports marketing. Despite a ticket-price freeze, the team's ticket sales, "while still robust, are down a bit for the first time in recent years." Seats remain available for most games in April and "more than 30 games the rest of the season, suggesting" Fenway Park's MLB-record consecutive sellout streak of 469 games "could be in jeopardy." Also, NESN last season "lost a significant share of viewers," as regular-season ratings fell 20% from '07, while the net's pregame show dropped 33%. Since the Red Sox own 80% of NESN, the team's revenues "are affected by changes in advertising rates based on viewership" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/5). In Boston, Thomas Grillo reports the average price of a Red Sox ticket on StubHub has fallen about 22% from last season, while bleacher seats for Thursday's game against the Rays are selling for as little as $22. Red Sox Exec VP and Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Sam Kennedy acknowledged that while "ticket sales are 'strong' the team is hurting when it comes to premier seating and corporate sales" (BOSTON HERALD, 4/6).

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  • San Jose Mayor Wants MLB To Drop Giants' Territorial Rights

    San Jose, Santa Clara County Protesting Giants'
    Territorial Rights In County
    San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed is recommending that the city urge MLB to "drop the San Francisco Giants' territorial rights to Santa Clara County," according to David Goll of the SILICON VALLEY/SAN JOSE BUSINESS JOURNAL. Reed in a memo to San Jose City Council members released Friday "outlined his plans to lay the groundwork for attracting the A's." Reed in the memo wrote, "San Jose is a place where people act boldly when opportunity presents itself. Now, with the possibility that a [MLB] team will make its home in San Jose, I recommend that the City move quickly, so we are prepared to take advantage of this extraordinary opportunity. We must be ready should the team and [MLB] make a decision to allow the A's to pursue development of a stadium in San Jose" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 4/3). In San Jose, John Woolfolk reported draft resolutions that San Jose and Santa Clara County officials "expect to approve Tuesday call the Giants' territorial rights to Santa Clara County an infringement on local rights of 'self-determination, autonomy and independence.'" The city and county officials in the resolutions said that the Giants' territorial claim was initially "intended to clear the way for the Giants to move in 1992 to Santa Clara County, which never happened." Meanwhile, Woolfolk noted the city council tomorrow also will "consider steps needed to complete the stadium plan should baseball officials agree to let the A's move there, including additional environmental study and land acquisition, and winning over neighbors who are dreading the traffic and noise a stadium would bring" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 4/4).

    GIANT INTEREST: In San Jose, Denis Theriault wrote MLB officials "must decide whether Silicon Valley's deep well of corporate cash is really the cure-all for the A's or instead the untouchable financial pillar that props up the Giants." The Giants said that without revenue from Silicon Valley, the team "couldn't afford the stadium it plays in, which was built without a public subsidy and is heavily leveraged." Giants Senior VP/Communications Staci Slaughter: "Obviously, our financing is tied to our sponsorship revenue, our ticket revenue, and we have certain goals we have to hit. And if you have a large share of your sponsors coming from that area, that's a critical part of the equation." Theriault noted the Giants' list of investors is a "who's-who of Silicon Valley players, starting with" Managing General Partner Bill Neukom and including former Apple CEO John Sculley, former Yahoo President & COO Jeffrey Mallett, California-based venture capitalist Arthur Rock, Cisco Systems Senior VP Daniel Scheinman and Sutter Hill Ventures Founder Paul Wythes. Giants President & COO Larry Baer: "On all levels, it's the heart of our business" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 4/5).

     
    JUST IN TIME: In San Jose, John Ryan reports DirecTV will carry A's games on Comcast SportsNet California, as an "11th-hour deal promised by all sides appears to be happening." DirecTV Dir or PR Robert Mercer said that the "'vast majority' of Bay Area subscribers would be able to see" tonight's A's-Angels season opener as "negotiations wrap up to get CSN California carried on the same access tier as CSN Bay Area" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 4/6).

