The title of this post may lead you to believe that it’s being written to denigrate the Tribe’s marketing efforts. In fact, it is not. My purpose is to provide a realistic assessment of what the front office has concluded it must do to keep existing fans and attract new fans, and the post’s title reflects the reality of the situation.
I have no particular expertise in marketing. My views are based largely on what I have observed as a long-time season ticketholder and someone who has gone to 15-20 games a year since 1957. I began to think about the marketing efforts after responding to an email survey the team sent to season ticketholders during the off-season. The survey, conducted in questionnaire format, provides a clear insight into the issues management is facing on the marketing front.
The questionnaire began with some basics. It asked me to categorize myself as anything from "not a fan" to a "die-hard fan" and asked how many games I attended last season and in what months. It also asked me to rate my "overall experience" at Progressive Field on a scale from poor to excellent, and to say how likely I was to recommend attending an Indians game to friends and colleagues. I was asked to rate the overall value of games at Progressive Field "as it relates to price of ticket" and as it relates to the total cost of attending, including parking and concessions. These questions struck me as normal for a marketing questionnaire about a baseball team.
The questionnaire then turned to issues that, in my view, reveal the extent to which casual fans or potential new fans expect to be provided with something more than a baseball game when they go to the ballpark.
"How would you rate the following aspects of your in-game entertainment experience at Progressive Field?"
- Giveaway items
- Rally Alley
- Kids Clubhouse
- Between-inning entertainment (features, activities, contests, etc.)
- Selection of music played in the ballpark
- Scoreboard features and information
- Post-game fireworks
- Fun Bunch
- Slider (Mascot)
- Overall in-game entertainment
The survey then asked a number of questions about Tribe logos and uniforms. It noted that from time to time MLB permits teams to add a new alternate jersey to their rotation and that the Indians might be given this opportunity in the next few years. The team said that as a first step to exploring potential additions it would like to better understand how fans feel about the team’s current jerseys.
The survey showed color pictures of each of the team’s different uniforms (navy, home whites, road grays, and the alternative cream-colored ones) and logos (Chief Wahoo, the block C, and the script I). Respondents were asked to strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, or strongly disagree that the jerseys or logos:
- Reflect the heritage of the Indians
- Create a strong positive emotional connection between the respondent and the jersey/logo
- Make the respondent proud of the Indians
- Represent not only the team but also the city of Cleveland
With regard to the three logos, the survey also asked whether each is an important part of the respondent’s support for the Indians. This section of the survey also included questions about respondents’ interest level in a variety of different promotional items, such as replica jerseys, artwork, etc.
The survey then concluded with a number of other questions – only some of which were related to the game on the field.
As I said at the outset, I think this survey tells us a great deal about the state of baseball in Cleveland today and how many issues management has to think about in order to attract new fans and keep existing ones. Many of the questions ask about issues only tangentially related to the game itself: the kind of music played, the entertainment before the game and between innings, promotional giveaways, etc.
One of the statements respondents were to agree or disagree with has a particularly stark quality about it: "When I’m watching a baseball game I pay careful attention to the game." My guess is most LGT readers might wonder why one would go to a game but not pay careful attention to it. I certainly wondered that when I first read this statement. Apparently, however, enough people are not watching the games carefully for management to feel compelled to ask about it.
And there was an equally-interesting statement with which I was asked to agree or disagree: "The Indians provide an experience that is distinct from other entertainment options". I understand that baseball can be considered an "entertainment option," but how is one to make sense of the notion that it is not self-evidently distinct from others?
Personally, I don’t care about giveaway items; I never even take them. I have never been to the Rally Alley, and I took my children to the games long before there was a Kids Clubhouse. I have never eaten a dollar dog (I honestly don’t know how much a man should trust something called a "dollar dog"). The between-inning entertainment holds no appeal for me. I think music at the ballpark is played too loud and makes it hard for me to talk to my guests between innings. The only comment I have about the scoreboard is that it never tells me anything about the relievers entering the game because it is so busy with dazzling animations having nothing to do with baseball. And I fall distinctly into the anti-Slider camp.
In other words, I go to Indians games because I like watching the Cleveland Indians. I don’t go to the ballpark for a "game experience." I go for the game. Many people apparently now expect something more than baseball, and management is responding appropriately. I want management doing everything it can to build attendance, because that will assure the continued existence of the team in Cleveland and increase the probability that there will be enough money to develop and acquire good players—enough good players to allow me to realize my lifelong dream of seeing the Cleveland Indians win the World Series.
I just wish baseball was all it took.