01 July 2010

Fans Speak: Hall's Off The Field Superlatives Fall Broadly Short

While its methodology has been skewered more often than pineapple and shrimp, ESPN's latest franchise rankings still furnish valuable data about the Dbacks, if you poke for it. Their eighth annual survey ranks franchises in the four big sports, based on national fan input on half a dozen "satisfiers" - and a couple other tabulations.

On the face of it, the Dbacks come across quite well, ranked #26 out of 122 North American franchises. Expect the likes of Derrick Hall and Jim McLennan to trumpet this finding as evidence of organizational substance and vision. But looking closer, and I hope more meaningfully, one finds pretty much the opposite.

Meaningfully? Well, what's the value of comparing baseball teams to the Buffalo Sabres or Cleveland Browns? When baseball enjoys inherent affordability advantages and each sport cultivates its own brand of customer. In addition, ranking franchises across markets and sports (ie product) simultaneously creates excessive statistical noise. In order to more accurately evaluate the Dbacks, we need to filter out the other three sports.

Just baseball teams. The Dbacks still look pretty good. Eighth out of thirty teams. But is this proof they're doing a marvelous job? Or is there something else we can control for? There is! We can control for market, by eliminating the other 29, and comparing recent poll results with earlier in-market numbers. Apples to apples, or about as close as we can get - Phoenix to Phoenix. No skewing "noise" from entrenched bicoastal negativity; the Dodgers and Red Sox for example, and both pairs of teams from New York, all finished in the lower half of these rankings. Yes, the World Champion Yankees ranked 16th! Phoenicians are generally much easier to please. So let's control for that, mindful that each year's rank really reflects previous year's performance (ie the 2010 survey was conducted prior to the 2010 season, and reflects previous attitudes.)

ESPN first polled fans early in 2003. How did we do?

In terms of overall satisfaction, the Dbacks ranked first in baseball. The next year they ranked second. Even in the 2005 survey, reflecting a hostile ownership takeover and 111 loss season, the Dbacks (run by Colangelo through July and Kendrick the rest of the year) polled ninth. Five years later, Hall's rank of 8th doesnt sound quite so impressive, does it?

Let's look at polling components. My favorite is "affordability". Again, Arizona currently ranks eighth, which is about where I think they objectively belong (in MLB's lowest per capita income market) - but still a fair distance from Hall's largely unchallenged "lowest prices in baseball" ideology.

Wait, it gets better. Colangelo raised prices every single year. Wouldnt 2002-03, right after the World Series and a 98 win season, be the perfect opportunity for him to really gouge the base? In 2003, they ranked fatcat Jerry seventh in affordability - better than the talkative Hall's best mark! You have to laugh. For years, Hall has harangued locals about his superlative values in a half empty ballpark. Colangelo never claimed he had baseball's lowest prices. Saying so, over and over, would've been beneath him. He provided utility instead.

Additionally, year-to-year affordability numbers paint an instructive picture of when local fan utility actually fell of the cliff.

2003 - 7th Colangelo
2004 - 10th Colangelo
2005 - 12th Colangelo/Kendrick
2006 -19th Kendrick
2007 -18th Kendrick
2008 - 8th Kendrick
2009 - 9th Kendrick
2010 - 8th Kendrick

As mentioned, Jerry incremented prices every year, and fan utility was slipping, so that by the time Kendrick took over they had dropped to about twelfth. But look at 2006, which represents Kendrick's first full year at the helm. It was then - and not before then - that affordability took its sharpest plunge in franchise history. 2005-06 is when Kendrick and Moorad jacked individual game prices by 30-150% while fielding losing teams, and it's from THAT policy that Kendrick and Hall have been trying to win back fans. Not some corporate fantasy about Colangelo previously fracturing or alienating the fan base. He played a part, but a relatively small part in that transitional fracture.

Here's year to year "Ownership" data:

2003 - 2nd
2004 - 3rd
2005 - 13th Jerry? Ken? some shared dissatisfaction likely
2006 - 14th
2007 - 18th
2008 - 7th
2009 - 21st
2010 - 14th

Pretty similar. The big drop here was captured early in 2005, after the ownership transition, the Backman fiasco,etc. I'm probably being kind to Kendrick, attributing the town's negative feelings to "shared" dissatisfaction, but hey, that's the sort of guy I am.

Let's close out with a couple nuggets. Starting this year, ESPN expanded the ownership category into subclasses and ranked them as well. One subclass is ownership "honesty". I was interested in what fans felt about this, since we enjoy the most objectively "accessible" team executive in baseball, Mr Derrick Hall. Derrick is justly famous for chatting with fans, disgruntled or otherwise, and the Diamondbacks promote the image that they are the most responsive, communicative, "fan friendly" franchise in sports.

Despite, or maybe because of those efforts, they scored below league average in honesty. And this was before this summer's debacle, when Derrick defined and defended his "championship-style" team. Ouch. Maybe if he just let fans judge his product and pricing on its own terms, like they did under Colangelo and did in these surveys, he might've scored higher. Instead of, you know, trying to fool everyone and make them feel stupid for not fully appreciating his oversold and disappointing product. It's a cautionary lesson, I think, about the difference between quantity and quality of business communication.

Lastly, there's an ownership sub-category on Community Involvement. The Dbacks do better here, scoring 12th. Nothing wrong with that, except for Hall's lofty suggestions they're the most charitable and involved in baseball. Memo to Hall: the people you're reaching out to, those benefitting from your vision, think you're closer to middle third. Dont take my word for it. They're just sayin'.


Anonymous said...

Organizational advocacy is in full swing tonight!
I wish we could fire the owners while we are at it.

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