The Mariners Opening Day Fail

Originally published April 23rd, 2014

The Mariners are in the midst of an eight game losing streak, dropping their second straight game at home to the Houston Astros, and less than a game out of last place in the AL West.  It’s easy to point fingers at the front office, the injuries at pitcher, and the lack of run support – Really, you can take your pick.  But the struggles for the 2014 Seattle Mariners didn’t start yesterday or even last week, they started on Opening Day.

I know what you’re saying, “Hold on, the Mariners won on Opening Day.”

Opening Day wasn’t about wins or losses, it was about psychology, and the Mariners started the season the worst way possible:  By recognizing the Seattle Seahawks.  Contrary to what you may have read, the loudest cheers of the night weren’t for Felix Hernandez – The Mariners chose to announce the non-Opening Day starters by number, so Felix was called at the midpoint of the ceremony.   I don’t think fans had a chance to realize he was being called, and by the time fans caught up with it, he had a nice ovation, but it wasn’t the loudest.  Cano’s intro was well received too, and by the time he received his Silver Slugger award fans were on board, and the cheers got louder.  But loudest cheers?  They were saved for the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks.

And they should be, right?  Sure, but not on Opening Day.

The Mariners did something that was staggeringly dumb:  They recognized greater success than their own, on Opening Day, the one day of the year when the Mariners should be the only game in town.  Not with me yet?  Let me put it this way:

It’s your wedding day. It’s your day.  But for some reason your parents, who are footing the bill by the way, decide to invite your more successful and better looking older brother.  And then to top it off, they played his wedding video from Maui right before you got married on the steps of the courthouse.

What in the hell were they thinking?

You’ve taken any kind of “pop” and enthusiasm for the team, and put it all behind the team across the street.  Any excitement that the fans should have reserved for them, went to the Seahawks.  How did that feel for the Mariners players?  Polite cheers for you, and unbridled, unapologetic love for the Seahawks.  It’s kind of a kick in the nuts, isn’t it?

And that’s what doesn’t make sense.   How do the Mariners expect to grow their fanbase organically when they keep piggybacking on the success of others?  1995.  2001.  It was the same thing during the Super Bowl run – Mariners players on Instagram with “I’m In” placards, the Moose waving the 12th Man flag.  It just continues…  Its one thing to honor a team, and deservedly so, but it’s another thing to pander to fans.  And that’s what it came down to on Opening Day – Pandering to fans to try and sell tickets to Opening Day.  And the sad part is they didn’t even sell out.

We’re at a scary crossroads with the Seattle Mariners.  They have to realize, and I’d like to think that they have, that fan apathy is at an all-time high.  I’m a diehard.  For better or worse (and maybe that makes me a “sucker” I’m with this team through thick and thin.  But after over 12 years of worse-than-mediocrity, they need to attract fans yesterday.  But there are more effective ways than pandering to draw crowds and positive attention to the team.

So what are their alternatives?  There are too many to list, but why don’t we start here:

Ticket Prices:  When you average at less than 50% capacity, you need to decide if the game is affordable for the average fan.  Is it any coincidence that the Mariners have had their lowest average attendance since 1990 during the two years since they started Dynamic Pricing?  Nope.  Dynamic Pricing works, but it only works for teams that play worth a damn.  The fundamental flaw with the Mariners Dynamic Pricing is its inability to ‘dynamically” price tickets lower when attendance is at all-time lows.  I understand wanting to preserve Season Ticket Holder Value (especially after raising their prices without telling them last year,) but there are ways to fix it!  Take your average game against the Astros (that we seem to lose anyway).  You have over 20,000 empty seats – BOOM:  Upper view seats are $10.   But what about the Season Ticket holders that paid $18.00 for the ticket?   (I have a share of a pair of Season Tickets btw.)  Those season ticket holders get an email that says “Thank you so much for being a Season Ticket holder! We’ve reduced the price for your game on 4/23.  The attached voucher is worth $8.00 at the concession stand or Mariners Team Store”. It saves you a refund of $8 and it encourages more spending at concessions/team store, which is offset by the margin.  Why is it so hard?   Oh, and that’s assuming the person was even going to the game anyway!  So what’s your redemption rate vs the bonus of showing that you “care for your Season Ticket holders”?  But what about walkups that would have spent $20 for the ticket and now only spent $10?   That’s going to happen, but how many more came because it was half off.  And where does that other $10 go?  Probably back into concessions.

Kids!  Every year during the Puyallup Fair my daughters’ school hands out vouchers for the Puyallup Fair. “Dad can we go, it’s free!”  Honey, it ain’t free.  But we go!  Why aren’t the Mariners flooding schools with voucher programs?  They run a solid Kids Club now, so expand on it!  Spring Break – Send the schools vouchers for free kid tickets w/Adult Admission.   Summer Vacation – Vouchers for select games w/Adult Admission.  Kids control their parent’s spending habits.  We go to the same Mexican restaurant almost weekly even though we like another one better.  Why?.  The kids appreciate the free ice cream.   It’s where they want to go, so we go.  The Mariners have done a great job of appealing to the “Meat Market” segment with The Pen and their pregame Happy Hour – FANTASTIC idea that’s worked.  Now drive the same attention to the under 12 demographic.

Community Goodwill/Awareness:   I talked about this before with Kevin Martinez.  The Mariners need to create an illusion that people like the team more than they really do.  I’ve been to every park in the Major Leagues, and the cities that stand out are the one that really support the team, or at least look like they do.  Two weeks into the season and I still pass bars with “Go Seahawks” on their menu boards.  Someone should be out pounding the pavement to convert bars and other businesses.  “Hey, here are cling-ons for your windows.” or “Hey, I love your 12thMan flag, but it’s April.  How would you like this nice new Mariners one. It’s on me.”  Where are the flags down 1st Ave?  Where are the logo signs?  The Seahawks had #Louder billboards, so where are the Mariners?  Someone should be going to business owners with menu boards and offering them a free set of tickets to change out their board.  The team needs a grassroots campaign, because it’s not coming naturally without wins.

Refresh Yourself:  If fans feel like they’re getting the “same thing” every year, they lose interest.  Sadly, the record is starting to look like the “same thing” again.  But you know what else is?  The outside of Safeco Field.  This was the first year that it felt like the ad campaign started to shift away from more of the same, so let’s change it up out front too.  The Seahawks #Louder campaign, print work, mobile engagement, and more was energy charged and exciting to look at.  You know what I see when I walk along 1st Ave past Safeco?  A bunch of dudes standing around.  Casual and non-baseball fans say that baseball is “boring” and that there’s not enough action.   Change it out!  Show these guys in action out front and drive how exciting the game can be.  (Or better yet, showcase fans outside the park.)  Take people there and maybe they’ll come!  Match the energy of the changes the team has already made in the park (which are substantial)!

There’s a lot wrong with this team right now, and that scares me.  It doesn’t stop me from being a fan – but it does frustrate me as one, especially when I see so many things the team can be doing to improve on and off the field.  What are ideas you have that would change the energy or interest in the team?  Shout them out, maybe one or two will make it up the ladder and we will have found a way to help get this team back on track.  Play ball!

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