SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/Facilities

Padres, Phils set to say goodbye to parks

When San Diego Padres marketers began planning for their final season at Qualcomm Stadium, they wanted to stretch the farewell across the entire year, rather than jamming it into the final month.

So since Opening Day, the Padres have peppered their schedule with retro themes. April was dedicated to the Padres' first team, which took the field in 1969. May was a celebration of the teams of the '70s. June revisited the '80s; July the '90s. August commemorated significant moments and players from the team's 35 years.

September will be devoted to a "Goodbye to the Q."

"We've really taken the looking-back mentality and stretched it throughout the whole season," said Steve Violetta, executive vice president of business affairs for the Padres, who this week head into their last month at Qualcomm Stadium. "It's something that has been present in almost everything we do."

Retrospection is the route that most clubs have taken during farewells to ballparks that, while woefully short on revenue potential, were typically long on emotional connection with fans. This season, the Padres and Philadelphia Phillies say goodbye to their old homes.

The Padres began tapping into that connection before the season even began, sending season-ticket holders a winter mailing that invited them to contribute snapshots of their favorite memories as Padres fans. The club took 80 of those photos and used each of them as the artwork for their season tickets.

At each home game this season, the Padres honor the fan who provided the photo used on that day's ticket, bringing each onto the field to turn the page on a countdown clock that ticks off the number of games remaining at Qualcomm Stadium.

"Season-ticket holders are your stockholders," Violetta said. "They're the core of your business. Anything you can do to recognize them and make them part of the ballpark experience, I think you have to do it."

The Padres took that approach even though they realized that the vast majority of those loyalists would be easy sells for season tickets at the new park.

"If I'm committed enough to go searching through an old shoe box looking for a 20-year-old photo, I'm probably a die-hard fan who's going to have tickets no matter what," Violetta said. "But we want them to be a part of what we're doing. We're building an even deeper connection with them. That's the payoff that comes from making them part of the whole experience."

The Padres and Phillies, who both close out their seasons at home on Sept. 28, are planning similar events for their respective farewell weekends.

Both teams have slapped a moniker on the games to set them apart from the rest of the schedule and position them as special events. The Padres will host "Say Goodbye to The Q Weekend." The Phillies have the "Final Innings."

The Phillies even managed to land two title sponsors for their "Final Innings": MAB Paints and Tastycakes. Violetta said the Padres couldn't sell their final weekend because it would conflict with the seasonlong presenting sponsorship they sold to Sycuan.

Both clubs will host fireworks shows on Friday night. Both will give away bobblehead-styled statues and stadium replicas. The Padres will pay tribute to an All-Time Team; the Phillies to an All-Vet Team.

The Padres begin their weekend with a Friday night appearance by the iconic Chicken, giving away a shimmying chicken bobble doll. On Saturday night they'll give away Petco Park caps and announce their All-Time Team, handing out a trading card set that will include all the players. They'll follow the game with a "Lights Out" ceremony that marks the final night game at Qualcomm. At the final game they'll give away a stadium replica that doubles as a holder for a commemorative ticket. They'll also hold a postgame ceremony.

The Phillies will give away their stadium replicas on the Sunday before their final weekend. They'll give away a Phil's Phillies bobblehead on the final Saturday, when they'll also announce the All-Vet team. And they'll give away a ticket lanyard on the final game, which also will include farewell ceremonies.

The six teams that moved into new stadiums since 2000 each saw an attendance bump in their final homestand at the old ballpark. Before moving to new homes in 2004, the Padres and Phillies have held stadium farewell events throughout the season.

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