With Fans Like These, Who Needs Air Conditioning?

You know the old saw: When the going gets tough, the weak flee screaming like frightened little schoolchildren. Seems one former Padres “fan” has had enough and jumped on the Red Sox bandwagon (I’m flattered that someone actually took my advice). That must have been a difficult decision, but I’m sure now he feels like a real winner. Hooray for that.

From the bandwagoner:

However, after the recent events with Padres ownership and management, I have come to the conclusion that they are doing a huge disservice not only to their fans but to the community as well.

I couldn’t agree more. Wait, we’re talking about 1993 and Tom Werner’s fire sale, right? Hey, that reminds me, be sure to say hi to Mr. Werner for us and thank him for all the good times he showed you in San Diego. His service to the fans and the community remains unparalleled.

Also, remember not to refer to 2004 as “the good old days.” You don’t want to expose your true nature… not right away, at least.

Meanwhile, for those of us still following the Padres, Tom Krasovic at the U-T speculates that attendance could dip below 2 million for the first time over a full season since — drum roll, please — 1993. I love this quote from Sandy Alderson:

We tend to have two groups of season ticket holders: the ones who decided they’re not coming back for one of those reasons, and ones who are coming back and are tickled to death because they are going to get to improve their seat location. So someone will benefit from this.

First, the optimism is great. Second, count me in the “tickled to death” camp; I’m thrilled with my seats for 2009. But then, I go for the baseball.

Which leads me to my next point. Dex at Gaslamp Ball offers some suggestions on how to help boost attendance. His basic idea is to bring in a few familiar names to throw out the first pitch before games. He’s right that some folks will come out to see, e.g., Darren Sproles (glomming onto this town’s darling franchise makes a lot of sense, and the Padres should do it at every opportunity; people love the Chargers).

This doesn’t affect me because, as I say, I’m here for the games. I don’t go to the movies for the popcorn and soda. My favorite feature in a cell phone isn’t the color purple. But I think Dex is onto something. The Padres need to find a way to grab folks that don’t really care about baseball.

(Incidentally, I’m not the right person to help. My last idea for a marketing slogan went nowhere: “Padres baseball: Sit down, quit your whining, and watch the damn game.”)

This is a blind spot for me. I have a hard time imagining what it’s like not to like baseball. I wouldn’t even know where to start in trying to convince someone who isn’t a fan that it might be worth their while to attend a game. (Worse, I’d ask them what they like and suggest that they do that instead.)

A big-league team, however, can’t afford to be unconcerned with such matters. Selling tickets and jerseys is great, but without some sort of justification — rational or otherwise — folks may not be so eager to buy these things.

Like political and religious leaders, marketers are in the business of selling hope. For whatever reason, the Padres haven’t been able to do that.

Then again, hope isn’t a magical cure. It’s a nice start, but I sense that some folks are desperately seeking something that just doesn’t exist. And when life fails to meet their expectations, they seek something else, be it a shiny purple cell phone or a comfy seat on the Red Sox bandwagon.

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25 Responses »

  1. The best and ultimately the only way to market a baseball team is winning, and Mr. Moores has announced, by his actions, that winning is not longer a priority for this team. Why should anyone be interested in the Padres, particularly at the prices the Pads charge now? Back in the 70′s/80′s, the Padre teams stunk for the most part, but at least you could get a cheap seat to watch some baseball without expecting too much. Now, the cheap seats aren’t particularly cheap and are few in number.

    For the prices the Padres charge, people want a better product otherwise they will spend their entertainment dollars elsewhere. The SDSU baseball team, the Lake Elsinore Storm or even the Quakes offer a better value if you love baseball – and the Storm might actually get somewhere again this year! For many, myself included, it will be the minors and Tony Gwynn’s boys this year.

  2. First, I love your slogan. Can’t believe nobody ran with that.

    But, I’m actually looking forward to this Padres’ season. There’s a good chance to see a lot of former Fort Wayne Wizards. If I lived in San Diego, I’d go to games simply to watch them. But then again, if I lived in San Diego, I probably wouldn’t give a darn about players who went through Fort Wayne.

  3. Can Bill Veeck’s son buy the team?

  4. #2@BigOldHarry: Unfortunately, winning wasn’t helping the Padres marketing efforts either. Totally agree about the Storm. Cal League games are a blast.

    #3@ChadGramling: Yeah, I don’t know why the slogan didn’t fly. And I’m very pumped for the season. It’s a lot of fun to see kids reach the big leagues after watching them play in the minors.

  5. I think attendance would be fine. The only problem I see is that perception and expectation for the team has changed since they moved to Petco.