    LOCAL PERSPECTIVE: In Oakland, Jonathan Okanes notes CSN Bay Area today debuts "SportsNet Central," a half-hour sports news program "devoted solely to Bay Area sports." The show is "similar to ones Comcast SportsNet already has running in a handful of other major markets across the country," including N.Y., Philadelphia, Chicago and DC. The net today is also debuting "Chronicle Live," an hour-long sports-talk show hosted by Giants pre- and post-game show host Greg Papa that will "feature a rotating panel of experts to discuss the issues and topics pertinent to Bay Area sports" (CONTRA COSTA TIMES, 4/6).

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  • Padres Restructure Front Office, DePodesta To Report To Towers

    Moorad Has Completed His
    Purchase Of 1/3 Of Padres
    Padres Vice Chair & CEO Jeff Moorad has "restructured the Padres' front office so that" Exec VP Paul DePodesta, who previously reported to former CEO Sandy Alderson, will report to Exec VP & GM Kevin Towers, according to Tom Krasovic of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. Both Towers and DePodesta "called the result 'business as usual,' but each acknowledged that it might clear up perceptions of front-office dysfunction." Towers: "If anything, it should help Paul in the way of fitting in with everybody else. Even if there was zero truth, maybe what people speculated (about who was making decisions), I don't think there will be that now" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/4). Moorad said of his role in baseball decisions, "I don't believe in meddling unreasonably. I did it a little in Arizona, learned my lesson and pulled back. The reality is baseball people need to make baseball decisions. I'm there to support them. I'm there to help from a management standpoint. Obviously, I have a little background on the contract side, and I look forward to being a resource when appropriate in that regard. But the baseball decisions will be made by (Towers) and his team. I'm confident that we are going to make some good decisions going forward, and it's going to help us create that successful long-term approach" ("The Jim Rome Show," 4/3).

    CLOSING THE DEAL: The SAN DIEGO BUSINESS JOURNAL's Mike Allen notes even for a "seasoned and powerful sports executive like Jeff Moorad, it was hectic as he completed his purchase of one-third" of the Padres last month. Though Moorad and former Padres Majority Owner John Moores have "developed a friendship in recent years," Cooley Godward Kronish attorney Wainwright Fishburn, who represented Moorad in the transaction, said that there were "other reasons he was able to close the deal." Fishburn: "It was a combination of a strong price, favorable terms, and the certainty that the transaction would be completed." Moorad said that the deal, which will ultimately see his ownership group acquire 100% of the team, "could close in as little as one year or as many as five." Moorad: "The timeline we control depends on the economy. We may choose to accelerate the timeline or take advantage of the full five years." Allen notes Moorad also is "noncommittal about boosting his budget or making moves right off the bat," and Moorad said that "keeping games affordable to families will be a focus, 'especially in the short term when this economy is playing such a significant factor'" (SAN DIEGO BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/6 issue).

    NO WALK IN THE PARK: In San Diego, Nick Canepa writes even if the Padres "were to contend, home attendance probably would be down, given the economy." And if the team "doesn't at least show signs of progress, one capable of entertaining, we might see more heads than automobiles rolling down Tony Gwynn Drive" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/6). Also in San Diego, Jeanette Steele writes five years after its debut in '04, San Diego's investment in the $474M Petco Park has "delivered mixed results," as the neighborhood "still shows signs of the downbeat warehouse district it used to be." Fans "credit the ballpark with a downtown renaissance that has won national honors, including a 2007 Urban Land Institute Award for Excellence," and the East Village has "witnessed more than $1.075[B] in taxable development directly tied to the ballpark." The development "brings the city $8.7[M] in additional property taxes each year for downtown projects." But the "additional hotel taxes, the splashy new restaurants and the grand residential towers must be weighed against the $11.3[M] San Diego pays yearly on bonds and the $4.1[M] it spends for ballpark operating expenses." San Diego "shares certain maintenance and operating expenses with the team, and the public portion has increased every year since the ballpark opened, while the team's part has fallen" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 4/6). 

