Houston Astros: 8 Ways They Can Stay Relevant in Houston
You know the story by now. The team is in last place and hasn't played a relevant game since 2008. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2005 and haven't seriously competed since 2006.
When you go five years without being relevant, you risk losing the fan base. This is particularly true in a society that expects instant gratification. Houston fans tend to be of the bandwagon variety and the Texans are the hot ticket in town.
Still, the Astros have a richer history than the other two major league franchises in town. They are poised to have new ownership. They are finally beginning the process of rebuilding.
The elements are in place for the Astros to keep their place in the Houston landscape, but they are going to have to do some work this offseason to make it happen.
Be Honest with Fans
Astros fans aren't stupid. Really most baseball fans aren't stupid. However, the explanation for different issues that fans have brought up has been patronizing to the say the least. Often, they have been out and out lies. People know more than you think they know and when they don't know they have more ability to check your facts than they ever did.
The three main lies that have been put forth by ownership and management concern the team's current ability to compete, how and why fans cannot bring food and drinks into the park, and the current situation with a possible move to the American League. Drayton McLane recently said "it is out of my control and out of Jim Crane's control." This is a bit disengenious.
Every owner has the right to refuse a change of leagues or divisions. So, it is in fact in their control. Now, there are certainly circumstances that mitigate that decision, but completely removing responsibility on your end pisses off the fans because they know you are not telling them the whole truth. The same is true with all of the "are you ready to be a champion" talk. If you are straight up with fans that you are rebuilding then they might be willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Go Back to the Orange and Navy
Before you press the panic button, no I am not talking about bringing back the rainbows. The shooting star jerseys of the early 1970s would actually be better.
However, if you walk around Houston or look inside Minute Maid Park you will find more people wearing the old colors than those wearing the new colors. There is a reason for that.
The Astros have dubbed their 2012 season as their 50th anniversary (even though it is actually their 51st). The emblem already has those elements.
Switching to that color scheme (even if it is a new design) would go over pretty big. Add that to all of the focus on the last 50 years and you have a pretty magical PR strategy.
Stay in the National League
A marketing person once said that perception is reality. There are two common perceptions about Houston and the their place in MLB.
First, there is a perception that Bud Selig has a history of screwing over the Astros that goes all the way back to Hurricane Ike and before.
Secondly, there is a perception that Drayton McLane would let Bud Selig sell the Astros down the river if Bud Selig asked him to.
Often, these perceptions are either flat out wrong or based partially on bad information. However, we are all big boys and girls and we know that facts often don't matter.
Jim Crane may or may not own the team. In point of fact, if he doesn't end up owning the team, he may be seen as a hero. There is another perception that a move to the AL is part of the deal. If he somehow walks out with the team and keeps them in the National League, he will be very popular.
Connect the Present with the Past
Many of you probably had blank looks on your faces when I said that Houston has been a National League city since 1921. Most people in Houston have very little connection with its sports history.
In fact, the Buffs were one of the first established affiliates in baseball history. Most minor league teams at the time were independent. The Cardinals were the first big league franchise to start using affiliates and Houston was one of their first choices.
Thousands of native Houstonians that are currently retirement age grew up as Cardinals fans. So, the connection with the National League runs deeper than the Colt 45s. Also, local historians have traced baseball back to the 1860s in Houston.
A lot of people just don't see Houston as a town with a rich sports history. Educating fans on the rich history of baseball in Houston might allow them to begin to thinking of connecting with the current history,
When you look at other cities around the country with great baseball traditions, they all have a strong tie to history. Great grand-dad watched Babe Ruth, their grandfather watched Joe DiMaggio.
Your father watched Mickey Mantle. You grew up on Reggie Jackson and Don Mattingly. Now, your kids have Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. Houston doesn't have that connection yet, but it's not impossible to build that.
Lower Ticket Prices
The next couple of slides are going to kind of melt together. The general theme is that you have to be honest with your fan base about what you are. The Astros are not a winning baseball team, and they won't be a winning baseball team until at least 2013. There is no way they should be raising ticket prices and keeping them at the same rate isn't a good idea either.
Even if fans wanted to go games to watch young players develop, the state of the economy keeps some of them away. If you lowered ticket prices in the less premium seats you will get more fans. Those fans would grow up with this new generation of Astros.
They would gain a connection to them and therefore they will feel like those players belong to them. Those of us in our 30s have that connection with the Bagwell and Biggio Astros.
Naturally, when the park looks fuller then it looks like a more happening place to be. More fans in the stadium make the experience better as well. If the experience is better, you will want to come back.
At the same time, when you get people in the park they may spend money on concessions, hats, apparel and whatever else. Now, they are selling tickets and many of them aren't going. That of course causes the opposite problem.
Lower Concession Prices
The price for beer at Minute Maid Park has gone up to $7.75. Again, we go back to the point where perception is reality. I went to a game at Dodger Stadium where they were selling beer for nearly $13. If I'm going to spend that much on a beer it better be blessed by the pope.
If you bring a family of four to a game and you buy each of them a drink and a hot dog, you are likely spending around $30.
The profit margin on these drinks and foods is enormous. Of course, when I see the Coors Light commercials about the two bars I'm thinking, "the first bar means its skunky beer, and the second bar means it's still skunky beer." I'm a beer snob. Sue me.
That being said, when I can buy a six pack of imported beer (preferably from Germany) and its cheaper than the domestic swill you are serving at the ballpark, there is a serious problem.
You don't have to reduce prices down to nickel beer night or even a buck. If you slashed prices to five dollars a beer, you would sell more beer and patrons would still have to spend a ton of money to get snookered.
At the same time, if you cut the price of hot dogs to, say, three dollars then you would still make your money and more people would buy it.
Allow Fans to Bring in Food and Beverages
29 big league ballparks allow fans to bring in food and/or beverages in some capacity. The only one that does not is Minute Maid Park.
Going through the turnstiles is like growing through security at the airport. They look through all bags to find contraband and then collect it. Naturally, other parks have all kinds of different restrictions, but all allow you to bring in something.
No one expects to bring in a steak dinner with all the fixings, but allowing a bottled water and maybe a bag of peanuts wouldn't be out of line.
Even just a bottled water would be an improvement considering the heat of Houston during the summer. Every little bit helps when you are trying to gain the trust and respect of your fans.
Stay Involved in the Community
The Astros generally do a good job interacting with the community. So, to suggest that they don't would be a complete slap in the face to them. However, when you are a losing team you have to double your efforts sometimes. People tend to follow those that they have a personal connection with. What better way to get a personal connection with your fans than to meet your fans.
Believe it or not, this is one area where they are making strides. They brought in former Astro Enos Cabell to set up camps and other events in the inner city. The Astros used to have a reputation as a lily white organization and having a perspective owner that has been accused of unfair hiring practices probably doesn't help here.
They have built a lot around the "root for the good guys" campaign and more of a presence in the community will help there. Logan Morrison of the Marlins (as well as others) struggles with the concept of schmoozing. When young players come into Houston they must be made to understand how important it is that the community feel a connection with them.