    Qualcomm Padres routinely broke 2 million mark even with the losing teams we saw years after the 98 team. I see no reason this 09 team will be worse than those.

  6. The Padres reached an agreement on a one-year, $750,000 deal with catcher Henry Blanco on Wednesday.


    Looks like Virgil Vasquez is off the 40-man roster.

  7. There has to be a middle ground. You sound a bit shrill at fans venting frustration that our team this year has done nothing except shed dollars and poke around in the bargain bin. In a year when decent talent was available at decent prices (thinking Burrell, Bradley). I don’t get mad at the management. These are smart baseball guys, they are given payroll constraints, and they do their best.

    I do get a bit frustrated by the payroll clampdown that is sucking any hope out of next season. But, if your marriage of 40 years is dissolving nastily, I guess you have to give some license.

    What gets me frustrated is the inherent imbalance. I think we are poster child for that unfairness. We have some of the smartest brains in baseball working for us, and, after suffering a 99 loss season, we have to buckle down more and bear out a few more years of it. These guys took some bets that did not pay off. Calculated risks. You cannot second guess that after the many smart trades they have made.

    Do any major market teams have to face those constraints? No. Draft did not play out, make some trades where you absorb some over-priced talent. Over-priced, but still useful. Or go to the FA market and do the same. You may not fill in all the holes, but you can probably still viably compete. Not us.

    So, playing cards is fun, but not so fun when you start to realize the cards are too far stacked against you. A little, OK, my smarts will make up for it. Too much, you want to stop playing. That is where I am.

    I love going to games, soaking in a evening, eat some dogs and drinking some pricey beers, but, you know what, it’s a lot more fun when the team wins and even more fun when they are competing.

    I don’t think I am alone, and calling fans fair-weather because they dislike losing is not fair. I’ve been following this team since the late 70s. In that 30 year period I’ve had 5 post-season appearances and not have had a post-season series win since 1998, 10 years. 1-10 in the post season since 1998.

    I will still follow them, still hope, but in a sad way, knowing we are going to get less than our share of happy days in the future. Why? Dumb management. Nope. Mean owner. Nope. No hustle. Nope. But because the value of our local advertising market is a small fraction of markets like LA, Chicago, SF, Boston and NY.

  8. #2@BigOldHarry: We did that for the last few years (Save 2008) and it was still a struggle. Frankly, this team has not been marketed well for a number of years. I think one of the best “above the line” hires this team could make is a good marketing guy…clearly, that is an area this team has been lacking. Hence my call to:

    “Free Charles Steinberg”

  9. Just wanted to gloat about living in Boston for six years and never jumping on the sox bandwagon. Is that something that’s gloatable? I don’t know.

    And of course, I have kept my allegiance to the Chargers as well.

    I get conflicted about the Celtics, though. I never had a basketball team as a kid. I never felt like San Diegans adopted the Lakers or Clippers as their own. So is it okay for me to like the Celtics?

  10. #8@jay: Yes, I am very frustrated with fans. Okay, so the Padres haven’t won a World Series in their 40 years of existence. The Cubs can beat that, and how many of their fans have abandoned ship or otherwise lost interest since 1908?

    I’ll be blunt: To see so many people give up on the team after one bad season in five sickens me. This isn’t directed at you personally, but I guess because I spend so much time thinking and writing about the Padres, I hear a *lot* of complaints. After a while it all starts to sound like so many dogs barking. Now, when people offer solutions, my ears perk up and I think maybe we have the basis for an actual conversation.

    When I hear complaints, it sounds like defeat. When I hear solutions, there is the possibility of a different outcome. I’m more interested in thinking about ways to improve the situation than in bemoaning the fact that it needs improving.

    As for the fairness issue, I respect that opinion. I disagree with it because it’s too much of a crutch for my taste and there are other organizations that have succeeded despite their positions of relative disadvantage. Heck, entire *industries* have been built from positions of disadvantage.

    I guess part of the joy to me is in overcoming obstacles. We don’t know what life will throw at us. To give up in the face of adversity is just… unacceptable to my way of thinking. And maybe that’s an unreasonable position, but it’s how I’m wired.

    And I’m still fired up for the ’09 season, which is also an unreasonable position. ;-)

  11. #11@Geoff Young: So what you’re saying is — No whining.

  12. “The Padres need to find a way to grab folks that don’t really care about baseball.”

    Last I checked, these were the only people at Petco Park! The stadium has always been lousy with nacho-eating, cell-phone-yakking, only-cheering-when-the-big-screen-says-to-be-cheering, only-here-because-this-is-the-only-place-downtown-where-I-can-find-a-seat-to-sit-in-while-I-drink-overpriced-beer kinds of folks.

