December 2007

Behind The Scenes at Fenway

yawkey-way-at-game-time.jpgLastweek, the Red Sox invited me to visit the team’s offices on Yawkey Way.
"Why don’t you come by around noon on Wednesday and sit in on a bunch
of meetings?" And so I did. Between noon and 4pm, I attended four
meetings:

1. A bi-weekly meeting of the team’s vice presidents and directors
(I counted 28 of them), led by team president, Larry Lucchino. Each
VP/director gave a brief update on his/her area of responsibility and
fielded a question or two from Lucchino. Even yours truly was asked to
say a few words. ("I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Rob," said Larry, "but what’s the state of the Nation?") 

2. A meeting led by senior vice president sales/marketing, Sam
Kennedy, to discuss the status of the Red Sox Fellows Program’s
recruiting efforts.

3. A meeting led by Sam Kennedy and director of client services,
Troup Parkinson, with executives from a company that currently spends
about a half-million dollars per year in advertising with the Red Sox.
The purpose of the meeting was to brainstorm ways to reconfigure the
deal going forward.

4. A meeting led by manager of community marketing, Mardi Fuller, on "Marketing to Women."

Rather than give you the blow by blow on these meetings, I thought
I’d share with you the most striking take-aways of my afternoon at
Fenway:

1. Larry Lucchino has the entire organization under his thumb, and
he seems to enjoy being president and getting involved in the details
of every aspect of the organization. He ran the VP/directors meeting
like an emcee, sprinkling in anecdotes from time to time, quizzing VPs
on facts about their area, and handing out praise generously. He is
clearly well-liked and highly respected by his charges.

2. Out of the 28 team VP/directors who spoke at that first mfenway-at-sunset.jpgeeting,
only two mentioned actual baseball players: Brian O’Halloran, director
of baseball operations (he attended in Theo Epstein’s stead), who gave
a brief update on minor transactions that had occurred in the last two
weeks, and **** Bresciani, the team’s historian and archivist, who gave
a spirited presentation about "this week in Red Sox history." As a fan,
it was striking to see that 95% of the meeting focused on issues that
would bore most fans to tears.

3. At lunch, following the VP/directors meeting, I had a chance to
talk with Ron Bumgarner, who runs the ticketing operation. "The Yankees
and every other pro sports organization laughs at us for the lengths we
go to to try to make tickets accessible to regular fans," he said. And
after 20 minutes of hearing about the thought process behind their
ticket operations, I believed him.

He confessed that sometimes the lengths to which the Sox go to make
things fair have a negative effect on their efforts to make the
experience easy. For example, when tickets are available online, some
people wait ten minutes to purchase tickets, while others who have
waited hours and hours and were "in line" first get nothing. He
explained that if the Sox did not pluck folks out of the "virtual
waiting room" randomly, the agencies/resellers would chew up all the
tickets ? because they have the manpower and, more importantly, the
programmer power to dominate the ?front of the line? and proactively
?mole? their computers to butt in the queue. He said that they could
sell out Fenway’s 81 games in one day if they wanted to, and that would
make their job easy, but they don’t do that because it would not be
fair to the "average fans."

4. I assumed that the Red Sox Fellows Program would cater to the
grandchildren of owners and nieces of senior vice presidents, but the
meeting on the Fellows Program made it clear to me that the Sox are
truly looking for a robust, diverse pool of applicants. Just as the
baseball operations people are looking for talented players, the
business operations people are looking for talented, capable "fellows"
to inject the organization with energy and to develop executives of the
future. (For more information on the Red Sox Fellows Program, click here. Applications for the 2008 season are due January 4, 2008.)

5. It was fascinating to me that 80% of the 90 minute-long meeting
with the corporate sponsor was spent "developing the relationship" —
talking about the 2007 season, catching up on how business is going,
talking about mutual friends and acquaintances. Only 20% of the time
was spent exploring the future of the company’s business relationship
with the Sox, and no actual financial terms of a deal were discussed.

6. The Red Sox have a gigantic "home field advantage" when meeting
with potential corporate sponsors at Fenway Park. Sam and Troup probably didn’t
notice the awe twinkling in the eyes of the three guest executives (two
of whom had flown in from D.C., and one from New York) as they walked
down the corridor to the conference room, gazing at the posters and
photos of Red Sox greats on the walls. What was perhaps ‘just another meeting’
for Sam and Troup was clearly one of the most exciting business
meetings of the year for their guests. When we sat down for the
meeting, a snow-covered Fenway Park loomed in the background through
the window wall. Even if you’re not a baseball fan, you can’t help
sprouting goosebumps in that room.

remy-and-orsillo-bobbleheads.jpg7.
One question that was raised at the "Marketing to Women" meeting was,
"With every game sold out and TV ratings high, and with a broader
female fan base than any other major league baseball team, why should
the Red Sox care about appealing to women more than they
already do?" The two big answers were: Because an organization that
appeals to women as well as men will thrive even when the team isn’t
winning, and because women represent half of the potential customer base/audience.