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  • Blue Jays Could Face Challenging Season Drawing Fan Attention

    Paul Beeston Says Team's '09 Season-Ticket
    Sales Marginally Lower Than '08
    Tonight's Tigers-Blue Jays game likely will be the "biggest draw of the season" for the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, but while the "sun may shine on the season opener, there are clouds threatening to rain out the rest of the year," according to Steve Ladurantaye of the GLOBE & MAIL. Couple a "deepening recession with a team that isn't expected to win all that many games ... and the team may be lucky to hit last year's attendance-per-game average" of about 29,627 at the 50,516-seat ballpark. While the Blue Jays did not disclose season-ticket sales, interim CEO Paul Beeston said they are "marginally" lower than in '08. Beeston added, "I won't say we will crank the marketing up, but we won't cut it down either. We have to think every day about every dollar we spend" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/4). The GLOBE & MAIL's Stephen Brunt writes it looks like Blue Jays Owner Rogers Communications is "opting to cut its losses and take its chances, paring the baseball part of the Rogers business down to its essence" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/6).

    YOU BOOZE, YOU LOSE? Rogers Centre officials Friday said that Ontario's Alcohol & Gaming Commission has suspended Rogers Centre's liquor license for tomorrow's game against the Tigers and the April 21 game against the Rangers because of "drinking 'infractions' at several unnamed past events." As a result, Rogers Centre "invited fans to exchange tickets for the two no-booze Jays game days at the Blue Jays box office" (TORONTOSUN.com, 4/4).

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  • MLBAM Develops Blackberry Version Of MLB At Bat Mobile App

    New Blackberry App Will Include Live
    Audio Broadcasts, Video Highlights
    MLBAM has developed a Blackberry version of its MLB At Bat mobile application called MLB.com Mobile Platform. Similar to the At Bat application for Apple iPhone and iTouch devices, the Blackberry application will include live audio broadcasts without blackout restrictions, in-game video highlights, expanded scoreboards, and a graphical version of its GameDay service. The MLB.com Mobile Premium application, to be sold through the MLB.com mobile Web site and Research In Motion's new Blackberry App World, will carry a $14.99 one-time charge for the entire '09 season through the postseason or a monthly fee of $2.99. The Blackberry application will initially work on the Storm, Bold and Curve 8900 phones.

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  • Writers Roundtable Part I: League Issues And The Economy

    On the eve of the '09 MLB season, several baseball scribes from across the country spoke with Staff Writer William Cooper via e-mail about a variety of issues facing the league. Today, we offer part one of the roundtable discussion, with a focus on several of the hot-button topics the league will have to deal with throughout the duration of the campaign.

    Writers Unanimously Expect Attendance To
    Drop In '09 Due To Economy
    Q: Where will the economy have the most significant impact on baseball this season?

    Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo: I think it will reduce attendance in certain hard-hit areas of the country no doubt. I think teams will likely suffer revenue loss from sponsors continuing to drop out when their respective deals are done because major corporations have to watch where they're putting their money. Unfortunately, the lower-paid employees around the ballparks will likely continue to lose jobs. It would be nice if well-paid major baseball executives and players took a page from the medical directors of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and reduce their salaries by 10% and use the money to save staff jobs.
    K.C. Star's Sam Mellinger: I have no data to back this up, but I'd say corporate sponsorship, depending on the corporations that are doing the sponsoring. Also, I think that attendance will be down, particularly in hard-hit areas like Detroit, and particularly once a team is out of the race. You know, and again, this is just me speculating so it's probably wrong, I could see TV ratings actually increase as fans stay home not only from the ballpark but movies and dinners out and vacations.
    Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson: Attendance will be down. I have no doubts about that, and as a result, revenues will be down and teams will tighten up in the off-season. Look for more internal answers to help the big-league club.

    Q: Given the economy, what are some ways in which baseball could better market itself to fans?

    Sporting News' Stan McNeal: I don't think now is the best time to be attracting new fans. I think MLB should focus on making sure the fans it has continue coming to games and following the sport. I don't know of a better way of doing that than making it less expensive to attend. That can be done by lowering the prices of tickets, parking, concessions and by offering ticket/giveaway promotions. Based on what we saw in the second half of the offseason with regards to free-agent signings, it looks to me like teams are preparing for attendance to drop this season.
    San Diego Union-Tribune's Tom Krasovic: Have Larry Lucchino and his long-time assistant Charles Steinberg conduct a seminar for all the clubs. Wherever Lucchino has gone, revenues have soared -- Baltimore, San Diego, Boston. Sharp guys. A few other ideas: Sections where cursing and alcohol are verboten; tons of giveaways; figure out a way on a national level to create more personality among the players; create a faster pace.
    St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin: Two things -- First, teams have to continue and expand offering value since people have less to spend, whether it's a $2 or $3 or $5 ticket, or a concession special package (not these $50 deals with two meals and a hat and a program) but real bargains like a $1 hot dog, or a $5 combo, almost like a minor-league mentality to get people in the gate, knowing they'll spend on other things or at least they'll have a good enough time to come back. The other is to better educate fans about that. The Rays offer some decent deals, certainly as good or better than a movie, but I'm amazed at how often I hear people say they don't go to games because it's too expensive. As simple as it sounds, why don't teams take out ads and just "sell" the value -- show fans exactly what it costs to go to a game, and they might be surprised at the response.