    The Padres need to field a team that people want to watch, not find even more ways to convince people to continue to come to Petco despite the fact the Padres can’t field a team worth watching.

    Petco Park was poorly designed. It is way too big and too spread out. They should have made it compact so it felt full with 30,000 people there, and felt like it would explode on those nights when 44,000 showed up to collect their annual threadbare beach towel.

    As it is, we’ve got a ballpark that feels empty even when it’s full. And if it is full, it’s generally full of people who aren’t very interested in what happens on the field. And the Padres compound it all by fielding teams full of players that even someone like me–who very much wants to be interested in the players on the field–has little interest in watching.

    Now is when you’re going to point out that these dull teams made the playoffs and had good winning percentages. I don’t have a logical reply to that, except to say that being a fan isn’t a logical act.

  13. #12@Kevin: Pretty much. In my experience, “let’s do something” leads to more interesting and productive conversations than “this sucks.”

    #13@Christopher Keach: I think you’ve hit on some very important points here. The Padres may be better served by trying to push the entertainment value rather than focusing on wins and losses. Don’t worry so much about being competitive, just show folks a good time.

    It seems weird to me, because I go for the games, but maybe the Padres would have better success that way. Didn’t they even try to work “experience” into one of their marketing campaigns a few years ago? They need to sell the experience, because those of us who go for the games will be there anyway… well, unless everyone there for the “experience” insists on doing the wave all the time. ;-)

    Another problem with Petco Park — not from a standpoint of how it affects the team but how it affects fans — is that it suppresses offense. Most people don’t geek out on stuff like pitch sequences or defensive positioning; they want to see runs and lots of ‘em.

    I dunno, maybe the Padres would do better in a bandbox. That way when the team has a bad year, folks will be distracted by all the home runs.

    * * *

    I don’t have a logical reply to that, except to say that being a fan isn’t a logical act.

    Yeah. I keep forgetting that.

  14. #14@Geoff Young:

    “Another problem with Petco Park — not from a standpoint of how it affects the team but how it affects fans — is that it suppresses offense.”

    For my money, the baseball played at Petco is as skewed as the baseball played at Coors Field. While there may be perfectly good baseball reasons for playing in a severe pitchers park, it turns off a lot of fans. As long at Petco is in its current configuration, fans perception will be that the offense sucks. Alas, people do not want to hear about splits, and extra base hits, on the road. I am not saying they need to turn Petco into a bandbox, but it does need to be normalized.

  15. #11@Geoff Young: The Cubs are a unique case, and are more the exception than the rule.
    Chicago is a much larger city.
    Despite the lack of championships, it is still a historic franchise with a great tradition.
    They play in a historic park, that is an attraction in itself.
    They have cornered the market on the “lovable loser”, team of futility,
    long suffering fan, a la the Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Red Sox.
    I don’t know much about ownership, other than the Tribune Company has been an owner. But the FO doesn’t seem to commit the PR fiascoes that the Padres have.
    Even after the White Sox won the World Series, the Cubs outdrew them with a last place record in 2006. Even teams with a solid fan base would have trouble doing that.

    Maybe the White Sox (prior to 2005) are a better example of a struggling fan base.

  16. I can’t say that I’m surprised by the lack of fan interest. That’s not because San Diego has bad fans, or that there’s too much to do, but rather because most people in San Diego are from somewhere else. So it’s hard to get someone from Chicago to get fired up for Padres baseball.

    Now, I’m a Padres fan and have been a Padres fan for as long as I’ve been a baseball fan. I grew up listening to Jerry Coleman doing the games as I mowed the lawn, and I would come home and watch the game during the early afternoon (particularly in the Jack Clark/Roberto Alomar era for some reason). I even worked on Prop. C, working as an intern for one of its many political consultants. But the thing is, I’m not normal. Nor is anyone else who reads this blog.

    The second problem is that San Diego, unlike almost any other city, is not a regional hub. Denver, for instance, is a much smaller city, but pulls in fans from three states. San Diego is twice the size of Boston, but Boston has 4 times the fan base. So its a deceptively difficult market.

    The key is to promote, promote, promote. Not just in San Diego, but in Riverside and TJ. The more locals you get the better the fan base. Then the Pads can survive the long losing stretches.

