Friday, July 10, 2009

Rays owner Stu Sternberg speaks

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg held a conference call Friday to talk about the a recent ESPN poll that ranked the Rays first in game affordibility out of the 122 teams in Major League Baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL. He also tackled a few other issues.

Here is a transcript:

Sternberg's opening statement
“This is something, as the owner of this team, that I’m really proud of. It’s something that we’ve strived for. There were a couple of things—to get to the World Series, to win the World Series, the steps we took last year were enormous. And the work that went into that. To get recognized by ESPN was the most affordable team in major professional sports is something that we inside the Rays organization have celebrated dramatically. We couldn’t ask for anymore. It really does talk about all the hard work that all of the employees and all of the partners that work with us strive for is to put out a great product on the field and a great entertainment venue, but to be recognized nationally when, quite frankly, the history of this franchise, even recently, has been somewhat of a laughing stock. To be recognized by ESPN as No. 1 for all the teams is an incredible accomplishment and a statement on the organization for what we’ve done.”

On if he’s frustrated by attendance:
“We had a mark in the ground a couple weeks ago when the Phillies came in. There was a confluence of events there, and I think that was something that that particular series was frustrating. And I sensed it from people within the organization, too.”
“The numbers that we saw for the Phillies and other games this year are not what they can be. But by the same token, we’re doing everything we possibly can. I don’t know if frustrations the term. We’re quite proud of what’s going on.”

On other promotional events coming up:
“We think about everything all the time. When ESPN does this, all of that is taken into account. A cheaper ticket price, the dollar dogs, it really is about value. And value comes in a lot of different ways. When you go to a movie theatre, you can buy three levels of popcorn. We don’t just look at it as what just happens to be the cheapest, we want to provide the quality surrounding it. We don’t just look at it now, we’ve been looking at it since I’ve come in. We’ve really touched every corner of it. I’m certain we’re going to have other concepts and ideas. I think in recognition or celebration of being the most affordable, we just want to be even more affordable.”

On the importance of a new stadium to improve franchise:
“Certainly we’re going to need a new facility. There’s no question about that. I’ve said that since the day I came in. The question is when. Right now, we play in St. Petersburg, we’re proud to be in St. Petersburg. It’s an enormous project to build another ballpark in St. Petersburg. Clearly we’re sold on the area, we love the area, and we think there’s tremendous potential. I doesn’t take a person to build a new park, it’s going to take the whole region.”

On challenges of getting people to the ballpark:
“Clearly the economy has had some impact. We look at it locally in Tampa Bay. One of the things I focused on before the season was on a relative basis, we’re not shooting for the moon as far as people coming in and packing the place. We were hoping to be average this year, that was sort of the expectation and desire. Each individual has their own reasons why or why not (they come). I think what I’m focused on is why they are coming, and of those that come out to the park, whether it’s once a year or 81 times a year, clearly having an incredible experience and seeing the value in it. We really focus on the people that do come out. In addition to that, our TV ratings continue to climb this year. I would expect that’s going to transfer to people coming to the ballpark as well.”

On TV ratings:
“It’s difficult for me to sense TV. It’s something that’s brand new to me. I think when you look at attendance, people in baseball or in business, there’s easy markers that you can look at. Payroll is one thing people focus on. Wins and losses is another. And attendance. The numbers are easy to digest. Ratings get a little trickier, because of where they’re being carried, how many games are being carried, things like that. I think as far as the ratings are going, it’s been a constant climb since we came in the door. We had a nice jump last year, we’ve had a nice jump this year. As long as they keep going up, it’s hard to understand where they should be or what the potential is. We’re drawing to a substantial number of households in the region. Hundreds of thousands. That’s a lot. So I think we’re heading in the right direction.”

On possible payroll adjustments this season:
“We made a commitment to do certain things this year to try to put the absolute best product we can on the field, and then some. Last year was so special, you wanted to give each of the guys in the clubhouse and the fans and the organization the chance to succeed again. I don’t think I would’ve changed anything what we did in the offseason in prepping things. We clearly had a need, we felt at the time, to shore up different parts of the team. We did that. We still feel great about the team. And as long as we’re in the hunt, I don’t see us, because of financial reasons, pulling back from that. Clearly, though, it’s a multi-year process. The money doesn’t come out of thin air. And budgetary shortfalls from out end, from a revenue standpoint, lead toward future years being a little bit leaner. I won’t say a lot leaner, but a little bit.”

On the importance of this recognition nationally:
“Affordable is a relative term. We talk about the average attendance, there was an expectation throughout all of MLB that attendance was going to come down a good deal this year. Nobody really knew, six months ago or eight months ago, when we made these projections, we didn’t know if attendance would be down 10, 20 percent. And I think we didn’t expect it to get to last year’s average attendance numbers, that would have been outstanding. Don’t get me wrong, it was in the realm of possibility. But to be a realist, we thought there would be a little bit of a shortfall in Major League Baseball’s numbers, and there has been. When we talk about affordability, that’s a relative term as well. Every dollar that people spend, wherever they spend it, comes out of their pocket, and it’s all relative. We just want to make sure we are at least in the game as far as what might be affordable. On an absolute basis, a family of four can come in for what I think is a very, very competitive, reasonable price for what we provide.”

On expanding fan base:
“That’s been a real focus. We didn’t know exactly what (moving Spring Training to Port Charlotte) was going to amount to. It’s obviously only been half a season, and we look at zip codes and where people are coming from, but we clearly have put a number of seeds int the ground by going to Port Charlotte.”

On thoughts of what’s happened on the field this year:
“I’m really satisfied. If you look at the team, from man one to man 28, the people that have contributed, I couldn’t be more pleased. I think we have a lot of good things ahead of us here. Clearly the schedule has dragged us down a little bit. We got off to a slow start. As I look back at it now, clearly there was a hangover effect from what we did last year. While I don’t think I would have changed a thing, because it was a real reason to celebrate, I think it might’ve had a bit of an impact especially because we have players that haven’t gone through it before. Next year it’ll be a little bit easier, when we get to the World Series again (laughs). I think once again if we can get our numbers at Tropicana Field as what I’d term a homefield advantage, if we can get that up to the upper 50 (wins), I think we’ll have a good opportunity to be there well into September.”

On improving midweek game attendance:
“I’m accepting all suggestions. I expected this year that Fridays woud’ve been a go-to night. Fridays compared to the rest of the week are very strong times for attendance. The biggest gap that we seem to have is what’s going on the rest of country on Friday nights and what we have in Tropicana Field. I try to tackle one thing at a time. We’ve tackled Saturdays. We’ve tackled Sundays, made them sort of go-to events. Now the next focus has been and will continue to be on Fridays. And as I expect Fridays to work, we’ll get to the midweek stuff and figure that out.”

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