Other interesting points raised included: a) Women (and men) spend
more time directly experiencing the Red Sox through NESN (and their
team of Jerry Remy, Don Orsillo, and Tina Cervasio) than through
personal trips to Fenway Park. Therefore, any marketing efforts
targeting women need to examine the effectiveness of this channel. b)
Men (whom are the default targets of existing Red Sox marketing
efforts) have young daughters they want to bring to Fenway Park; they
have girlfriends and wives who sometimes accompany them when they
attend a game or watch on TV; and certainly "baseball" can compete with
all these women for "quality time" in the life of a male fan.
Therefore, the more broadly the team appeals to women, the more broadly
it will appeal to its default audience of men, as well.cubicles.jpg

8. In the end, the Red Sox offices are still offices where people go to work
every day (most are crammed into small cubicles), and the nature of
their work is not unlike the work done in other organizations: finance,
marketing, customer relations, sales, advertising, public relations,
etc. While all Red Sox employees have highly coveted jobs, they don’t
walk around exuding excitement and gratitude for their good luck; in
fact, I’d say they all looked pretty worn out after a long, strenuous
2007. (I assume the office atmosphere is slightly different in May,
during a Yankees homestand, the day after an Ortiz walk-off home run…)

I
want to thank the Red Sox organization for welcoming me into their
offices for a few hours. Their hospitality rates a ten out of ten, and
I appreciate their high hopes for the new roles of President and Vice
President of Red Sox Nation.

The Physics of the World Series Trophy

ws-trophy-and-kids.jpgI work at a school for kids ages 4 to 14, so when Jerry Remy selected me to be Vice President of Red Sox Nation (after I placed second in the presidential election), I immediately began brainstorming ways to bring "Red Sox love" to the students, teachers, and staff at my school. I like to think big, so I asked the Sox if I could have the World Series trophy for a morning. Miraculously, they responded that the trophy would be between other engagements and in my school’s area on one particular day, making it available to me and my school for perhaps 45 minutes. Unbelievable.

I arranged for the trophy to be a surprise. And what a surprise! I unveiled it at a school assembly at the conclusion of a brief speech to the community on the lesson that there are many ways to "win" in any contest besides getting the most points, getting the highest grade, or winning the gold medal. "For example," I said, "I didn’t get the most votes in the race for president, but as the runner-up, today I have the chance to present to you THE RED SOX 2007 WORLD SERIES TROPHY!"

Within five seconds of the unveiling, the trophy and I were in a sea of kids (with a sprinkling of adults who had suddenly become kids again). Over the next hour, hundreds of students and teachers posed with the trophy, as did several of the construction workers out back and a few parents who were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Posing for one particular photo, I put my arm around a member of our school’s maintenance staff who was holding the trophy, and his whole body was shaking and trembling uncontrollably. Other adults at the school were moved to tears when they finally cradled the trophy, and the smiles in their "trophy photos" express a wild combination of bewilderment and joy.

The first, second, and third graders lined up against the wall of a long hallway, and I paraded it down the hall slowly so they all could touch it. I wish you could’ve seen the expressions on their faces. (see above photo) Many of them hugged it, several of them kissed it, and their elation was every bit as real as the adults’.

I know physicists say that an object’s gravitational force is proportional to its mass, but then how do we account for the pronounced gravitational pull of the 33-lb World Series trophy? The way in which people at my school were drawn to it – the euphoric look in their eyes, their animal need to touch it and to hold it and to embrace it – well, I’ve never seen anything quite like it. But I’ve got my own amateur physicist’s theory:

kieltys-pinch-hit-homer-in-game-4.jpgThe World Series trophy’s mass consists of all the emotions of the season, as experienced by every member of Red Sox Nation. It includes the "mass" of the emotional roller coaster every fan experienced during the Mother’s Day Miracle" on May 13, when the Sox scored six in the last inning to defeat Baltimore, 6-5. It includes the "mass" of the stress every fan experienced as the Yankees inched closer and closer to us in the A.L. East in August and September. It includes the "mass" of the emotions every fan experienced when Manny connected off of K-Rod for his walk-off homer in game 2 of the Division Series. And it includes the "mass" of every fan’s emotions at the moment Bobby Kielty hit his pinch-hit homer in game 4 of the World Series (pictured here). All these emotions from the 2007 season – and every emotion that occurred between these games, from every fan around the world – are contained within that 2007 World Series trophy. That’s a lot of "emotional mass," and it helps account for the fact that the trophy has the gravitational force of a moon.

And the 2004 World Series trophy? Well it has the "emotional mass" of 86 years of Red Sox fan experiences crammed inside it. Only a Cubs trophy will ever come close to matching the "mass" of that baby…..