  17. Good stuff, guys. I have some additional thoughts on this topic, but I’m still digesting them. With luck I will post those next week. You’ve all helped me gain a better understanding of the problem. Thanks. :-)

  18. #17@Jim T: I realize that this thread has run its course, but one of your comments about the size of cities is too important to let pass.
    San Diego is not really twice the size of Boston. Boston is much larger.
    The San Diego city area is 325 square miles, while Boston’s is 48 square miles. That means someone living 4 miles from downtown is not included in the Boston population number, while someone living 15 miles from downtown San Diego is. If you laid a map of Boston over San Diego, the city limits would be somewhere around Mission Valley or Old Town. It is an apples and oranges comparison.

    That’s why it is important to look at the metropolitan market size. Boston is ranked as the 10th largest metropolitan area, while San Diego is ranked between 20th and 17th (depending on whether Tijuana is included, and how large a circle is drawn around the city).

    So, what that means is,…if you draw a 40 mile circle around Petco and Fenway, there are about 50% more people in the Fenway circle.
    I see comments similar to yours made quite often, and I thought it was important to clear up the confusion.

  19. #19@parlo: One correction: I meant to say “someone living 8 miles from downtown is not included in the Boston population number”.

  20. #19@parlo: That’s what I meant. The city of Boston has a much smaller population than San Diego, but the greater Boston area is much, much larger. So, even though San Diego is the 7th largest city in the U.S., it’s a fairly small media market.

  21. I know this thread is basically done but I think something important was left out, beyond the Padres basic marketing sucking (though I find him interesting to listen to, Alderson on the radio does nothing, pretty much, ever to help draw casual fans).

    Maybe I understand it better because most of the people I know fall into the casual fan/non-fan bracket. The name on the back of the jersey is more important than the name on the front for marketing to the casual fan.

    The friend I go to games with likely will not be able to name a single one of the 2009 starting 9, but he knows who Trevor Hoffman is, he knows who Jake Peavy is, and he definitely knows who Tony Gwynn is (don’t underestimate the number of fans who came to watch the Padres when they were bad because Tony was there).

    When people feel they know a player it builds excitement. The Padres don’t do business this way. When the players move in and out through a revolving door, fans become less interested, especially fans who go to be entertained.

    Think of it this way, using part of Geoff’s analogy of the movies, there are movie fans who go to see independent movies, or watch classic black and white movies for the story, acting, camera work, etc., they will go see a movie with a cast and director they have never heard of before. They are already sold.

    Most people want to see the big summer blockbuster with their favorite actor with the same over the top special effects they saw last summer (probably the same exact story and characters, too).

    This latter group is the one that needs to be marketed to, if you want 3 million fans. They want excitement, and names. Lucchino understood this, I don’t think Alderson does.

  22. #22@David M:

    They want excitement, and names.

    Bingo. I’m beginning to question whether my most fundamental assumption — that winning is the primary goal of a baseball team — holds true. It may be that winning is useful only insofar is it puts butts in the seats; if winning doesn’t do that, then how important is it? We’ll talk more about this next week.

  23. #23@Geoff Young: Do the best movies make the most money? Or do the movies with the biggest stars and explosions make the most money? Major League Baseball is entertainment so is it really all that fundamentally different from Hollywood in the eyes of the public?

  24. #11@Geoff (Not sure how to do that cool way the others do):

    I respect looking for solutions, and mine is sane revenue sharing agreement that puts franchises at similar spending power for payroll. You can get into the weeds on this, but it does not have to hurt player salaries to spread the wealth. And I think it would help baseball. The lower tier teams are going to feel more engaged if a) the salary balance leads to more competitive balance b) fans feel like the success is controlled by the GM and manager, not by spending power.

    Few other franchises have been able to consistently compete with modest payroll. Oakland, obviously. But Beane seems like a rare genius. We have stolen the other parts. St. Louis, though they are a regional power. Tampa and Arizona have had some flashes, and Milwaukee very recently, but I don’t think a franchise having a few years of competitiveness surrounded by years of poor performance is a healthy system. When I think of teams that usually compete at the top of their divisions:

    NL East: NYN, PHL, ATL
    NL Central: STL, CHN
    NL West: LAN, SF (been more diversity recently with SD, DEN, PHX)

    AL West: OAK, LAA. Beane is a genius
    AL Central: CHA, DET, MSP. Minneapolis is an exception.
    AL East: BOS, NYA

    List of teams that do not consistently compete:
    NL East: MIA, WDC
    NL Central: CIN, MIL, HOU, PIT
    NL West: DEN

    AL West: DAL, SEA
    AL Central: KCA, CLE
    AL East: BAL, TOR, TAM

    I am sure a reasonable reader could take many exceptions to specific teams being labeled one way or another, but the point is clear. I plan to do analysis on this to show it empirically, but I would say there is a strong bias of big markets competing and smaller market not. And that is bogus.