San Diego, Our Polis

One of the topics I remember former Padres CEO Tom Garfinkel talk about most was the importance of fans having a good ballpark experience on days our Padres don’t win. This goal became evident in, among other improvements, the restaurants and events he and his team brought to the ballpark. But there’s another less discussed, at least less discussed by team by team executives, aspect of a game experience that makes watching losing baseball at the park an excruciating ordeal. Sharing the stands with lots of loud fans of opposing teams is absolutely awful.

Your city is so great? Go Home!

This is an issue somewhat unique to San Diego as it’s a great place to visit and live. Transplants and visitors bring team allegiances from other cities with them. It’s those visitors and transplants that flood Giants, Dodgers, Cubs, and other games and often turn attending a losing Padres game from a disappointing but fun experience into emotionally charged challenge to our honor as San Diegans.

Ron Fowler refreshingly characterized attending Tim Lincecum‘s no-hitter against the Padres at Petco Park half full of cheering Giants fans. “It SUCKED,” he said. We needed to hear it, as various Padres ownership groups have been busy playing pull my finger tournaments the past four and a half seasons while fans turned over our dollars in exchange for watching a not so great baseball team.

I don’t remember any Padres executive address this issue directly, at least until Fowler did. Maybe those owners appreciate the extra revenue from visiting fans? This is probably partially true, but you have to think (and figure ownership agrees) that this thinking is shortsighted, as a strong support base of friar faithful will generate more revenue in the long term.

Maybe they don’t think anything can be done about it? Please stop yelling, I’m hearing your thoughts loud and clear. If the team wants a loyal Padres following to drown out and convert visiting fans, they need to establish a tradition of winning. Tom Garfinkel understood this, and also understood that fans wanted to hear that he understood it. I would also like to think that other ownership groups are pretty aware of how important winning is as well.

So aside from the obvious answer of not fielding a terrible baseball team, is there anything else that can be done? I have a few ideas:

  • The Padres can’t win every game against the Dodgers, but they can create the feeling of doing so. Using the magic of television (and video tapes, and probably some other electronic things) the Padres should play clips of past victories over visiting teams. They do this sometimes for historical games, but should a lot more often. Sure you can’t repeat highlights from the Padres clinching the 96 division over the Dodgers all the time, but how about come from behind wins? Or walk off wins? The Padres have played hundreds of games against their rivals, lets get Padres fans reliving the feeling of beating them every time they play.
  • The Padres need to establish more fun traditions of crowd involvement. Red Sox fans sing Sweet Caroline. Braves fans have the (admittedly not so appropriate) Tomahawk Chop. It needn’t be complicated, and considering the often subdued Padres crowds, probably shouldn’t be. “Beat LA!” is a decent start, but focusing on other teams isn’t the best idea. Playing Bro Hymn by Pennywise after wins is nice as well–high energy and tradition are awesome. Even leading a simple chant like “Keep the Faith!” at opportune times could work. The Pad Squad leads cheers by bribing fans with free stuff, have them get a tradition started a few sections at a time if need be.
  • This final suggestion is the most important. The Padres need to establish the message that being in San Diego means rooting for the Padres. Real San Diegans root for the Padres. Bringing your team’s loyalties to San Diego makes you an outsider, even if you do live in our city. This directly addresses cultural issues that marketing folk who haven’t lived in San Diego long don’t understand. Identifying rooting for the Padres as a core part of being a San Diego “local” really resonates. A couple years ago I introduced a shirt for The Sacrifice Bunt that said “Your City Is So Great? Go HOME!” It absolutely struck a nerve. I get tons of comments wearing it to games because San Diegans identify. Of course that isn’t the wording the Padres can use, they simply can’t be as rude as I like being. And visitors to the stadium should feel welcomed by the team. But the message also can’t be whitewashed. In the early 2000s the Padres used the slogan “Our Team, Our Town.” That’s along the right lines, but it’s missing emotion!┬áMarketing is about connecting with people emotionally, and this is the emotional string the team needs to hit to grow their fan base.

Different executives have differing views I’m sure, but I’m suspicious that too many top Padres executives don’t understand the unique situation of the San Diego sports fan. Many marketing decision-makers were born and raised in other cities, which makes some amount of sense as baseball positions are hard to come by. You take these jobs when you get the chance.

I originally wrote about the importance of connecting emotionally in the third bullet point above, but it applies to the others as well. Creating an emotional response is a requirement of effective marketing. Watching a huge group of opposing fans take over what’s supposed to be our house, our home, our polis, is emotional. Use that emotion to create loads of passionate Padres fans, and don’t let your competitors ruin the fire of current fans.

I’d feel left out if I didn’t politely suggest following me on Twitter.

Update: Thanks to Russ in the comments.

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  • Russ

    When did Barry Zito throw a no hitter against the Padres?

    • Sac Bunt Melvin

      FFuuuuuu

  • ItsDis

    “My Town, My Team” fits nicely in to Buck-O-Nine’s My Town. I bet they’d be willing to record that. [The mission continues!]

    • Sac Bunt Melvin

      That is an idea for a game winning song I can get behind. If more people knew it was about San Diego “My Town” the way it is now would be great as well.

  • GoldenBoy

    Amen! I think something along the lines of “Respect SD. Go Padres!” or “Represent SD” could be good. Maybe we could have a mascot battle every now & then, the SD Chicken vs. some silly mascot named “The Transplant”. That would be freakin’ rad & provide some needed catharsis. We need to especially do something like this against the Giants.

  • Matt Cook

    I love my “GO HOME!” shirt. I wore it proudly at the Lincecum no-hitter (well… proudly might only apply to the first 7 innings) and will be wearing it proudly next weekend when the Yankees are in town.

