Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Astros Season Ticket Holder Townhall

On Sunday, the Astros had a couple of events for season ticket holders before the game and after the game. The first event was their annual Photo Day which has become a favorite of mine as you can meet the players and get pictures of them or with them, but more on that at a later date. The second event was a Townhall Meeting for season ticket holders with George Postolos and Jeff Luhnow after the game. There was no real news broken, but I thought my readers might be interested in a couple of topics that were discussed.

Postolos started with some prepared remarks and talked a little about the managerial search, the improvements to the farm system, what the front office was doing to improve the season ticket holder experience, the new regional sports network, etc. And then he got to the elephant in the room, or should I say the elephant in left field. Postolos admitted that he had done a poor job explaining the Community Leaders Program which he then addressed in great detail. I personally felt that he did a good job of explaining that part of it, but more or less glossed over the actual signage itself which is what many, many fans find objectionable.

During the Q&A, one long-time season ticket holder summed things up very nicely, indicating that he understood the need for the corporate partners, but thought the signage itself looked like something that was rigged up out of plywood and chicken wire. He then asked with some exasperation, "Can't it be aesthetically pleasing?" His question was greeted with widespread applause. The critique was noted but not specifically addressed.

Luhnow also delivered a few prepared remarks, focusing on the improvements to the farm system, changes in field and front office staff and the move to the AL. Of the managerial search, he said, "We're going to find a rising star manager to help us manage our rising stars." In answer to a question about Roger Clemens, Luhnow indicated that he would welcome having Clemens "impart some of his wisdom and work ethic to some of our players" and emphasized that he was reaching out to many Astros alumni to become more involved with the team.

Another question of interest was the final one about bringing back Jim Deshaies and Bill Brown to announce next year. (As you may or may not know, "Brownie" recently made some comments that sounded as though he might be contemplating retirement.) Postolos said that he thought they were both terrific and that it would be addressed in the off-season. Again, not really news but I know it's important to those of us who have counted on J.D. and Brownie to make the last two seasons bearable to watch.

There was one other thing that Postolos said in his prepared remarks that I wanted to pass on. "Everything that goes into making the Houston Astros a great organization has to be first class for us to get to that position." I agree with that. And I agree that Jeff Luhnow is working well towards that goal on the baseball side.

But as others have pointed out, there have been some questionable moves on the business side as of late. The Astros had arguably the best social media experience in MLB under Alyson Footer's direction, but that has degenerated badly since she went back to work for MLB.com. There is no face to Astros social media now, no one that the average fan can relate to. And the Astros should not underestimate the power of social media to bring in fans. I can't tell you how many extra games I went to this season just because some of my Astros tweeps were going. There is nothing first class about the social media operation right now. Oh, and having the players sell tickets on their personal twitter accounts? That's definitely not first class. It's tacky.

And then there's that plywood and chicken wire structure out in left field. No one described it more aptly than Stephen did in this blog post. The money quote (emphasis is mine):
What. The. Hell. Is that thing in LF? Astro optimists, pessimists, and realists alike can all agree that THAT is the most offensive thing the ball club has done this season. I know I am writing for a blog that is run by Mr. Luhnow’s bff, and I myself have praised Crane, Luhnow, and co. for a job well done so far……but that craptastic money grab is offensive. You bought the club and reserve the right to make some extra money, but why put a gigantic yearbook sponsor page in front of the most beautiful part of our stadium? I’d rather see that plump, poor man’s Captain Kangaroo driving Thomas the train across left field than be accosted by that monument to commercialism.
I think what bothers me most about the structure, other than it being ugly, blocking the view, interfering with the enjoyment of fireworks and in no way enhancing the ballpark experience is that the front office knows all that and won't admit it. They knew everyone would hate it. Why else would they focus group everything else to death, yet put up the Community Partners signage with nary a word until it was up and presumably too late for fans to have a say?

Yes, I understand that good will come of the community partnerships in helping Houston area kids get the facilities they need and that good will come of it in helping to keep the team solvent until the Astros are good again. But first class teams have terrific views of riverfronts, bays, downtown skylines, an iconic arch, not plywood and chicken wire advertising. Yes, outfield advertising in the game goes back as far as I can remember, but it needs to be incorporated into the structure in a much more aesthetically pleasing manner. There's no reason it can't be.

The new ownership group has done a lot of things right, from hiring Jeff Luhnow to committing to the rebuild of the farm system to something as simple as letting people bring in their own food and water. But they still have a ways to go if they truly want to be a first class operation and maintain long-term success. They must realize that the average fan experience is more important than any corporate sponsorship when it comes to the long-term success of the franchise. If they can simply provide a good fan experience year in and year out, the profits will come and those will be first class.

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