SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2011/Events and Attractions

MLB’s plans in place to battle declines, heat

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Despite the searing Arizona heat that will push nearly all All-Star Game activities indoors, MLB is aiming to reverse some of the more sluggish event returns seen last year in Anaheim.

After strong performances in San Francisco (2007), New York (2008), and St. Louis (2009), last year’s events showed some decline. The Home Run Derby failed to sell out, even after last-minute ticket price discounts, and posted a 22 percent drop in TV ratings on ESPN. Tie-ins to the nearby Los Angeles entertainment community did not meet initial expectations. The All-Star Game itself posted an all-time low TV rating. And FanFest attendance in Anaheim of 118,429, while boosted by improved per-cap merchandise sales, still declined 21 percent from record-setting totals in St. Louis the year before.

Boosted by an early start this year to ticket sales, aggressive pricing discounts as much as 59 percent, and a tight downtown Phoenix footprint that places nearly every event within walking distance, league and Arizona Diamondbacks officials are eyeing a recharge to not only the event itself but also the entire Phoenix region.

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Chase Field will be the focal point for
All-Star activities in downtown Phoenix.
“This is going to be a massive boost not only for us, our fans and baseball, but this whole area,” said Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. The Arizona economy was among the hardest hit in the global economic decline of 2008-09, and recovery there remains unsteady.

“This is something we’ve been very actively pursuing for many years, and will be a major showcase for us,” Hall said.
This year’s All-Star Game will be held July 12 at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field.

Beyond the usual sellout for the All-Star Game itself, more than 44,000 tickets have been sold thus far for the Home Run Derby, and more than 100,000 thus far for FanFest at the Phoenix Convention Center. With a capacity of 47,000 for the All-Star Game events, Chase Field represents the second-largest facility to host the events in the last decade behind Yankee Stadium in 2008.

The clear subtext of the event this year will be to beat the heat, or at least manage it, in any way possible. Peak summertime temperatures in Phoenix routinely exceed 110 degrees. Among the corrective measures planned are the distribution of thousands of free bottles of water in downtown Phoenix from league sponsor Pepsi’s Aquafina brand, frequent misting stations and emergency personnel stationed throughout the downtown area.

The one-third-of-a-mile loop for the midday July 11 All-Star Parade is much shorter than in recent years, though similar to routes used in Pittsburgh (2006) and Detroit (2005). A charity 5K run held last year in Anaheim was also not revived for Phoenix.

“It is doubtful that if this all were to be held in February, the physical layout of the events would have been any different,” said Marla Miller, MLB senior vice president of special events. “But the footprint and the compactness of it in downtown Phoenix does really lend itself well to managing the heat. And this is a market very sophisticated and experienced in hosting big events.”

Recent major sporting events in Greater Phoenix include the 2011 BCS title game, the 2009 NBA All-Star Game and Super Bowl XLII in 2008.

MLB again will donate about $5 million to local and national causes as a result of the All-Star Game, right in line with prior years. But the charity element may be less prominent this year. A high-profile partnership with People Magazine called “All-Stars Among Us” to recognize ordinary citizens doing great things in their local communities was not revived after a successful two-year run. Also, an attempt to create a new All-Star dance party in partnership with “Glee” choreographer Zach Woodlee to benefit several cancer research charities was recently canceled amid disappointing ticket sales.

The Diamondbacks and MLB are also seeking to develop what would likely be an emotional pregame/first-pitch ceremony for the All-Star Game itself involving survivors and family members of the tragic January shootings in Tucson, Ariz.
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