Rays Review…….Fan Experience Edition
In the next few days, most of the media members who cover the Rays for the local news media and the occasional magazine will make their yearly reviews and comments regarding the re-defining or re-tooling of the 2009 Tampa Bay Rays. Well, I am going to do the same, but I think my version is going to take a bit of a different direction than most of the media groups. My review is going to be a list of some of the thing I have seen changed in the past season………….either for the good, or for the bad. The list will include special events that Season Ticket holders have grown accustom to, and some new policies that changed the system a bit for some of us.
First and foremost on my list is to compliment the Rays Group Sales department on the annual event held at the Ybor City Gameworks earlier this season. This is the second edition of the event, and it was an event that I actually looked forward to after it great success last season. And when I saw it again on the agenda, it made my eyes sparkle and I think I might have heard a little giggle. Again this season, the event was attended by many of the Rays players and Rays Manager Joe Maddon, and some of them even took the time to play games and chat with the fans while also giving the attendees’ an occasional photo opportunity.
It was a great time to get a photo with one of the players outside of the game element and see how they are in “real life”. As an ex-player, it was always important to me personally to keep that balance between the two groups close, because without it, the fans can put you high up on that golden pedestal, and when you fall, it is a long way down to the bottom. By being open to autographs and photos, it gives a bonding moment between fans and the players that can not be duplicated by the Rays PR staff.
Plus,after seeing some of the players this season, a few of them need to hone their Dance, Dance Revolution skills for the 2010 version……..Maybe that could be one of their off-season workout routines (lol) Seriously, the food, the cartoon artists and the giveaways during the night only added extra spice to the already awesome event.
So let’s now take a journey down the wrong side of the street for a change. This season for the first time, the Rays Season Ticket holder had to choose which “bag” or selection of giveaway items as if they were viewing a Chinese restaurant menu. You could select Column “A” or Column “B”, but no substitution and no sharing of plates. This is the first time we did not get the “kids items” that are usually included in our yearly bags. I know for myself, it was a bit of a bummer since I have used those items in the past to entice kids to want to see the Rays.
I understand the main reason for the cut-backs was that the giveaways promotional sponsors might have cut back their financial contributions on the total amount of items this season, which is understandable considering the recent economy concerns. But it was a bit of a bummer to see any of these “kids” items this season since I also know of a lot of grand parents who use them as stocking stuffing items at Christmas time for friends who kids love the Rays, but can not attend games. Hopefully within the next season or two we can get back to the old way, or maybe have a Column “C” selection of “kids” items so we can again get some of this awesome stuff to kids who love the Rays.
So lets hit back onto another plus thing this season, which is the increased numbers of Rays Watch Parties and events where the Rays Radio network did on-location appearances and also giveaways during the television broadcast during the season. As usual, Rich Herrera did a fantastic job out and about, and should be commended on enduring sand, chicken wings and bright sunshine during the remote locations this season. But no matter where they were, it seemed everyone had a fantastic time, and hopefully we can see even more expansion in the future.
Guess it is time to again hit the low side of the totem pole. I was a bit upset that the Rays could not secure a time and a sponsor for the annual Team Photo Day in 2009. The event has always been the one time of the season that I bothered players and coaches for photos so as to give the non-Season Ticket folks a chance at autographs and pictures with them during the other 80 games of the season. But when the event was not announced this week, it set me back a bit.
I was all ready for the yearly event with a 3 GB media card and a fresh set of batteries in the camera just waiting for the event. But when I did not get an Email or any confirmation of the event,I asked a member of the Fan Experience department with the Rays and found out that the event was not committed to be held this season. That is truly a bummer since the 2008 event was such a fiasco, and I hoped it would be a great time for the team to redeem themselves with the Season Ticket folks.
Just a small bit of history for everyone, last season the Team Photo Day with the fans was held the day after the team celebrated stadium-wide with the fans following their win against the Minnesota Twins, securing the Rays first postseason berth. So as you might have gathered, the team’s excitement and celebrations went beyond the walls of Tropicana Field, and a few of them were not in ” photo” shape the next morning. It upset me and a lot of other fans that day big time, but some of the guys still took time out to take photos with some of us, while others were ushered around with escorts to make a haste escape from the photo hungry crowd.
Some of the team’s major contributors to the playoff berth did not make even a dugout appearance to the event, while others felt compelled to come out and circulate and take pictures with the fans. I do not hold the players accountable for any of this since the event did come the day after the team’s biggest moment, and they had every right to be proud of accomplishing their playoff berth. Hopefully in the future the Rays can again schedule this great event where the fans again can spend a few moments with their heroes.
I am going to throw this next item out as a neutral point because I can see both sides of the coin here, but for myself, I am still searching for another option to get this activity done without rocking the boat. But the reality of it all is that the new policy of Sunday autographs for only people under 14 bites it big time to me. I guess I got spoiled by the first 11 years of having the Autograph Saturday event and having two Rays players sign for any fans regardless of age.
I have come to not love this new policy for the simple fact that I hate to bother the Rays players throughout the seas
on when I know they might be signing by the baselines sometimes during the season. I am now finding myself perched above the Rays dugout and bothering them during their paths to the dugout during Batting Practice. Again I have had wait in the shadows for people like Pat Burrell, Greg Zaun and Jason Bartlett to come by and see if they could sign a ball for me. I know this change in policy might have been done because of the increased postings on sites like E Bay of autographs and collectibles for sale and not for your own personal collections.
I enjoy collecting autographs on MLB baseballs, more for the fact we did not have a team here when I was a kid except for the Florida State League squads, and in Progress Energy Park/Al Lang you could not get a ball over the outfield wall unless it went over the extreme right or leftfield fences. I guess it is my way of having my childhood back in small doses via the game of baseball by collecting balls and equipment and displaying them in my home, and not for commercial profit.
So because of this increased traffic of items hitting the web, and some of the counterfeit items that might have been bought by people online, I can empathize with the players that someone of my age could be a ball hawker and not a fan wanting a true autograph for his personal use. And that is one of the reasons I have not written a blog or a posting about this event before today. But with the year-end autograph signing events that are no longer held during the last home stand, I guess I will have to redefine my sights to again perch myself during the season for the desired autographs.
In the wide scope of it all, the Rays have been considered one of the best values in sports by ESPN, the Magazine, and it truly is affordable and entertaining for all ages. Tampa Bay Rays baseball might have taken a hit on the field, but in the surrounding halls and cubbyholes around the stadium, the Fan Experience has increased this season and the fans have been the true winners. the increase in In-Game contests and events from the Pepsi bottles Race to the Bloopers in the eighth inning have made the game enjoyable for everyone.
But even if going to a Rays game is considered one of the best values in sports, wandering around the stadium or even strolling through the Ted Willams Museum is a “must see” for fans of any team. Changes can always be made even to a perfect event or activity. The above mentioned items have not been singled out to embarrass or even stay away from future Rays games or events. But the tweaking and maybe even the revising of some things can only help further the Rays goals of giving fantastic guest experiences and also promote from within the confines of the stadium to the “Rays Way” of thinking off the field as well as on the field in 2010.