SBD/April 15, 2013/Franchises

The King And I: Mariners Shift Marketing Plans Around Felix Hernandez

Mariners P Felix Hernandez, who prior to this season signed a seven-year, $175M contract, is the "face of the franchise," and is at the "forefront of the Mariners' marketing plans," according to Jerry Brewer of the SEATTLE TIMES. Hernandez "helps shape the perception of this franchise in ways that defy the fact he appears in only 20 percent of their games." Mariners VP/Marketing Kevin Martinez said, "He's front and center because he's the one fans have connected with the most. While he doesn't play every day, his presence is felt." Brewer wrote when the Mariners were paying RF Ichiro Suzuki $18M a year, they "used to intimate that his international fame helped the team receive a substantial return on investment." Though Hernandez is "perhaps the best in baseball at what he does, he doesn't have the same worldwide cachet, at least not yet." The Mariners "made a baseball decision, not a butts-in-seats decision, when they committed to paying Hernandez." Still, there is a "great value to having Hernandez beyond how well he performs every fifth day." The Mariners started the King's Court fan section at Safeco Field after Hernandez won the '10 AL Cy Young Award. He "salutes the King's Court as he takes the mound, and he's genuinely touched that he has his own cheering section." Hernandez, a Venezuelan, also has "improved his English enough to be an enthusiastic and entertaining contributor to the Mariners' popular commercials." His on-field "greatness and popularity makes it easy for the Mariners to sell him, but his level of engagement makes the possibilities endless." Hernandez is "simply willing to do whatever it takes to make people believe in the Mariners" (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/12).

TRENDING DOWN: In Seattle, Larry Stone noted the 12 smallest crowds in Safeco Field history "have all come since 2011, and eight of those have been in April -- including the two lowest (for now) on Tuesday and Wednesday last week against the Astros (10,745 and 10,493)." It appeared that a "bit of a buzz was building for the ballclub in spring training," but after winning the first two games of the season against the A's, it has been "a perfect buzz-kill storm." Seattle's days as "one of the reliably rabid baseball towns are long past." Crowds at Safeco Field have been "on a steady, precipitous drop ever since the 2002 peak of 3,540,482, tops in the major leagues and just short of a full-season sellout." Mariners season tickets after last season "dropped to between 8,000 and 8,500, the lowest since Safeco Field opened, down from a high of about 22,000 in 2002." The Mariners will "continue to sell season-ticket packages until mid-May," but the final numbers are "expected to be slightly down" from last year. The team is "working from an attendance base in the 8,000s, reliant on walk-up sales for the rest."  April is "never ... a great walk-up month" (SEATTLE TIMES, 4/14).
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