    Writers Agree Rodriguez' Admission Will Not 
    Negatively Impact Business Of Baseball
    Q: Will Alex Rodriguez’ admission have any significant impact on the business of baseball this season?

    McNeal: I don't think so. I think the media is more concerned about players' use of performance- enhancing drugs than the fans. That doesn't mean I think the media is covering a story that isn't important. If the media had focused more reporting on PEDs in the early-mid 1990s, baseball may have been forced to implement drug-testing sooner.
    Mellinger: I doubt it. I'm not sure how it would. We're past the point of being shocked at these things, I think.
    Topkin: Probably not. Baseball fans have been very forgiving, and it's not going to keep the Yankees from selling any tickets at their new palace. And when he does come back, there will be an added hype to see him -- or boo him -- when the Yankees are on the road.

    Q: Which would better serve baseball: having more-established franchises such as the Yankees return to power, or seeing the continuance of competitive balance in the form of teams like the Rays and Rockies emerging?

    McNeal: My answer to that will be found in the Rays' attendance this season. This is a team that has not drawn 2 million since its first season. If the Rays can get to 2.5 million this season, my answer will be baseball is better served by emerging teams. The Rockies got a little boost in attendance last season but really, they were off the national radar by Memorial Day, like their WS appearance already was forgotten. Generally, I agree with the TV network honchos. The bigger the market, the better for the game. I think there is only one story this season that could transcend baseball and grab attention of non-baseball fans: The Cubs reaching the World Series.
    Mellinger: As much as a lot of baseball fans hate it, the ratings and revenues always seem to be highest when the Yankees and Red Sox are playing. Long-term, it's probably best for the Rays of the world to continue to emerge so that MLB doesn't become like women's college basketball, where only a small handful of programs have juice. But in the short-term, it sure seems like people are attracted to big teams and big names.

    Writers Feel Economy, Leak Of Positive Test
    Straining Relations Between Fehr (l), Selig
    Q: Assess the state of the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA right now.

    Cafardo: The downturn in the economy can't be helping. Players are signing for less money and getting less security in their contracts. There are more one-year deals and incentive-laced contracts than ever before. There are many veteran players who will be out of the game that would normally man end-of-roster spots which are now going to younger, cheaper players. I can't imagine that the leaking of Alex Rodriguez' name among the 104 players who tested positive during the anonymous testing in 2003 helped the relationship either. But I do think they are genuinely trying to rid the sport of PED's and they've finally worked together in doing so.
    McNeal: With more than two years before the CBA expires, I say the two sides are enjoying relative peace. And because of the struggling economy, both sides realize they need to avoid all talk that hints of greed on either side. The public these days would have little patience to hear about players looking to make more money than they already do.
    Topkin: Leery is probably a good word. Between the A-Rod leak, the questions over why the list wasn't destroyed, and the getting-more-frequent saber-rattling over a salary cap, it doesn't bode well for the next round of negotiations.

