Originally published April 15th, 2012
Was I the only one that saw the irony in Friday’s Mariners Opening Day? Friday The 13th and the Mariners were technically playing their 3rd Opening Day of the season. It’s a long ways from 10 sequels and 1 remake, but there was still something funny about another Mariners Opening Day, but I’ll take it!
It was a gorgeous night at Safeco Field. The weather was great and it was awesome to see one of my favorite players, Mike Cameron, return to throw out the first pitch. (And as we found out later, retire as a Seattle Mariner after signing a one day contract.) The new menu choices at the park are solid. I was lucky enough to have enough cash to buy one of the new BBQ sandwiches, and it was delicious. Opening Day was everything it should have been except for one thing, well two if you count the loss: It wasn’t full! C’mon, Mariners fans. How do you not sell out Opening Day?! Yes, technically it was a “sellout”, but there was plenty of room at the park. Who’s to blame? On Opening Night, that’s a fan issue. But what about the rest of the year? Saturday’s game had less than 25,000 fans. I have 3 specific ideas designed to drive fan attendance, and none of them involve player signings or being able to accept credit cards at the concession stands on your biggest game of the year…
#1 – The Meat Market (AKA The Pen)
I love the changes they made in the Pen last season. Losing the nets at the Bullpen and adding counters was a huge change to the experience down there. The Mariners also brought in more tables and added counters on the rails in CF. The food choices are reasonably priced, there’s a full service bar, and they have pre-game beer specials that end an hour before game time each night. The Pen is a social hub for the under-30 crowd and it’s also a total meat market, which is absolutely OK! If you’re single, which I am not, it’s a great place to watch a game and “scout for prospects”. I can understand the draw. The problem, is that it’s a complete cluster to get down there. There are really only 2 points of access: The center field gate, or the single-lane highway staircase that backs up 30 people deep on any given night. I don’t understand why the Mariners don’t turn this into a strict standing room ticket area.
Why don’t the Mariners close off the stairs completely, and only allow access from the CF gate? Use the Pen as a $5 to $7 standing room only ticket that doesn’t have access to the rest of the park. You keep the social hub and you turn it into a captive concession area. There is precedent in other parks. The CF/RF bleachers in Wrigley are outfield access only, there’s no access to the rest of the park. Dodger Stadium does something similar with their All You Can eat section. It works great! By using The Pen for a SRO area, the Mariners free up more paired seating in the less expensive LF and CF, where most of those fans are buying tickets anyway before heading downstairs. Cutting off the lower Pen to the rest of the park also frees up congestion at the stairs which would improve the fan experience at the upstairs concourse. If you’re thinking “but now I can’t watch the pitchers”, sure you can, from the counters above the Pen.
Standing room tickets in the Pen could still use demand pricing. A $5 SRO ticket against the Royals could easily be a $10-12 SRO ticket against the Yankees and Red Sox. ($15 if they’re wearing a Red Sox hat… can they do that? Ha-ha.) The separated Pen would free up approximately 500-1,000 tickets in the CF and LF bleachers for budget-conscious fans that might have skipped the game if only 300-level View Seating was available. The other plus to it is since there would be a capacity limit downstairs, the 30 and under crowd would have to buy their tickets earlier to guarantee their spot with the rest of the In crowd.
#2 – All You Can Eat (RF View Level)
All You Can Eat sections have been successful for a number of Major League Parks. The Los Angeles Dodgers were really the first team to embrace it as part of their marketing campaign about 5 years ago. The teams take their least desirable section of seating and package price it with an all you can eat selection of ballpark staples like hot dogs, peanuts, and pop, while leaving out the real “good stuff” that varies by park. Safeco Field doesn’t have a lot of “bad” seats, but the RF view level seating would be it if I had to choose because you lose about 20′ in front of the RF fence and the view of the big scoreboard is nearly non-existent. You’re also fighting with the sun on night games.
The Mariners should offer All You Can Eat seating in Sections 306-310. They’re technically the worst seats in the house, and they’re also the last ones to sell out because of their ticket selling order. The Mariners “Grand Slam Family Plan” is a great offer on select games. $15 for a View ticket, a hot dog, and a pop. That’s a great value, but you have to buy 4 or more tickets to get it! The Mariners could easily charge $25 a game for a 306-310 view level ticket that included an All You Can Eat concessions that are limited to the upperdeck Rolling Roof outlets. The Mariners could still choose to limit it to Mon-Thursday games.
If the Mariners needed more incentive to setting up the section there’s one other thing to consider. Empty seats look horrible on TV, and Sections 306-310 are on TV a lot. (And it would be on even more with a few more Home Runs!)
#3 – Transportation
I saved the hard one until last. Let me set the table on this one first. I live in Port Orchard. If I’m not on the road for work and driving thru Seattle (which thankfully I am, frequently,) it’s an hour and a half commitment for me to get to and from the ballpark. Opening Day’s traffic was ridiculous thanks to the amount of construction downtown and around the park. Airport Way has a big detour on it that just forces you onto 4th or 1st, which is already normally backed up with evening traffic. I still scored free parking to the game and had an easy walk, but getting home was even worse. By the time I hit I-5 by Fife, they had 3 of 4 lanes closed, and traffic was backed up for miles. I took the backroad and made it home in a short 2 hours and 10 minutes. It’s a commitment to go to ballgames, and all of it could have been way easier for me as a fan with one word: Sounder.
I think it’s completely idiotic that Sound Transit doesn’t offer Sounder service during weekday night games. Can the Mariners subsidize it? Parking rates downtown are a given if you don’t know where to look, but this isn’t about parking, it’s about time! I would rather take the Sounder than drive to Seattle any day of the week for a game if it was an option, but it’s not. How many South Sound fans do the Mariners lose to the Rainiers or to Root Sports because of transportation, and construction, and overall hassle? All they need are 2 trains after the game. Train 1 leaves 30 minutes after the game, Train 2 leaves 45 minutes after the game. After that, you’re SOL.
Have you ever been to Wrigley, or Fenway, or Yankee Stadium? What about Citi Field or US Cellular. It’s pretty convenient, isn’t it? The Mariners should work with Sound Transit to make it more convenient to get to and from the game 7 days a week. Buses don’t count. You’re still waiting in the same traffic you would have been in your car. Make it comfortable and make it convenient, and people will come. Notice I did not say make it free.
There are few things I love as much as going to a Major League ballgame. Safeco is a great place to catch a game, but it can be a drag too. I’ve been to too many games where there have just been too many open seats. As much as I (hypothetically) like being able to buy a CF ticket and sit pretty much wherever I want in the park, I would gladly trade it for a full and energized fanbase. Sure a big part of that is winning games, but there are certainly some easy things the Mariners can do to sell a few more tickets while we focus on rebuilding with a group high quality/high potential young and potential future All Stars.