The Padres and Rockies hook up for the first time since that fateful Game 163 in Denver last October. I recently had a chance to chat with Rox Girl of the excellent Rockies blog Purple Row about her expectations for the 2008 season, the challenges of marketing a team that plays half its games west of Connecticut, and more.
Ducksnorts: Coming off their first World Series appearance, I’d imagine the Rockies are a hot item in town right about now. How optimistic are fans that this team can return to the playoffs in a very competitive NL West? How do you see this club doing in ’08?
Rox Girl: The mood around Lodo is very optimistic. Well, at least it was before we got pummeled by the Diamondbacks the last couple of weeks.
I’m a little less optimistic, but that’s the way I’ve been from the get go. I think we’ll be competitive, but I don’t see any clear separation among the contenders in the division this year. A lot could go right and we’ll return to the playoffs, or a lot could go wrong and we’ll be around .500. I think the die in the NL West is slightly weighted to Arizona and LA this year, but all four teams seem to have a better than one in five shot of either winning the division or wildcard, and no better than one in three, which is both impressive and daunting. At this point anybody who says that they’re certain their team’s in is either lying or stupid. I think all we can say for sure is that all four teams should be better than the Giants. If they aren’t (ahem, Rockies are you listening to this?) something’s seriously wrong.
Ducksnorts: This is about how I see the division, although I consider the Diamondbacks more of a threat than the Dodgers. Arizona won the division last year without getting any contribution from the young position players. There’s a lot of untapped potential on that team, which disturbs me…
The Rockies didn’t make any big moves this off-season. Given how tough the division is and how aggressive teams like the Dodgers and Diamondbacks were, what kinds of moves might you have liked to see the team make?
Rox Girl: That’s difficult to answer. I’m sort of okay with the wait-and-see approach the team has taken as long as that’s what it really is and not a real complacency. I know the Rockies talked to Oakland about Danny Haren, but shied away from giving up the entire farm like Arizona did. The Rockies spent money, but it went to [Aaron] Cook, Tulo [Troy Tulowitzki], [Manny] Corpas and [Brad] Hawpe rather than free agents like Andruw [Jones] or [Hiroki] Kuroda. There are still opportunities to make big moves, if necessary, that might help our chances this year, but I think both the Padres and Rockies are similar in that their front offices do better in making seemingly insignificant moves turn a huge profit. You guys pick up Milton Bradley or Scott Hairston for nothing, and watch them drive the team. We trade Eli Marrero to get Kazuo Matsui, and fill a hole with a positive. Meanwhile, Dan O’Dowd’s track record with the high-profile moves hasn’t exactly been anything less than a train wreck, so I’m in a spot of quiet comfort with this under-the-radar approach. What about the Padres, have you reconciled with them the same way?
Ducksnorts: Good point about locking up the youngsters. As for under-the-radar moves, our teams are in a position where they need to execute these to succeed. Both have proven capable of doing so. After studying Kevin Towers’ trade record at great length, I have little reason to doubt his acumen. I’m perfectly content to watch division rivals throw eight figures at a #3 starter while the Padres routinely flip nothing for something. Headlines and notoriety are fun, but winning games is better.
I ask this next question because it’s the type of thing people want to know about the Padres, and our two teams are very similar in terms of how the public perceives them: Why should the suits at ESPN and other “national” media outlets care about the Rockies?
Rox Girl: Because we’re planning on moving to Bristol? Last season, the Rockies’ first game that was broadcast nationwide on Fox was Game 1 of the World Series. Their first national cable broadcast was the play-in game against the Padres. Unless our games start regularly ending before 11 Eastern time (Aaron Cook’s start this past Monday night actually made it, but that’s because the game started a half hour early and was the shortest in Coors Field history) when the East Coast news and SportsCenter can show our highlights, then I don’t see the national media attention turning our direction. To me, I’d think the smarter move would be that the Western teams establish strong local brands that travel well within the region and then try to market themselves as counterculture revolutionaries to young hipsters in Eastern cities. I envision a lot of Rockies ski caps on snowboarders in Vermont, or some emo kid wearing a Justin Upton jersey at Panic! At the Disco concerts in Boston or old school Padres regalia at a poetry reading in Greenwich Village in this scenario. You can see why I’m no longer in marketing. But no, I seriously think the way to approach this for the teams in the West is with absolutely zero regard to ESPN and other Eastern-based media outlets, but to focus on increasing exposure on regional sports networks and local newspapers. They need to follow the Dodgers’ lead and spend a lot more time, money and effort than they currently are on marketing to Mexico and Latin American countries — including visible tie-ins to the elite teams in those markets.
Ducksnorts: Right, this makes sense. As a Padres fan, ESPN and Fox really aren’t on my radar, which is fine because I’m not part of their target audience. It’s mainly Yankees and Red Sox fans who are buying whatever advertisers are selling at those networks, so where’s the incentive to engage folks who follow the Padres or Rockies? Creating demand at a local level would seem to be a good place to start. Get a buzz going, and maybe the larger conglomerates will start to pay attention; then these teams can build a reputation outside the region and bring in money from new sources.
Rox Girl: Remember how in the ’80s and early ’90s you would never hear about NASCAR? How their SportsCenter highlight would be a short blip covering one race on Sunday night and maybe a weekly half-hour show that probably aired at 3 a.m.? Yet these races would have a hundred-thousand fans screaming and buying merchandise and bringing a ton of revenue and once ESPN realized that they were losing out on ratings and ad dollars, they made a big effort to amp up their coverage. Now you hear about them all the time, how such and such driver is switching teams, or how one’s feuding with another. All of it’s really pretty boring to me still, but you’ve got to admit that the people that follow this are just as into it as we are into our teams, and there are a ton of them, and they have money to burn on products advertised on TV. Ultimately, the teams will only get noticed nationally after they build an audience that shows it has spending clout. Frankly, both teams need a lot more crazies in the stands, and a lot of rich closet crazies in the luxury boxes, before this happens. It would be helpful, though, if somebody created a West-biased national sports channel; you got a billion dollars or so to help out?
Ducksnorts: Not even in Monopoly money. I could bake cookies…
Thanks again to Rox Girl for stopping by and talking baseball with us. Best of luck to her team this year (once they’ve left San Diego, of course!).