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  • Yankee Stadium, Citi Field Offer Clear Contrasts Upon Openings

    New Yankee Stadium's Opening Goes Smoothly
    The opening of the new Yankee Stadium Friday night for a Cubs-Yankees exhibition game "seemed to go smoothly," according to Kirk Semple of the N.Y. TIMES. Ticket holders were "greeted at every turn by smiling stadium attendants, some of whom chirped, 'Welcome to the new Yankee Stadium!'" For many fans arriving at the stadium, the experience was "full of ambivalence -- a mixture of sentimentality and loss, excitement and expectation." But inside the ballpark, "much of this ambivalence seemed to evaporate amid the sparkling upgrade and its promises of renewal" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/4). But in N.Y., Joshua Robinson notes views of right field for fans in Section 239 are "blocked off by the concrete wall of the Mohegan Sun Sports Bar," while "on the bar's other flank, left field was a mystery for the denizens of Section 201." Together, the two sections "account for 1,048 bleacher seats where the view is obstructed," and most fans there are "upset -- no matter how little they paid for their tickets." Bleacher seats for the Yankees' exhibition games against the Cubs on Friday and Saturday cost only $0.25 to "commemorate the prices when the original Yankee Stadium opened in 1923." But many fans "paid much more, buying their tickets on Web sites like StubHub, where most fell into the range" of $30-70 (N.Y. TIMES, 4/4).

    BIGGER AND BETTER: In N.Y., Brian Costello wrote the new Yankee Stadium "feels equal parts museum, luxury resort and home to the most successful franchise in North American professional sports." The ballpark has the "opulence of a 21st century arena but it also has enough touches of nostalgia to bring you back to your first trip to the ballpark in the Bronx." Everything about the new stadium "feels bigger and better than its predecessor" (N.Y. POST, 4/5). SI.com's Ted Keith wrote the ballpark is "enormous ... and so are the expectations for a structure that must replace its predecessor that was so revered it was known as the Cathedral of baseball." The new stadium is "as much about extending the Yankees financial advantage over the rest of baseball into the foreseeable future as it is about providing the fans and players with the coolest house on the block" (SI.com, 4/4). In N.Y., Mark Feinsand wrote while most Yankees players were "in awe of the sheer size of the ballpark and its plush amenities, the consensus was that once the game started, the Bombers' new home was an awful lot like their old one." Yankees SS Derek Jeter: "They've done a tremendous job with the stadium, but it's going to take a little while to get used to it" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/4). Also in N.Y., Tyler Kepner noted, "The stately new park is designed to evoke the grandeur of its predecessor, starting with the bronze eagle medallions high above the main entrance." The clubhouse is "cavernous," and on the right side of every locker is a "mounted ThinkPad laptop" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/4). Yankees COO Lonn Trost: "We have every amenity. We have every futuristic fiber optics that you can think of. We built the building for today and tomorrow." MLB Network's Joe Magrane said of Yankee Stadium and the Mets' Citi Field, which opened Friday with an exhibition game against the Red Sox, "I would call them cathedrals, not stadiums" ("MLB Tonight," MLB Network, 4/4).

    TALE OF TWO TEAMS: On Long Island, Wallace Matthews wrote both the new Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are a "perfect reflection of the teams that play in them." Yankee Stadium "makes no apologies for what it is," while Citi Field "tries to convince you it is something it is not." Yankee Stadium is "ridiculous, offensive, infuriating and magnificent in its wretched excess," and Citi Field is "charming, precious and sickening in its phoniness." Both ballparks are "impressive brickpiles that would stand up well if they occupied two different towns, but placed side-by-side within eight miles of one another, there is simply no comparison between the two ballparks." The Yankees spent $1.3B on their "new playground, and every cent of it shows." The ballpark is "vast and sweeping, and at the same time, comfortable," and it "looks like a Stadium but feels like a ballpark." But the Mets at Citi Field "spent about half as much and got about half as much." During Friday's exhibition game at Citi Field, it was a "slow go negotiating its narrow, low-ceilinged passageways," and the "lines at its concession stands were terrible." And the open-air food court, which "might be inviting on a warm summer night, was an ordeal in a chilly April downpour." At Citi Field, "you get the feeling you could be in any one of a half-dozen off-the-rack ballparks in a half-dozen nondescript cities." There is "no view of the surrounding area from any of the seats, and no sense while inside the park that it is located anywhere within" N.Y. (NEWSDAY, 4/5).

