For my birthday last year, my daughter and I went to a night game to see the Braves take on the Marlins while they were in hot pursuit of the NL Wildcard. It also happened to be $1 ticket night. We arrived early to avoid the crowd, but I soon realized that it wasn’t necessary. A mere 25,000 was the listed attendance for this pivotal game, but even that low number was an exaggeration on the high side.
Despite the small crowd, it was one of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever attended at the Ted. The crowd wasn’t just there for the cheap tickets, they were into the game and its playoff implications. Even my six-year-old didn’t want to leave her seat. In between innings, I scanned the empty seats and wondered what the Braves could do to get people to pay more attention to a team that is likely to be a winner in the coming years. I’m not a PR consultant, but I have a few ideas.
— As the $1 ticket experience revealed, the main price of the game isn’t the ticket. Time, parking, and safety are the big costs. People have plenty of other entertainment options, including watching the game on TV. The game has to offer something extra. At a minimum, the area around the stadium has to be cleaned up. Parking in a poorly-lit church lot and walking past a parade of beggars through a sketchy area of town is a big deterrent. I know you want people to get into the stadium to spend money, but scaring them in probably isn’t the best tactic if they don’t go down to the stadium in the first place. Buy some property around the stadium and clean it up. Expand parking opportunities to lessen traffic. Build some bars or restaurants outside the stadium that are only open around games. The goal isn’t to run directly profitable businesses in these establishments, but to clean up the area around the stadium. (Oh wait, a stadium didn’t spur economic development on its own?)
— Get some new between-innings “entertainment.” I don’t go to that many games and even I knew the script as to what was coming, right up the the annoying “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” sing along. Do something new, and don’t do the same thing every game. Dare I suggest using the giant scoreboard to talk about baseball? Focus on pennant races, game updates, and web gems. Maybe use the television announcers with some between-inning commentary to integrate the broadcast experience that is familiar to Braves fans.
— Sell this team as a winner. Last season’s ad campaign focused on Turner Field. Turner Field? Look, I like the Ted as much as the next fan, but its 14 years old: too old to be seen as a new and exciting, and too new to have nostalgic value. The seasons before, they sold the “baby Braves,” and that turned out to be boring when all but one of them blossomed. How about selling Atlanta fans a winning team? Don’t just put a winner on the field, remind fans that that’s the goal that this team is aiming for. This team is going to be a contender. Come watch us take on the Division rival NL Champion Phillies! Isn’t that exciting? Why not use it.
— Signal that this team is different to fans. Let fans see a visible sign that this team is different. No more, hanging around until mid-season before breaking your heart. How can you signal this? Why not new uniforms? Be bold. Deviate from the string of Division championships as a motivation for following the team; that was five seasons ago. Adopt a slogan like, “A Whole New Breed of Winners,” but less lame.
— Be more open with fans, and cut the corporate trust-us-we-know-what-we’re-doing attitude. For example, just yesterday, John Schuerholz told Mark Bowman the following.
In addition, those fans who have summed the estimated salaries that the Braves will dish out this summer, find themselves wondering why it appears the Braves might be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million less than they did during the 2009 season.
When asked about the 2010 payroll, Braves president John Schuerholz said it will remain the same despite that fewer fans came to Turner Field in 2009.
“It won’t be diminished at all,” Schuerholz said. “In the face of the economy and in the face of the downturn that we and a lot of other clubs had to deal with in terms of attendance and such, we’re not backing off. We’re going to continue committing all that we can in what I think is a very reasonable manner to put the club together.”
Calculations of salaries provided in 2009 confirm the Braves’ payroll was about $95 million. Estimated costs that will be incurred during the summer appear to rest in the neighborhood of $85 million.
Still the Braves contend that their payroll once again rests near the $90 million figure that was enhanced in 2009 with the insurance dollars they received while Tim Hudson spent the first five months of the season rehabbing from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery.
This act is tiresome, and the condescending double-speak rubs everyone the wrong way. Fans have been buzzing all offseason about what the team was going to do with a payroll equivalent to last year’s, which is commonly listed at about $97 million.
Why suddenly act like this is what the team has been planning all along, and you’re just ignorant for thinking otherwise? Cut the bullshit. You either cut payroll by trading Vazquez, or you have been misleading fans by allowing the false expectation of a mid-$90 million payroll to persist. Insulting fans isn’t a way to build fan loyalty. And if this was on innocent divergence in expectations between fans and the front office, address it head on. Why are we just now learning about the Hudson insurance issue caveat to the “stable payroll” talking point that’s been pushed? Because this should be obvious to everyone, right? This could have been explained to a beat reporter weeks ago. Now after making some good moves, Braves fans are disappointed.
— It’s time for the Braves to embrace the new media. Braves fans just don’t watch TV, listen to the radio, and read the newspaper. And they read more than MLB.com in the Internet. Invite some fan-bloggers to the stadium for a meet-and-greet, maybe even hand out a few press credentials. How about Frank Wren sitting down for an interview with Mac Thomason, whose been blogging about the Braves before the term “blog” existed.
— And speaking of Frank Wren, let’s see some more of him. I have been very impressed with Wren’s open and frank style in interviews. He comes off friendly and honest, and he’s made some good moves. He’s very different than his predecessor, and I think the club would benefit from seeing Wren as the club’s figurehead; especially, with Bobby Cox stepping down after the season. To his credit, Wren does make himself available to the media, and I think he should continue to expand to new outlets.