SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Franchises

Astros enlist MLBAM to create online fan research forum to gain feedback on team initiatives

The Houston Astros are creating an online fan research forum aimed at quickly collecting fan sentiment on new team initiatives.

The forum, under development with the aid of MLB Advanced Media, at the start will have about 30 people of various ticket-purchasing levels with the club. More people are likely to be added later.

Astros officials are now screening applicants for the forum. The online component will be supplemented by at least six in-person meetings a year.

Astros owner Jim Crane has participated in numerous town hall meetings with fans.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The effort builds on more than 30 meet-and-greet events and town hall meetings that club executives, including new owner Jim Crane, have held with fans since November.

“We’ve been collecting fan opinion and data continuously over the past five months. The idea here with the forum is to have a more efficient way to get a quick, reliable take on something we’re considering,” said George Postolos, Astros president and chief executive. “This is not designed to be statistically quantitative — we have other structures for that kind of research — but having this in place will be very valuable.”

Fan sentiment has already played a part in shaping recent club decisions for the Astros, including keeping the pistols on the throwback Colt .45s jerseys worn this month despite initial concerns from MLB; definitively retaining the Astros name for the long term; and creation of a more liberal policy on bringing food into Minute Maid Park.

“Literally everything has been on the table for review and consideration for change, and steadily, we’ve been learning where each of the lines are with the fans, and that process will continue,” Postolos said.

The Astros are in the throes of the most change-filled period in the club’s 50-year history with the arrival of Crane, Postolos and new general manager Jeff Luhnow; additional personnel shifts in the team’s front office; a pending realignment next season to the American League; and the likely introduction of new uniforms in 2013.

MLBAM has aided many other MLB clubs on similar online consumer research efforts, but given the breadth and depth all the changes in Houston, the club’s current canvassing arguably carries even more importance.

Despite a 106-loss season in 2011, the club’s worst ever, and dim on-field prospects for this season, the club has roughly equaled its season-ticket base of a year ago. The Astros on April 8 posted the smallest attendance in the 12-year history of Minute Maid Park, but several other games have posted stronger-than-expected walk-up ticket sales.

“We’ve been listening very carefully, and … I think attitudes are beginning to change,” Postolos said. “And as people realize that involvement on their part in collecting feedback actually does make a difference in the operation of the team, ideally the engagement gets even higher.”

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