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Dear Vince . . .
Some Modest Proposals To
Cure Major League Invisibility
By Bob Andelman
Originally published in The Maddux Report
There cannot be a more dedicated baseball fan than St. Petersburg sports and business book author Bob Andelman. He chronicled the city's stumbling attempts to land a major league team before the Devil Rays took the field. He cheers every hit, cringes at every blip, hopes with every pitch and swing of a Devil Rays bat. But while the team was concluding a respectable second season in the Bigs, he noticed a certain ineptitude off the field. Like all good citizens concerned about a civic issue, he took up his pen.Dear Mr. Naimoli,
I love baseball and I have spent the last two years living and dying each day according to the Devil Rays latest exploits. My wife and I have two season tickets and will be adding a third for my daughter next season. I can't believe how lucky we are to live ten minutes away from Tropicana Field and Major League Baseball 81 days a year.
The reason I'm writing to you now is that I'm troubled by the ineptitude of the team's marketing and how drooping attendance in the 1999 season reflected upon unfairly upon our community. Of the millions reportedly invested in marketing the team this year, very little was well spent.
Furthermore, with the Lightning (NHL) and Storm (Arena Football) getting new ownership, and the championship hopes of the sold-out Buccaneers, the level of competition for sports dollars will be a real brawl in the coming months. No one wants to see "financially troubled" become the two words that precede news reports of the Rays.
Over the course of the Rays' second year, I developed a list of ideas that I thought might help raise the team's profile for 2000 and broaden its fan base. Bear in mind, of course, that I don't have the credentials of St. Petersburg Mayor David Fischer's blue-ribbon panel, the geniuses who think the solution lies in better community relations. I'm simplistic enough to think turning around attendance can be found in lessons from Advertising 101.
Here is what I came up with:
* TROPICANA FIELD. Have you heard the old adage, "A business with no sign is a sign with no business"? Why, four years after you were awarded a franchise and named it the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, is there still no giant team logo painted on the Trop and facing Interstate 275, just a block away? The cock-eyed, green "Tropicana Field" neon letters are embarrassingly small against the enormous pale front of the stadium. You certainly juiced that sponsor.
And while we're at it, Flower Power Park (formerly Al Lang Field), where your Florida State League St. Petersburg Devil Rays play, has better signage than the Trop. If Flower Power Park needs a flashing red LED sign promoting upcoming minor league games and giveaways in a part of the city with very little auto or foot traffic, doesn't it make sense to put a similar sign in sight of the thousands of drivers who pass the stadium daily on I-275?
* BILLBOARDS. Speaking of highways, I logged a lot of hours this summer driving back and forth between Tampa and Altamonte Springs on I-4. What struck me as strange was that the new WNBA franchise, the Orlando Miracle, put a billboard near downtown Tampa soliciting fans but there wasn't a single billboard on I-4 in Orlando (or anywhere else on I-4) selling the Devil Rays to residents and tourists 90 miles away. Yet virtually every other attraction at one end of the I-4 corridor advertises its wares at the other end.
Orlando made a credible presentation to baseball back in 1991 when the Florida Marlins were created. But I have yet to meet anyone there who has been to a Rays game. Have you tried putting Rays schedules in the thousands of hotel brochure racks over there? Surely the Rays aren't writing off that entire market already.
Maybe the issue is billboards in general. Because while the Buccaneers, Lightning and Orlando Magic have a virtually year-round presence selling season tickets on billboards around the Bay area, the Devil Rays are virtually invisible. And thanks to the hideous "Off The Wall" campaign, which made no sense (wouldn't "OVER the Wall" have promised more?) and featured such a small Rays logo as to be indecipherable, the handful of billboards the team used were pointless.
Next season, use more billboards and keep it simple. Big Rays logo, use logos of opposing teams and change it every week (a la the Florida Lottery) to reflect the latest games and developments. And putting something like "Good Seats Still Available" in big type wouldn't hurt, either.
* PLAYERS. More than halfway through the '99 season, the team actually did promotions based on Jose Canseco's home runs and Wade Boggs' quest for 3,000 hits. What took so long?
In the off-season, please consider getting your veterans contracts settled early so the 2000 season ticket campaign can focus on them. And don't underestimate the appeal of younger players such as Bubba Trammell (no other player has an entire section of fans screaming their name) and pitching phenom Ryan Rupe ("Rupe There It Is").
* TV. As I understand it, the Rays produce their own TV and radio broadcasts. If that is the case, why is there no consistency in the graphics from telecasts on Sportschannel Florida to Ch. 10 to Ch. 32? It's frustrating.
* FANS BEYOND TAMPA BAY. Maybe an appeal needs to be made to the business side of newspapers such as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Bradenton Herald, Lakeland Ledger and Orlando Sentinel to draw their readers into the ballpark. While the St. Petersburg Times apparently brought the signage rights within the Trop, maybe papers that it doesn't compete with could somehow be brought into visibility.
The team brought down the price of upper-deck tickets in the second half of the '99 season. Why not honor the citizens of various Central Florida communities once a week next year by offering half-price tickets to them by showing ID? You could collect names and addresses of buyers and follow up with direct mail solicitations to bring them back again and again.
* EXISTING SEASON TICKET HOLDERS. The time has come to welcome ALL season ticket holders -- with an ID issued by the team -- to the exclusive Club level. For one thing, it would be a nice perk, but more important to your wallet, that area is currently D-E-A-D. For all its potential -- the new restaurant, full bar, carving stations, concierge -- it doesn't draw flies.
* FREE YEAR-ROUND ADVERTISING. How about sending an "I Love the Devil Rays/1-800-FAN-RAYS" bumper sticker or window cling to every known ticket buyer in your data base?
* INSIDE THE TROP. Take a look around Raymond James Stadium where the Bucs play. Everywhere you look is the team logo, big bold and imposing. This is something the Rays could stand to imitate within the Trop.
* KIDS. Here is an area in which I think the team is already doing a wonderful job. Raymond is a fabulous mascot, albeit underused. Kids dig him and can't get enough of him. Letting the youngsters run the bases at the Trop after Sunday afternoon games was a great idea, judging by the hundreds of kids and parents who lined up week after week to try it. Giveaway items have been top-quality. (The Wade Boggs doll was hysterical.) The Reading Tree is a great idea that needs to be located to a more central location. The Kids' Corner, offering smaller food portions at discount prices makes baseball as a family experience far more palatable for the budget-minded.
* THREATS. Don't say another word about moving the team, even under your breath. You have too many opportunities to market baseball across Central Florida for fans to ever have to hear another word of that nonsense. Besides, nobody knows better than Tampa Bay fans how hard it is to convince baseball to relocate a franchise. If it were easy, we'd all be rooting for the Tampa Bay Mariners. Or the Tampa Bay Giants. Or the . . .