    Writer Says Mets Ballpark Represents Its
    "New Money" Franchise
    COMPARE & CONTRAST: On Long Island, Neil Best wrote Yankee Stadium is a "monument -- serious and straightforward, a grand, spectacularly expensive testament to the Yankee Way." Citi Field is a "theme park -- quirky and a tad gimmicky, yet charming enough to get away with it" (NEWSDAY, 4/4). NEWSDAY's Anthony Rieber wrote the ballparks "reflect the public images and private attitudes of the franchises that built them." The Yankees "have old money and they like to flaunt it," while the Mets are "new money." The Mets and Citi Field "want very badly to be liked ... all decked out in their expensive clothes" (NEWSDAY, 4/4). In N.Y., Rich O'Malley writes the city is "now home to one of America's best ballparks" in Yankee Stadium and a "very worthy contender," Citi Field. Yankee Stadium is a "stadium," and "no one will ever mistake it for a quaint 'field' or 'park.'" Citi Field is and "needed to be a 180-degree departure" from Shea Stadium, and its "cousins are the 'retro' parks," like Citizens Bank Park and Turner Field. Overall, Yankee Stadium is a "bit more unique" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/6).

    BLAST FROM THE PAST: In N.Y., Brian Costello wrote Citi Field "looks as if it jumped out of a black-and-white newsreel," as it is a "combination of brick retro and modern-day amenities, which surround the 42,000 seats inside." Citi Field is "not perfect, but mostly because of things beyond the Mets' control," as the "chop shops are still across the street and the planes from LaGuardia still will make you shout to be heard by the person next to you, but it is light years better than Shea." Citi Field was "built for baseball, and that is evident in every nook and cranny" (N.Y. POST, 4/5). Also in N.Y., George Vecsey wrote the Mets "seem flagrantly Dodger-centric in their reference points," including the Jackie Robinson Rotunda behind home plate (N.Y. TIMES, 4/5). The N.Y. TIMES' Ben Shpigel wrote many of the 37,652 fans for Friday's Red Sox-Mets game "barely made it to their seats to watch the game," as they instead "wandered through the concourses, stood on the Pepsi Porch in right field and watched their children run the bases at the whiffle ball field." Fans also "lined up to take their pictures in front of the old apple, which sat behind the center-field fence at Shea." Most fans "liked the new stadium, particularly the seats, which they said were closer to the field than the ones at Shea" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/4). SPORTINGNEWS.com's Bill Eichenberger wrote, "When you walk into Citi Field, the contrast to Shea Stadium is striking. The Mets seem like a different and more modern team in this cozy, state-of-the-art facility that has a deliberately retro look" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 4/4). WFAN-AM's Mike Francesa said Citi Field is "magnificent." Francesa: "It's 42,000 seats not counting standing room, and I don't think there's a bad seat in the house" ("Mike Francesa," YES Network, 4/3).

    A DIFFERENT VIEW: In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes Citi Field for the weekend's exhibition games was the "clear (view) winner ... from a TV debut standpoint," as telecasts from the new Yankee Stadium "thus far exude three need-fixin' problems." First, "every batted ball shown from behind-the-plate -- and that's just about all of them -- is first seen through backstop netting." Mushnick: "Apparently, when blueprinting, the Yanks did not invest much forethought into primary camera positions." Second, Yankee Stadium "does not yet have dedicated first or third base down-the-lines low camera positions." And lastly, the billboards at Yankee Stadium "show up so large and garish they often swallow the game being played in front of them" (N.Y. POST, 4/6).

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  • Citigroup Cutting Back On Presence At Citi Field, Mets' Opener

