SBJ/Aug. 15-21, 2016/Opinion

It’s no secret: Dogs want their lives to include baseball

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The Barkyard’s suites have seats for four adults and room for two pets. Each suite has artificial turf and an umbrella for shade.
Photo by: SAN DIEGO PADRES
As a pet owner who works full time, I face the same problem as millions of other “pet parents.” After being away from my dog all day, do I want to come home, walk and feed her, and leave again so that I can go to a baseball game? Most of the time, the answer is no, sadly — and I am a baseball lover. But if you live in the San Diego area, that same question can have a different answer and for every game, not just special occasions.

The San Diego Padres and their ballpark naming-rights partner have teamed up to create The Barkyard presented by Petco, a special seating area for dogs and their “parents” for every Padres home game. The Barkyard has a special entrance, is staffed by a certified dog trainer from Petco, and features open-air dog suites that seat up to four adults and two pets for as low as $100 for some games. The suite is carpeted with artificial turf, has an umbrella to create shade, and has water and food bowls. The Barkyard offers an in-seat menu and a complimentary homemade treat for each canine in attendance. Each dog also receives his or her own goodie bag with toys and treats and promotional literature from Petco. There is a “relief area” for the dogs, as well, and if the pet parents need relief, a Petco staffer will remain with the dog until they return.

Bark in the Park, a promotion offered throughout MLB, is the forerunner of this concept, but it is offered by teams only a few times per season and involves all dogs being in a certain area of the ballpark. The Arizona Diamondbacks went a step further this season, working with PetSmart to create a permanent dog-friendly area at Chase Field open for all of the team’s Sunday home games.

A goodie bag of treats and toys awaits visitors to the Padres’ special seating area for dogs and their “parents.”
Photo by: BILL SUTTON
The Barkyard in San Diego is a true pioneer in creating an every-game opportunity for dogs and their owners to enjoy a pet suite by themselves and even become season-ticket holders. A main differentiators between The Barkyard and the Bark in the Park events is that the number of dogs is limited to the number of suites and the dogs are located in an area where there is no interaction with other dogs unless adjacent pet owners wish to introduce the dogs to each other in one of the suite areas.

“Given our long-standing partnership with Petco, it’s only natural that Petco Park would become the first MLB venue to welcome fans together with their dogs in a dedicated space at every home game,” said Sergio del Prado, Padres vice president of corporate partnerships.

I attended a Padres game and went to The Barkyard in July. What I saw didn’t surprise me: Happy pet owners enjoying the Padres game, and happy dogs enjoying the attention from their owners and the Petco staffer— and that Petco goodie bag. I talked with the dog owners and, of course, shook paws with their dogs. Peyton the Padre Dog came to the game from Las Vegas; Colby, a golden retriever and certified Giants fan, attended from north of San Diego. Both were enthusiastically supportive of the concept and planned to bring their owners to multiple games this season and next.

“We really enjoyed our first Barkyard experience,” said Candice Dryer, pet parent to Colby. “We were greeted at the gate and led to our seats. The box we sat in was very roomy and we liked that it had shade for our pup. We were treated so well and loved everyone coming by to say hello. The goodie bag was a nice surprise!

“I love bringing my dog places,” Dryer said, “so it’s fun to have him with us for a ballgame. We would definitely recommend the Barkyard to other pet parents. In fact, we already have tickets for a return visit in September.”

Peyton enjoys some attention from the Pad Squad.
Photo by: SHAUN SULLER
Sean Suller, pet parent to Peyton, had similar feelings but added that besides the treat and the alligator toy, Peyton’s favorite part of the evening was a visit from the Pad Squad, the team’s ambassador squad.

David Hallisey, Petco vice president of communications, said that The Barkyard presented by Petco concept was the result of being “12 years into the 22-year partnership agreement and having a better understanding of how Petco can be integrated into the Padres’ in-game experience in a meaningful and authentic way.”

“We found that there was overwhelming demand to evolve from a one-day event to a yearlong interaction for pet parents and the dogs,” he said. “We see the 2016 introduction of The Barkyard as a logical next step to learn and determine what things will look like in 2017 and beyond.”

It also goes without saying that The Barkyard provides an excellent opportunity for introducing and sampling natural food and treats focused on nutrition and pet health.

Obviously the concept works in baseball, so it could also be adapted to other sports played outdoors, like football and soccer. But it would be logical to assume that there would be a market for pet parents to follow their favorite sports regardless of the venue, even golf. It also would seem that given the number of dog owners in the United States (37 percent to 47 percent of all households in the United States have at least one dog, and there are approximately 70 million to 80 million dogs in the U.S., according to ASPCA.com) this would be a fertile ticket market for professional and collegiate sports, as well as a sponsorship opportunity, as that number would reflect a significant target market for dog-related products and staples. If you spend any time in California, in addition to Petco Park, your dog is welcome in numerous restaurants and also able to shop in person at Nordstrom and other indoor retail establishments.

Follow The Barkyard story as it evolves — better yet, go to a game and experience it yourself — to see how Petco and the Padres work to expand and improve the concept. If baseball is America’s pastime and dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend, could there be a better marriage with a better sponsorship activation opportunity?

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

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