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MLB clubs attacking their sales challenges
Published December 26, 2005
The winter is a time of transition around Major League Baseball. Here is a look at seven teams facing a busy offseason:
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 2.06 million, 20th
Key sales issues: Reversing three-year attendance slide; convincing fans last year’s 26-win improvement after disastrous 51-111 season in 2004 is a sign of better things to come.
The skinny: The Diamondbacks are still very much a team in transition as general partners Ken Kendrick and Jeff Moorad continue efforts to put their stamp on the club. The team is installing a new LED fascia scoreboard that wraps around much of the ballpark’s interior and will be the longest in baseball. Also in the works is an increase in the team’s advertising budget — one of several line items that suffered in the financial crunch that ultimately led to the departure of Jerry Colangelo.
But many issues remain. Phoenix continues to have a transient population, leaving the Diamondbacks to shoot for season-ticket retention rates between 80-85 percent while many other MLB teams expect 90 percent or better. The club is looking for a new head of sales and marketing after Mark Fernandez left for a similar post with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. And many fans still miss Colangelo or believe he was wrongly forced out. Players such as Luis Gonzalez and Troy Glaus are solid talents, but not stars in the order of former Diamondbacks Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling.
“We can all talk about fancy marketing strategies, but the main thing we need to do is simply win,” said Rich Dozer, team president. “We keep pushing forward, and we’ll draw. Getting to 2.5 million [in attendance] is a stretch goal for us, but we’ve budgeted for 2.2 million, and I’m comfortable that we’ll get there.”
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 2.62 million, 14th
Key sales issues: Restore luster to the tarnished “Oriole Way” brand, find a magnet for marketing activity as free agents spurn Baltimore for other offers.
|ORIOLES: The O’s heard nos in the offseason
and await the effect on ticket sales.
The skinny: The last two months have been brutal for the Orioles. Chicago White Sox slugger Paul Konerko refused a richer offer from the Orioles to re-sign with the world champions. The club emerged from the Winter Meetings with only new catcher Ramon Hernandez, leaving little immediate hope of ending an eight-year run of losing seasons. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, predominantly owned by the Orioles, delayed plans to begin 24/7 programming as its fractious legal dispute with Comcast SportsNet rages on. Baltimore’s fellow AL East also-rans, Tampa Bay and Toronto, both made major steps to reshape their organizations and overall brands.
The effects of this will be seen in January, when both deposits for season-ticket renewals come due and individual game tickets go on sale. One thing is certain, however: Orioles officials are bracing for further pressures on attendance from the Washington Nationals. The Orioles showed some resilience in the early season against their new neighbor before ending the year down 4 percent at the gate from 2004.
“I don’t think there’s any question we’ve yet to feel the full effects from Washington,” said Joe Foss, Orioles chief operating officer. “Not when they’ve yet to get an owner and into their new ballpark.”
A new series of ads, being developed with The Leffler Agency, will begin soon. No theme has been selected, but specific ads are likely to highlight Camden Yards, the team’s foremost calling card.
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 1.91 million, 26th
|ROCKIES: They’re focusing on grassroots marketing
to create a sunnier attendance outlook.
Key sales issues: Stopping an attendance slide that has seen crowds thin in eight of the last nine seasons, sell local fans on a youth movement.
The skinny: The Rockies have focused this offseason on grassroots marketing, creating theme nights, and making chairman Charlie Monfort a visible, accessible figure around Denver. The Rockies have scheduled four fan gatherings this winter, one of which has already been held, that double as focus group sessions. Monfort, team president Keli McGregor and all of the club’s senior baseball personnel will attend the sessions and respond to questions. Monfort also recently increased his power and investment in the club, completing a purchase of 42.5 percent of the team’s general partnership held by former chairman Jerry McMorris.
Heavy offseason marketing is crucial as the Rockies have seen turnout at Coors Field plummet by more than half since the ballpark opened in 1995 to an all-time low. Team officials are targeting between 2.2 million and 2.5 million for 2006 attendance, and season-ticket renewals have beat last year’s pace by 10 percent so far.
“Once you’ve lost a fan, it costs you a lot more to get them back,” said Greg Feasel, Rockies senior vice president of business operations.
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 3.6 million, 2nd
|DODGERS: They’ll try to bounce back by adding Garciaparra
(center, with Colletti [left] and Tommy Lasorda).
Key sales issues: Sell the public on the quality of the team — one that has seen clubhouse strife, significant turnover and one playoff entry in the last decade.