  • DaveRiceSD

    Just to add a touch of context to the Fowler “It sucked” interview, he did indeed admit later that he is interested in taking the visiting fans’ money, but hedged that by saying it was to pour into improving the on-field product.

    Love the shirts, when I was in my mid-twenties I made up a batch with cheap iron-ons that said “Go home Zonie” that I wore around the beach pretty much every weekend all summer…lots of great reactions from those too, especially given drinking on the sand was legal in those days.

    • Melvin

      Thanks, and nice! My buddies growing up in Point Loma had “Go home Nazbos” stickers, referring to students at PLNU.

      • DaveRiceSD

        I was stuck in East County until about 2006 (and have subsequently learned since moving to the city that most people here aren’t actually locals and have no idea that civilization keeps on going for many miles east of SDSU), but I haven’t really had much issue with PLNU, so maybe that’s an older thing…regardless, great initial post, love the ideas, and I would love to hear some Buck-0-Nine on the PA downtown.

  • redmeansrun

    Thanks for the post I found it very enlightening. I’m a Padres fan from Central Texas. I recently made my first trip to San Diego and caught three Padres games: the Stults complete game against the Rockies, the throwback night against the Giants and Lincecum’s no-hitter. We sat at the left field wall against the Rockies and vocal support there was fairly decent. But we sat behind First for the first Giants game and were surrounded mostly by people wearing Padres gear and sitting in mute silence. For the Lincecum game I was in the upper deck down the right field line and there were a lot of Giants fans up there but also a lot of Padres fans. But the Giants fans were making most of the noise and by the end of the game I was the only one vocally rooting for the hit against 150 Giants fans. Most of the Pad’s fans were gone and those left were silent. It was absolutely maddening.

    I’d always heard about how laid back you guys were but that drives me crazy. Maybe I’m just a crazy Texan yelling my fool head off but I will vocally support my team. I think you have to defend your fortress.

    Another problem you have that wasn’t mentioned in the post was how late some fans arrive and how early they leave. We paid $72 for the seats behind first base. A couple showed up behind us in the sixth inning, bounced the people sitting in their seats, then left in the eighth. For me, that’s a lot of money, I arrive early and stay as late as possible no matter how dreary the game is (and that one was). For Lincecum’s no-hitter there were still people streaming in in the fifth and sixth innings. Then a wave left in the seventh. I was sitting next to a Red Sox fan from Boston and he was disturbed by the same thing.

    Sorry for the long comment but I really hope you guys can get this worked out because having other teams take over your fortress is clearly a problem. Also, the no-hitter REALLY DID SUCK.

    • DaveRiceSD

      Hey man, thanks for sharing! I feel you on the apathy, I was lucky enough to have a rich dad that got us season tickets just past first base during the early/mid-eighties, and he taught me how a baseball game is watched – show up mid-BP or earlier, leave when the game is over – only exception is double-digit blowouts with a kid under age 10 (by 5th grade I was considered old enough to even suffer the worst of the defeats, and there were many in the early ’90s).

      Being a poor dad myself, I still try to keep the same values – a day at the ballpark is a full day at the ballpark, especially since I’ve dropped from 50+ games as a kid to 20 or so games as a bill-paying grownup (only half of which are for my kid, the rest were date nights with wifey) to only making a handful of appearances a year (eff you, economy that has me working a second job most weeknights).

      Whether you paid $10 or $80 to show up, show the eff up and show some effing support when you do. That’s about all I have to say about that…aside from wondering how a native Texan becomes a friar faithful…

      • redmeansrun

        I was 8 years old in 1969 when I first started following baseball. I was an Astros fan then. But I liked that the Padres were the only team with balls enough to wear brown and yellow (especially the ’72 gold uniforms with the brown stripe up the side, which I only got to see on a few baseball cards).

        I used to listen to the Astros every night on the radio with the great Gene Elston calling play by play. One Friday night in ’71 or ’72 I listened to a doubleheader in San Diego with the Astros that the first game went 20 or 21 innings and ended when a Padre hit a home run. I fell asleep during the second game and had to wait for the Sunday paper to find out that it ended when Ollie Brown lost a fly ball in a fog that had rolled in. I thought that was pretty cool. By ’77 when I finally ditched the Astros, Dave Winfield had become my favorite player (along with Rod Carew of the Twins, who are my favorite American League team, for reasons just as lengthy to explain), and it just kind of seemed naturally for me to like the Pads. Since 2004 I’ve gotten The MLB.TV on my computer and have robbed myself of many hours of sleep staying up to watch the Padres.

        This is another odd connection that I’m not sure matters, but my first Major League game was in ’72 in the Dome with the Late, Great Don Wilson throwing a complete game. This wasn’t the game I saw but Wilson threw two no hitters in his career and was en route to a third when his manager Preston Gomez pinch hit for him. Sound familiar? Preston Gomez was the manger who pinch hit for Clay Kirby when he was throwing a no hitter for the Padres.

      • DaveRiceSD

        Very cool story, thanks for sharing! My dad was actually hawking peanuts then and still tells stories about his longest day ever at the ballpark…

      • redmeansrun

        So I assume by your “…” that it was that same night. Wow, it really is a small world. More connections man.

  • The “other team’s fans”. A growing problem that needs to be addressed. Somehow. Someway. The San Diego population being so transitory might make it difficult to establish some kind of crowd tradition that would stick. It’s well worth trying though. Ownership needs to step up on a stronger consistent marketing message, and obviously a winning Padres team, that always helps!

  • Jordan Stark

    This is great Chris. The Padres front office needs to read this and circulate it.