Just as the campus should reflect what your college finds important, so are ballparks the places where baseball teams really live their brands. That this may or may not have much to do with what happens on the field tells us how baseball is more like a civic treasure than it is a game.
This summer, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit four different baseball parks: big-time majors to small-town majors, new and old, large and small. Like any good brand, ballparks (imho) can be boiled to a single noun or adjective … one that often also says a lot about the surrounding community. (DISCLAIMER: These opinions are mine alone. Your mileage may vary.)
CITIFIELD, HOME OF THE NEW YORK METS.
In a word: Prestige.
CitiField opened this year with a lot of promise, as did its franchise. The Mets spend a lot of money every year on payroll and, in general, find ways to fall short. The ballpark itself, however, in no way falls short of its promise. It’s cool, it’s shiny, it’s a hot ticket. It’s the place to see and be seen. And yet, unlike its crosstown rival Yankee Stadium which was (rightfully) skewered for luxury prices, CitiField is fairly affordable yet affords you the prestige of saying that you enjoyed a game there. The huge video boards and ads rival the visual pollution of Times Square, but plenty of people love how big and loud New York is. And if some people are willing to pay $8 for the privilege of drinking Bud Light — when you can pay just as much for a vastly superior Hoeggarden — then CitiField is succeeding in making anything you do there feel like a luxury.
SAFECO FIELD, HOME OF THE SEATTLE MARINERS
In a word: Fun.
Seattle is a great sports town without the luxury of a lot of good teams, and its Sonics hoops team was recently stolen by a bunch of businessmen from Oklahoma City. Perhaps because the Mariners and Seahawks were mediocre for so long, Emerald City franchises learned to sell much more than the game. According to folklore, after all, Seattle is where The Wave started. And so Safeco Field gives you majestic views of Puget Sound, more in-game contests than most major-league games, odd distractions like the scoreboard hydro races and affordable regional/cultural cuisine (Ichi-roll, anyone?). When I visited, a large group of Japanese fans wearing Ichiro jerseys appeared to be having the time of their lives. And that, more than anything (even winning!), is what you want for a night out at the ballpark.
ALLIANCE STADIUM, HOME OF THE SYRACUSE CHIEFS (AAA MINORS)
In a word: Aspirational.
Just as the players on the Chiefs aspire to make the big leagues for parent club the Washington Nationals (or perhaps another, better team), so does Alliance Stadium seem to aspire to be something better. Caught between trying to serve up a major-league calibre experience and the corny promotions of minor-league ballparks, its brand is less certain than other parks. You score a box seat for $10 only to fork over $5.50 for a midrange beer. Most nights the crowd is small and even the exhortations of the scoreboards and announcers can’t lift it. As a bonus, the stadium sits near the mythical site of DestiNY USA, a much-promised mall/theme park/pipedream sold to transform the region if only its owner could get anyone else to pay for it. So the ballpark, the team, the city looks to break out of its own identity issues. Like many parts of Central New York itself, Alliance Stadium has potential with an eye cast towards opportunities for improvement.
FALCON PARK, HOME OF THE AUBURN DOUBLEDAYS (CLASS A MINORS)
In a word: Community.
Most Doubledays players don’t have much of a shot of making the majors. The cheesy between-inning fare includes arm-wrestling contests, racing a mascot, musical chairs. Little Leaguers take the field with the players for the National Anthem. Its most popular promotion is Dollar Beer and Hot Dog Night on Thursdays. That these are all embraced by the ballpark, the team and the community show everyone remembers baseball is more than just a game. I attended a Doubledays game a couple days after a Chiefs contest, and the latter had a larger, livelier, happier crowd. I sat with someone from Auburn and ended up getting upgraded to box seats right behind the home dugout. Most regular Doubledays fans know half the crowd in the ballpark. Folks ask each other how the kids are doing, how work was this week. Going to a Doubledays game is like attending a community picnic … one that happens to include a baseball game.
Intentionally or unintentionally, stadium experiences say a lot about both a team’s business ethos and the community it calls home. If you’re involved in any kind of brand marketing, what do your environment and customer experiences say about you?