The skinny: Looking to improve its public image of Team Turmoil, the Dodgers are trying to sell a more placid, forward-looking theme. The Frank McCourt Era has started with several notable thuds, including a disastrous 91-loss season in 2005 and a front-office exodus that saw the firings of general manager Paul DePodesta and manager Jim Tracy. But with Ned Colletti and Grady Little replacing them, respectively, and the second phase of stadium renovations under way, team executives are pushing to get past the chaos.
The team generally has strong ticket sales. The roster for 2006 is still a work in progress, and while the addition of Nomar Garciaparra should help, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim continue to battle the Dodgers for attention and headlines.
“We’ve made a lot of changes around here that should begin to bear fruit, and we’re getting a lot of new [ticket] buyers,” said Marty Greenspun, Dodgers chief operating officer.
The stadium renovations, set to be done by Opening Day, will bring new seats and a new color palette for the ballpark’s interior, box seating in the lower bowl, and repairs to the stadium’s concrete.
The team is offering season tickets as low as $3 per game, and an expansion of partial season-ticket plans, a product the Dodgers only began selling last year.
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 2.83 million, 7th
|METS: Pedro Martinez will be joined by
more high-profile, high-dollar signings.
Key sales issues: Overcome fan disappointment of last year’s fourth-place finish after an offseason spending spree for Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran.
The skinny: Again, much has changed in the offseason in Flushing. Gone is franchise stalwart Mike Piazza, but arriving are closer Billy Wagner, slugger Carlos Delgado and catcher Paul Lo Duca, high-profile additions that have created a new ticket-sales frenzy. With the launch of their regional sports network, SportsNet New York, this spring, the team has begun to look more like the Yankees than the Yankees themselves. Team officials are embracing the pressure.
“We’ve made a dramatic statement to the marketplace, and the expectations that result from that are fine,” said Dave Howard, executive vice president of business operations. “There has been a clear sense of an upgrading in the quality of our product. What’s not to like about that?”
After increasing attendance 21 percent last year, the Mets expect to surge past 3 million in attendance in 2006, something that hasn’t happened since 1988 and just twice in franchise history. In early January, team executives are planning to unveil designs for a new ballpark to be built in the Shea Stadium parking lot and open in 2009.
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 1.82 million, 28th
|PIRATES: There’s an All-Star Game to
look forward to, but what about victories?
Key sales issues: Enticing fans after 13 straight losing seasons; leveraging the 2006 All-Star Game at PNC Park into long-term season ticket sales.
The skinny: Owner Kevin McClatchy has found it difficult to shake an image as a boss unwilling to make the roster and front-office investments necessary to build a winner. But team officials insist a turnaround is near, fueled by an improved club and retooled sales initiatives.
Attendance rose 15 percent last year after a three-year slide, and another bump to 2 million in total attendance is targeted for 2006. The Pirates have already sold 8,500 season tickets for next season, nearly equal their 2005 total.
The sales bump owes to several factors, team officials say. McClatchy released an open letter in October asserting that the club was “in a much better baseball and financial position than we have been for years.” Also at work is a series of grassroots initiatives planned for 2006, and additional purchase options for partial-season ticket plans.
Like other All-Star Game hosts, the Pirates are offering seats to the Midsummer Classic to all full-season ticket holders and some partial plan accounts.
“We think we’ve turned a corner,” said Tim Schuldt, Pirates vice president of marketing, sales and broadcasting. “We’ve got good, young players, financial flexibility, and we feel the ship has been righted.”
Bay Devil Rays
2005 attendance, MLB rank: 1.15 million, 30th
Key sales issues: Rebuild tattered franchise after eight turbulent seasons under former managing general partner Vince Naimoli.
The skinny: Everything is new in Tampa. Since October, the club has received the unprecedented quartet of a new managing general partner (Stuart Sternberg), team president (Matt Silverman), head of baseball operations (Andrew Friedman) and field manager (Joe Maddon). And that means starting completely over. Sternberg has pledged a total transformation of team operations and the club’s interface with the public. Already, results have begun to surface. Season-ticket sales for next season have already surpassed 2005’s meager total (less than 8,000) just on renewals and incoming requests, with advertising and cold-call sales to the general public not set to begin until mid-February.
Sponsorships have similarly been on a slow-growth track, with Silverman and his staff starting with the tentative step of rebuilding damaged relationships with Tampa’s business community.
“We’re simply not about making a hard pitch right now,” Silverman said. “The first thing we need to do is simply have a series of conversations about what we’re about and what we can do for this community. We have to rebuild the trust that’s been lost.”
A new marketing slogan will highlight the forthcoming advertising, perhaps incorporating the “Under Construction” tagline now being used by the club. An extensive renovation to Tropicana Field — one that could reach $10 million — is also under way.