    Citigroup Has Said Many Of Its Top Execs
    Will Not Attend Mets' Home Opener

    Citigroup is taking many steps to "shield itself -- and its $400[M] stadium-naming deal with the Mets -- from criticism by politicians, who have called for the bank to break the 20-year deal because the bank has taken $45[B] in taxpayer money," according to Belson & Dash of the N.Y. TIMES. Citigroup said that CEO Vikram Pandit and "many of his top lieutenants would not be" at Citi Field for the Mets' April 13 home opener against the Padres. Instead, the company "plans to invite community groups, like Jackie Robinson Foundation college scholarship recipients, to sit in its two luxury suites on the Empire Level," and some bank execs will "serve as hosts." Citigroup officials are "increasingly sensitive to anything that smacks of profligate spending," and officials have "worried that if the bank takes too prominent a role at the Mets' first game, lawmakers might hijack the opening-day festivities." Execs in Citigroup's community affairs and government relations divisions have "spent the past few months discussing their plans for opening day," as they "vetted their guest list, ruled out having executives throw out the first pitch and settled on a low-key approach, given the political climate." Citigroup also has "cracked down on baseball-related expenses," as company managers "have been told to be vigilant about dispensing free tickets." Belson & Dash noted, "Besides hosting community groups on opening day, Citigroup plans to fill its corporate boxes with members of several other groups, including the Harlem Children Zone and the United Way, at other games this season" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/5). CNBC.com's Darren Rovell writes it is "time to let Citi execs sit in the seats they already paid for and to use their two luxury boxes to try to help them become a little bit more healthy." Now that the ballpark has "opened with your name on it, the public does want you to do business in it" (CNBC.com, 4/6).

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  • Catching Up With Marlins President David Samson

    Marlins President
    David Samson
    After years of dedication and determination, the Marlins' proposal for a new ballpark was finally approved last month, and helping to lead the charge was team President DAVID SAMSON. But Samson isn't just one of MLB's most recognizable front-office figures, he is also an accomplished athlete. Samson has been participating in Iron Man triathlon events since '06 and has inspired his fellow employees to join in the fun. Staff Writer Jessica Collins recently spoke with Samson about plans for the new ballpark, the South Florida sports scene and preparing for the upcoming Boston Marathon.

    Favorite vacation spot:
    Kona, Hawaii.
    Last movie you saw: "Miss March," and it was so terrible.
    Favorite Miami restaurant: Little Japan Sushi.
    Favorite Web sites: ESPN.com, Marlins.com, EOnline.com.
    An executive you admire: BILL GATES.

    Q: Do you or the team use social-networking sites to reach fans?

    Samson: No. I would say that I’m not into it. There are areas of our team on the marketing side that are definitely into it. Personally, I do not have a Facebook site nor do I Twitt -- if that’s a verb -- but on the marketing side they do.

    Q: You are an Iron Man triathlete. Have you been training lately and are you going to be participating in upcoming events?

    Samson: Yes. In two weeks I’m running in the Boston Marathon. I'm in a six-days-a-week training program that’s been going on for four months. There’s a bunch of us doing it from the front office. People here got motivated after I did the Iron Man in ’06 and since then I would say we certainly have the fittest front office in sports. A bunch of us have run marathons, half marathons and there’s about eight of us going up to Boston to do the Boston Marathon.

    Q: Has the fact that the new ballpark has been approved really sunk in?

    Samson: No. There will be different times during the day when it sinks in a little more but sometimes I’ll get a call from someone or I’ll be dealing with an issue thinking that it hasn’t actually happened and then realize it has.

    Q: How did you celebrate?

    Samson: We have not yet. We all agreed that we will celebrate the day after Opening Day in 2012. Right now we want to get it built on time, on budget and we want it to be perfect. We don’t want to allow ourselves to celebrate because the truth is the hardest work starts now. As much as the last seven years have been very difficult to try to get a deal done, it’s the next three years that will really define this franchise for the next 50 years, so there’s no celebrating right now. 

    Q: What design elements will you and Marlins Owner JEFFREY LORIA attempt to implement to make the new ballpark unique?

    Samson: It’s going to really reflect the diversity that is Miami. We are the gateway of Latin America and having a Miami franchise will reflect, and our ballpark will reflect, that we are a Miami franchise.

    Minute Maid Park One Of MLB
    Ballparks Samson Admires
    Q: Are there any MLB ballparks you may use as a blueprint and any that you particularly admire?

    Samson: I don’t think we’ll use any as a blueprint, but we admire very much Minute Maid Park and PNC. As far as a blueprint, this is going to be a very unique ballpark other than, of course, the four bases and two foul posts.

    Q: What do you think makes South Florida an appealing sports market?

    Samson: The challenge of being a part of a market that is very new is very appealing to me personally. Recognizing that our job is simply to build a tradition, not to maintain a tradition, and our franchise, this is only its 17th season, so it has no history yet. Even though we’ve won two World Series, we’re just beginning to build a history. Being a part of that is unbelievably exciting and challenging. I would not say that South Florida is either a good or a bad sports market right now because it’s too young to have any sort of reputation.

