The Ryan Express: Keeping Fans Up To Speed

ImageWhat do you do when tragedy strikes?  The world of Public Relations goes in to what they call “crisis management” mode.  As a business, this is something you want to have ready and available in your back pocket when you face potential threats that may impact your brand, reputation and value.  When organizations position themselves to act swiftly and promptly, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at fault.  Instead, it gives them the power to control the message and respond as immediate as they see fit.

This is not at all uncommon in sports and the Texas Rangers are no different.  In fact, they received what may have been perceived as unfair scrutiny following the death of a fan who died after falling from the outfield stands while reaching for a ball thrown by (at the time) Texas Rangers All-Star outfield Josh Hamilton.  Unfortunately for the Rangers, this wasn’t the first time they had experienced a fan falling over the railing, except this time a fatality was involved.

I had the opportunity to speak with Rangers’ Manager of Security & Parking, Dana Jons.  When asked about these incidents and others around baseball, Ms. Jons explained that “They are tragic events that could unfortunately happen anywhere.  Security is absolutely a priority for us and we want to make the whole fan experience enjoyable and safe when fans come to Rangers Ballpark.  One thing you have to consider when you’re creating this environment is that accidents can occur, but it is us to be proactive and minimize the chances of them happening.  What happened to the gentleman (Shannon Stone) that fell from the stands in 2011 was tragic, but could have happened at just about any other stadium in baseball.”  Ms. Jons mentioned that stadiums are designed for fans to enjoy their experience at games and unfortunately fans sometimes get carried away; which is when accidents can occur.

In response to the first incident of an individual falling over a wall in April of 1994, Club officials raised the railings from 30.5 inches to 46 inches in the upper and lower areas of the park.  Taking these measures to make the stadium safer is inadmissible evidence in court in order to prove the Texas Ranger’s facilities were inadequate to protect spectators, but it could be shown the 14 foot left field wall with railing was not high enough to protect the fan from falling.  While the Rangers technically would’ve breached the Limited Duty of Care, our legal system does protect American teams with an Assumption of Risk Doctrine.  Therefore, it is up to the spectators to pay attention and look out for their own safety, which is an inherent risk taken when attending a ballgame.  It is up to fans to be aware of fly balls, broken bats and common for players to interact with fans by signing autographs and tossing balls to them.

This player interaction is an area that the Ranger’s organization really takes pride in.  Major League Baseball Rules dictate player activity once they’re within the 45 minute window of the game beginning.  Prior to that, the guys are out there shaking hands and kissing babies during their homestands.  The interaction fans have with players is only part of the fan experience though.  Rangers’ Community Relations is very active in the community and assists with many player appearances throughout the year.  The Rangers also hold a Fan Fest at the Arlington Convention Center in February prior to the start of Spring Training.  Ms. Jons mentioned a neat event this weekend that that will involve a movie night at the ballpark where fans will be able to watch their Rangers play on the road in Houston on the Jumbotron, followed by The Sandlot, and capping the night off with a sleepover on the field.

It’s fair to say that in addition to their performance on the field, the Rangers organization has been doing quite a bit for their fans off the field as well.  Professional franchises would not be who and where they are without the support of their fans and it’s good to see the Texas Rangers are second to none when it comes to fan appreciation.


Field of Jeans: Are Sports Sponsorships Always a Good Fit?


Think about what you could purchase for $200 million.  I can contemplate my approach, only to realize how challenging it would be to wrap my head around this sum of money.  Thing is, when your name is Barclays and you’re engaged in the business of financial services with an extensive international presence, $200 million is hardly an overwhelming figure.  It is for this reason, among many others, that Barclays uses the medium of sport to enhance its affiliation and direct associations with specific entities in a manner that will capitalize on the benefits related to the affiliation.  In a way, it explains Barclays’ motivation to come to an agreement with Brooklyn Nets’ ownership and spend $200 million over a period of 20 years on the naming rights for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.  Surprisingly, “Barclays Bank originally agreed to pay a record $400 million for the 20-year naming rights deal.  But two years later, with the economy slumping, the deal was renegotiated with arena developer Forest City Ratner, and the price was sliced in half to $200 million.”  I can only imagine how thrilled Nets ownership must’ve been when they heard the deal that was originally going to cover 62.8% of arena construction costs would be slashed to a measly 31.4%.  This is under the assumption that the Barclays Center cost of construction was only $637 million, even though there is speculation that final costs tallied well over $1 billion.  Either way, this just comes to show that Sports Sponsorship isn’t just big business, it’s massive!

The problem with sports sponsorship, regardless of initial intent, is that not all deals pan out to be good deals.  Consider the multitude of incidents when naming rights agreements caused issues for the sport entities that sold the rights because the sponsor that purchased the naming rights fell into financial disarray.  Just two years ago, January of 2011, the Sacramento Kings ended their 25-year deal with ARCO in order to make room for Power Balance.  No more than a year and a half later, Power Balance realized they tried to bite off more than they could chew and would join the ranks of companies such as Enron, PSINet and TWA; all of which at one time held arena naming rights prior to filing bankruptcy.  Despite all of the mistakes made by the aforementioned companies in the 1990s, errors in judgment continued to be made all over again.  One of my personal favorites took place shortly after the financial meltdown in 2008 when our government provided bailouts to a number of financial institutions.  How in the world could CitiBank afford a $20 million annual naming rights agreement with the New York Mets, despite requiring a government bailout just to stay afloat and continue with their day-to-day operations?  It’s good to know Congress was just as confused as the rest of us.

As a result of these mistakes, sports franchises now include clauses designed to ensure they’ll be able to re-sell the naming rights to their stadium or arena, for free, should the company holding rights to their current agreement become insolvent.  In addition to protecting their brand, franchises would want the prospective sponsor proposing naming rights to also align with the brand in a manner that will mutually benefit both parties when these deals are executed.  Regardless of the mistakes that have been made, it’s intriguing when you take in to account the number of franchises that do not have stadium naming rights in their sponsorship inventory.  In fact, of the thirty Major League Baseball franchises, seven do not have naming rights in place for their stadiums.  That is a significant number when you consider how lucrative naming rights deals can be.  While I know these franchises would at least listen to sponsorship proposals, it is telling when you consider four of these seven teams are ranked in Forbes Top 10 of MLB Team Values.  Despite the rankings, there are occasions when a franchise may make decisions that seem out of character and raise a few eyebrows.  Especially when you learn the San Francisco 49ers, ranked 9th on the Forbes list of NFL Team Values, agreed to terms with Levi’s to name their newly constructed Santa Clara Facility “Levi’s Stadium” in one of the biggest sports marketing deals to date.  I understand Levi Strauss first opened a dry goods store in San Francisco back in 1853.  With Santa Clara being nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, you would think one of the tech companies might take offense to this.  NFL writer Chris Wesseling did raise a good point when he said, “We just hope the 49ers don’t decide to emulate Boise State’s blue turf.”  Either way, the jokes are already in full-effect following Niners’ owner Jed York calling it the “Field of Jeans.”