By: Holly Horning
Well, we can say that the second half of this season has been horrible, but at least it’s not boring. Off the field, that is. Nothing gets the social media threads whirring than a good, old-fashioned controversial statement.
On Sunday, Kirk Gibson stated that Brad Ausmus deserved to return as manager in 2016. Did he really believe it? Was he supporting Brad because he was a former manager who had lived through being fired? Actually, none of the above, although I’m sure Gibby felt sympathetic towards Brad and his situation.
As someone who works frequently with PR and other branding departments, this had all the earmarks of “business as usual”. It was a planned schtick meant to improve falling attendance by trying to validate the skills of the manager, enhance his public perception and create stability among the fan base. And the finger prints are all over the incident.
The plan was for a beloved former player to tell fans why they should continue to support their beleaguered manager – and thus also support a reason to continue attending the games. It was meant to counter all the negative national press the Tigers’ manager has been receiving lately.
But I should also add that his message probably wasn’t meant for you, the serious baseball fan. The majority of people who attend baseball games do so for entertainment and not because of where the team is in the standings. The message was intended for the casual fan – the mass market.
No real surprise that Gibby didn’t make this a discussion. It was simply a lecture. And unfortunately, it included almost no supporting evidence to validate why Brad should stay.
But Gibson showed his hand in the intro by slyly referencing that this “conversation” was planned in advance. He let out a sigh before launching into his monologue – clearly showing that this was something he did not relish having to do. And Mario uncharacteristically and gratefully took a back seat by contributing little.
Why did Gibby participate? Very simply, because his employer requested it. Here in Washington, we commonly refer to this as being given your “talking points.” And Gibson actually has two employers – Fox Sports and the Detroit Tigers. Both are responsible for his hiring, salary and contract. And given the added complication of having some serious health issues, he resembles everyone else in having that desire to enhance his chances of a contract renewal beyond this season. The term “play ball” extends beyond the baseball field.
Within the past year, The Wall Street Journal published an article about the controversial ties between baseball teams and their affiliated media companies. The Tigers were singled out as one of the top teams with broadcasters who most frequently took a home-friendly viewpoint meant to help promote the team and sell tickets. And we saw an example of this on Sunday’s tv broadcast.
So this is what happens when your attendance starts to tank and the media has increased its coverage about Brad’s days being numbered. It’s time to spin the perception and try to bring in as much revenue as possible before the season ends.
With a little over three weeks left, the Tigers have more than half of their remaining games at home. And they need to boost their revenue as much as possible during this time. Currently, their attendance figures are down significantly and closer to the 2-million mark than the usual 3-million. They have an opportunity to meet figures set in 2010. If not, the stats will show attendance closer to the 2005 figure. Potentially, a 10-year low.
But mere attendance doesn’t tell the entire story. Teams actually keep two sets of attendance figures – the actual number of tickets sold and the actual number of bodies that come through the turnstiles. The latter figure is considered proprietary to each team and is never reported publicly.
So while attendance the other night was reported at 26,000, the actual number of attendees was much lower and probably closer to 15,000 judging by the empty seats outnumbering the filled ones. The significance of these reported and actual figures is based upon ticket revenue. Approximately 40% of a team’s revenue comes from attendance which is defined as ticket sales plus food and parking.
Even with tickets sold, if the bodies aren’t there to continue spending, additional revenue is not generated. And this is a problem when a team has the fourth highest payroll in MLB. And poor or unexpected results can be manifested in player payroll cuts, increased ticket prices and higher food, merchandise and parking fees.
It will be a challenge to keep attendance figures from falling as the season’s last game gets closer, kids return to school, chilly nights emerge and other sports start to take center stage.
Expect the Tigers to reach into their marketing bag of tricks several more times before the 2015 comes to a close. You just might be able to score a “suite” deal.