    Q: How would you best describe your fan base?

    Samson: Tired of the ballpark issue, excited that they know the team is staying here forever and they are always hopeful and confident that we will win given what our front office has been able to do year after year. 

    Q: How are ticket sales selling heading into this season?

    Samson: It’s been tough. It’s been a tough offseason. It certainly has picked up since the ballpark announcement. I would say that we are going to be flat to a little bit down, which is something we’re not accustomed to. We prefer to be growing every year, but we are being very aggressive in ticketing and promoting to try to get people out to Dolphin Stadium, especially with seat priority becoming an issue and ballpark seating. We think that will have a positive impact on our ticket sales but just not yet. We have a very hard time building a ticket base because it’s such a big stadium.

    If Samson Were Commissioner For A Day He
    Would Keep Labor Peace Established By Selig
    Q: If you were MLB Commissioner for one day, what would you do?

    Samson: For three hours I would go to a game. For six hours I would meet with every president and owner of all 30 teams to discuss with them the importance of understanding that everyone’s actions has an impact on everyone else. I would meet with the media for one hour. For the other 14 hours I would try to sit with the players union and try to come up with a system where the labor peace under Commissioner SELIG would continue in a way that would ensure baseball would be played for the next 20 years uninterrupted in an economic system that works for both players and management.

    Q: Local columnist Mike Berardino recently wrote you “must be taken seriously” and cannot be “dismissed as a mere stepson of a major league owner, someone whose sometimes-abrasive manner has a tendency to place the organization in a negative light.” He said you “got the deal done, and for that he should be commended.” What was your response to that?

    Samson: I never pay attention to anything negative written about me, so therefore I don’t allow myself to pay attention to anything positive either. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t ignore the negative and then believe the positive. That’s not exactly being fair. So I choose to ignore both the negative and positive. I guess I would philosophically tell you that I’m not running for office so it’s not a popularity contest. I have a job that requires making unpopular decisions from time to time and I take it very seriously, and I recognize that not everything we do is understood or appreciated. But I certainly hope that as people look back on the Marlins franchise they’ll realize that getting the ballpark and everything we do helps solidify baseball for all sorts of unborn kids.

    Q: What would people be surprised to know about you?

    Samson: David Samson the president of the Marlins is completely different from David Samson the father and the friend. 

    Q: What sports business story will you be watching closely this year?

    Samson: What happens on the sponsorship side and how companies allocate resources, and then what is the impact to a company of either increasing or decreasing its sports sponsorships.

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  • Pitch Out: American League Teams' 2009 Marketing Slogans

    With the start of the ’09 MLB season, many franchises are rolling out new marketing campaigns to reach fans. The chart below presents this year's AL team marketing slogans. See tomorrow's issue of THE DAILY for NL marketing slogans (THE DAILY).

    TEAM
    SLOGAN
    AGENCY
    Orioles
    "This is Birdland."
    In-house
    Red Sox
    None *
    NA
    White Sox
    "There are Traditions.
    And There Are White Sox Traditions."
    Energy BBDO; In-house
    Indians
    "Are You in the Tribe?" Brokaw Creative; In-house
    Tigers
    "Always a Tiger." Simons Michelson Zieve
    Royals
    "You Belong at the K." VML
    Angels
    "Fan Faithful, Fan Loyal, Fan Strong." In-house
    Twins
    "This is Twins Territory." Periscope
    Yankees
    “Yankee Stadium … the Inaugural Season.”
    In-house
    Athletics
    "100% Baseball Through the Lens of the Fan." Eleven Inc.
    Mariners
    "Mariners Baseball.  A New Day.  A New Way." In-house
    Rays
    "We Are One Team."
    Pyper Paul & Kenney;
    In-house
    Rangers
    "Built for Fun." The Wolf Group
    Blue Jays
    "You Belong at the Game." 
    Publicis

    * = The Red Sox have a branding campaign via Conover Tuttle Pace, Boston, entitled “Here,” which will focus on the history and tradition of the team and Fenway Park. The team also will unveil a campaign entitled "Moments" for its Red Sox Nation program.

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