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Goodbye, Dr. Steinberg

fathers-day-at-fenway-2002.jpgAs I wrote in my blog article, Fenway Holiday, oneof the best days I’ve ever had at Fenway Park took place on Father’s
Day, 2002. On that day, I brought my then three year-old son to his
first Red Sox game. He insisted on wearing his duck boots (it was a wet
day) and on wearing his blue Red Sox helmet backwards (funny, now that
he’s 8, he still wears his hat backwards). After the game, my son and I
joined thousands of others on Fenway’s outfield grass, playing catch in
the shadow of the Green Monster. I’ll always remember the emotional
rush of the day — an truly remarkable experience for a young dad —
and I remember thinking, this is my favorite day as a parent.

That was my introduction to Dr. Charles Steinberg, the Red Sox’
Senior Vice President for Public Affairs who, last week, accepted a
front office position with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Steinberg, who
invented Fathers Day at Fenway, transformed the fan experience
for all of us in Red Sox Nation, and the news of his departure made me
truly sad. Am I being overly sentimental? No.

With Steinberg in the front office, we knew there was someone with
power who was thinking about the kids of Red Sox Nation, and someone
who was tending to the sacredness of the Fenway experience 81 games per
year. Steinberg designed the Fenway experience for Fenway first-timers,
which injected magic into the game for all fans, every game, regardless of the win-loss outcome.

Certainly, winning changed the tone of the fan experience at
Fenway Park. But so much of the joy we’ve grown accustomed to at Fenway
was masterminded by Steinberg. He is a treasure. He is L.A.’s treasure
now. Seems a fitting destination for the Walt Disney of baseball.

Red Sox Nation will miss him. And we are grateful to him.

Sports Center Missed These…

Some of the greatest sports moments of the day never make it onto ESPN’s Sports Center. Two perfect examples:

amaker-at-harvard.jpg1. On Saturday night, Harvard’s
men’s basketball team defeat the Michigan Wolverines before a sell-out
crowd at Lavietes Pavillion in Cambridge, 62-51.
That’s right, an Ivy League team that has NEVER won the Ivy League Title
(a drought that’s comparable to the Red Sox’s 86-year ordeal) beat the
one-time Big Ten powerhouse, a team full of Michigan’s best high school
players, almost ALL of whom are on scholarship (Ivy League teams cannot
give scholarships). I’m not a Harvard graduate, but I was in attendance
and I was rooting hard for the underdogs.

At the end of the game, hundreds of Harvard students stormed the
court. Has that EVER happened at a Harvard basketball game? And has
there EVER been a bigger win in Harvard men’s basketball history? I
think the only win that comes close was a victory over Boston College,
at the Heights, several years ago.

amaker-at-duke.jpgSports
Center loves great stories, and this victory has a doozy…. Harvard’s
new coach, former Duke guard Tommy Amaker, was fired as Michigan’s
coach last year. He could have taken a major division 1 coaching post
this season but opted for Harvard and the challenge of winning their first-ever Ivy title. Amaker
is too classy to call this victory "revenge," but it is what it is — a
coach who was fired by a big-time program went to a coaching graveyard
against the advice of his old mentor (Coach K) and then defeated the
school that fired him. Awesome.

roberts-final-pitch-11-07.jpg
2. Last weekend, I played the 355th game of wiffle ball vs. my 8
year-old son and his best friend in our backyard, and the way the game
ended will be talked about for years and years at our family’s kitchen
table. In over three years, I have never beaten these two kids. (Yes,
to handicap myself I do bat lefty and I let them hum the ball from a
pitcher’s mound that’s about 25 feet from home, but these guys don’t
win because I’m not trying, they win because they earn it.) Last
weekend, for about two and one-half seconds, I thought victory was
mine…. and then, it was snatched away.

Bdaddy-hits-it-deep-11-07.jpgases
were loaded, two outs, I was down by two runs, bottom of the last
inning, 2-2 count. My son hucked a fast curveball over the plate and I
pulled it, driving it deep to right field… way back, way back….
could this be Daddy’s first victory ever at Fenway West?… then his
friend soared over the plastic green fence, glove arm outstretched,
caught the ball, and slammed to the ground. GAME OVER. My son and his
friend screamed, ran to each other, and chest-butted. I just stood
there, stunned at what I had just seen.

christopher-makes-the-game-saving-catch-11-07.jpgI
knew at that moment that I would write about the game on this blog, and
I knew exactly what I would say – that sometimes, the most elegant,
miraculous, unbelievable sports moments happen right in our own
backyards, when no fans are watching and nothing is at stake except
individual pride. That catch was, truly, every bit as good as the best
Coco Crisp catches, and the fact that it saved the game and a
three-year unbeaten streak made it an instant classic. No film crews
were there to record the incredible play – it will never make it onto
The Best **** Sports Show’s 50 Greatest Catches of All-Time – but the
three of us who were there may never forget it. Indeed, our heroic, 8
year-old right fielder may never make a catch as great as that one the
rest of his life. Don’t you just love sports??

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