11 February 2009

Jumping Through Hoops

By most accounts, Saturday's Diamondback FanFest was a soaring success. Of course, most accounts in this town are supplied by MLB and its enablers. The club finally allowed non-paying fans onto the sacred green, a source of more stadium cheers than on a typical gameday. Steve Gilbert asserted attendance exceeding 10,000 inside The Lovely Morgan, bolstered by balmy weather.

To hear Gilbert tell it, the event defied odds and heralds some sort of grass roots Dback renaissance:

The attendance was especially impressive considering it was less than a week ago that the Cardinals played in the Super Bowl, and in just over a week, the NBA All-Star Game will take place across the street at U.S. Airways Arena. In other words, there is a lot of competition for sports fans in the Valley.

Let's get this straight. The Super Bowl in Tampa, that few Arizonans attended, hurt the gate at a free baseball fan fest back in Phoenix? A week later? Maybe Steve's trying to say there'd be 20-25000 fans in line for Miguel Montero's autograph, were it not for that gosh durn Super Bowl. Of course, most journalists would figure this type of cross-franchise contention might apply to events on the same day or weekend, and dismiss wallet competition entirely for a free event. Not Steve!

For diversification, Steve weighs in with the usual, ponderous suspects:

"That's what we've been talking about," [Derrick] Hall said. "There is a bond forming between our fans and players that is special and unique."

"I think this was, by far, our best Fan Fest to date," Hall said. "The reaction we received from the fans was overwhelmingly

That's more or less what he said two years ago about the rebranded unis, when sentiment ran 80/20 against in The Arizona Republic.

Speaking of jumping through hoops, just up the street, untold thousands paid $10 a head to watch hoop dancing on the lawn of Central Avenue's Heard Museum. Last week, almost half a million treked to a Scottsdale golf tournament - the world's best attended. It's hardly a chore enticing large numbers of Phoenicians outside this time of year. I could put a sign out on my cross street this Saturday and sell ramen from my driveway - and a thousand people could show. It's no big deal. Phoenix is the Shanghai of the Southwest.

I read up on Fan Fest on the local boards, and best I can tell it was full of FSN and Diamondback employees and their kids, and maybe a few homeless people wandering the neighborhood. Nothing wrong with that. Kids had a good time. But does the turnout represent a spike in genuine interest, or just a place to go, for free, on a beautiful day? Remember, the hoop dancing was $10, and enjoyed a similar all day turnout.

A final gem from Derrick Hall's copyboy:

The D-backs, who have gotten a little more than an 80 percent renewal from season-ticket holders, started selling mini season-ticket plans on Saturday. Individual game tickets go on sale on March 7.
The 80%+ renewal means that the ST base is as low as it's ever been, a clear indictment of the economy, but also, perhaps, of a cynical, regressively structured ticket pricing model that's finally run its course. More importantly, "a little over 80%" may also suggest that the 84% ST retention rate reported just last week in USA Today may actually be declining.

Huh? I thought season tickets are existing accounts, that only count as "renewed" when paid in full for 2009. So, when all the ST accounts are due payable, you count up the renewals and the opt outs and announce a resulting "retention or renewal rate". It's really more a figure than a "rate". How can it move up or down significantly within a particular season - more specifically, how can it reasonably slide a couple percentage points in less than a week, if season accounts are payable at roughly the same time?

Did Derrick disseminate artificially high retention rates on the rather gaudy presumption that last year's accounts were "renewed" by default.... until they actually went belly up? If so, the season ticket "base" could decline even further than previously reported. I'm at a loss to otherwise explain a renewal figure more volatile than the Dow Industrials.


Russell said...

How teams choose to sell tickets will be particularly interesting this season. Speaking personally D-Backs individual tickets seem too high to entice the casual fan, and I'm sure that some people are unwilling to commit to a season ticket if they are unsure of their employment prospects.
Incidentally, here in Vancouver the Ramen restaurants have them queuing in the street so perhaps you could expand your franchise?

Matt said...

It's funny, I had the whole post written up and was just formatting, when that whole ramen riff just flowed out of me - came from nowhere.

So, I stuck it onto a paragraph at the last minute. I think it may be an early sign of a stroke.

David said...

I think it's safe to say that the only hoops being jumped through here are by your logic. Really, Hacks. You're better than this. A three paragraph screed based on the assumption that "a little more than 80%" is a substantially different figure than "84%" - really?!? I can only wonder how angry you would have been if they had "substantially more than 80%".

Also, if I got this right, the basis of your dispute with the "lowest ticket prices in baseball" schtick is that it gives too much weight to season ticket prices and not enough to the higher walk-up prices. That makes the season ticket prices comparatively lower than average and far and away the lowest in the league. You'll have to forgive me then for thinking that reason season ticket renewals are so low isn't because of their "cynical, regressively structured ticket pricing model". If you want to make the argument that the pricing structure is the reason why more season tickets in total haven't been sold, there's at least an argument for it (on the basis that higher walk-up prices discourage casual fan attendance which keeps walk-up fans from becoming season-ticket fans). But to try and argue that the low renewal rate is being caused by the low season ticket prices is just ridiculous.

Oh, and as Jim says, deriding an event you didn't attend on the hearsay of local message boards is just kind of douchey.

Russell said...

There are two Hacks; Blogger Hacks and Snakepit Hacks.If Snakepit Hacks walks through that door he will kill Blogger Hacks!

Matt said...

Some fair comment, David. Thanks for taking the time.

I can only wonder how angry you would have been if they had "substantially more than 80%"

Not at all, because that wouldnt suggest a running pretense of what the actual retention figure is.

But to try and argue that the low renewal rate is being caused by the low season ticket prices is just ridiculous.

I wasnt trying to argue that, but I goofed rhetorically, and it certainly can be interpreted that way. Good catch. I was trying to say (poorly) that the pricing model may be indicted this coming season in terms of overall sales. I tied the low ST retention to "the economy", then tried to level a separate indictment (ie "but also perhaps") on the pricing model. You interpreted "but also perhaps" as tying the ST retention to the model, and that's completely understandable, and my fault as a writer. I'm intentionally ambiguous at times, but this was unintentional...just poorly worded.

Oh, and as Jim says, deriding an event you didn't attend on the hearsay of local message boards is just kind of douchey.

I think if you reread the piece and pay less attention to Jim's defensive irrelevancies, you'll find I'm not really making fun of the event much at all. I said it was a success by most accounts, it was free and fun, and kids had a good time. What I'm primarily poking fun at is the self-interested information massage around the event - spearheaded by the usual MLB suspects, Steve and Derrick. Am I jumping through hoops? Sure, and I try not to bump into Steve and Derrick tumbling through in the opposite direction :-)

I just dont think drawing 10K people to a free, all day event on the light rail line, held right on the diamond with significant player access and other fun stuff, is all that impressive. Especially considering our ridiculous February weather advantage over 27 or 28 other clubs, which I didnt even bother to mention.

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