Beyond crackerjacks: 10 ways to fix Safeco Field
by Peter Lewis
Credit: Photo: Peter Lewis
Dear Seattle Mariners,
With average game attendance apparently destined to slide for a 10th straight year, why not consider my top-ten list below for ways to help turn this around and make Safeco and the team more appealing.
For what it’s worth, I’ve followed the M’s since the team’s inception and my partner and I have owned a share of two box seats for more than 25 years. That means I’ve written checks totaling well into five figures – big money to me even though I realize it’s peanuts compared to what you spent on Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins.
Okay, that was a cheap shot. The point is I have been a loyal and paying fan.
For the record, Safeco Field is a gem compared to the Econodome. But there’s room for improvement in categories small and large. So without further ado, here’s my list:
1. Start providing WiFi, like they do in San Francisco and some other modern ballparks. This would be a marked improvement for fans whose cellular networks just don’t cut it, making it frustrating to look up stats and take advantage of popular apps like MLB At Bat and the like.
2. Spring for those little paper cups to squirt ketchup and mustard into. Stack them at your condiment stations near concession stands. Anyone who has bought one of those large, soft hot pretzels knows what I’m talking about.
3. When you offer giveaways – magnetic calendars, bobble heads, caps, etc. – don’t be so stingy. If you’re doing a promo, be big-hearted. Do not, for example, limit your T-shirt Tuesday offer to the “first 5,000 fans”.
4 Next time you decide to make infrastructure improvements, how about re-grading the 100-level to make rows steeper? No doubt you had engineers and architects weigh in when you designed sight lines and angles, but greed apparently triumphed. By installing as many rows as possible you may have maximized revenue, but you also sentenced those of us shorter than 6-feet to game-long head bobbing whenever a tall fan sits in the row below.
5. Speaking of infrastructure, was it wise to spend $15 million on new signage, mostly for a dazzling Jumbotron scoreboard which at 11,425 square feet is the largest of its kind in baseball? I, for one, didn’t have a problem with the old one. Next time you have an extra $15 million lying around, how about using it to improve the team instead of making hydro race videos look cooler?
6. But since you did spend all that dough to improve signage, you could be doing a way better job of exploiting all the extra real estate. For example, the hitter and pitcher info displayed under the “Hit it Here” Café in right field reads like a truncated Excel spreadsheet. Make things more accessible to ordinary fans! Over on the big board behind center field, how about dropping one of the abstruse batting stats – “OBP” (on base percentage) “SLG” (slugging percentage) or “OPS” (on-based plus slugging percentage) – and instead display “AB” (at bats) so we have important context.
Also, I understand your hands may be tied by Major League Baseball’s ban against showing “close play” replays on the big screen, but everyone sees them at home – and even on your monitors installed along Safeco’s walkways. Unleash the Jumbotron!
7. Tell us what’s happening during the game. Your public-address announcer does a super job of instilling fear – warning of arrest and jail time – when drunk fans are dumb enough to jump the rail and run naked across the diamond. But hey, how about providing timely updates when a player is injured and has to leave the game. Or filling us in when an ump invokes some arcane rule and 90 percent of the fans are clueless. Those watching at home or listening on the radio quickly learn this stuff. Those of us who actually paid (a lot) for seats are left in the dark.
This brings me back to my first tip – if you offered WiFi, at least those of us with smart phones could educate ourselves. But you shouldn’t need a smart phone to find out why, once again, Franklin Gutiérrez is headed for the disabled list.
8. Respect your season ticket holders. A few years back you moved to “dynamic pricing,” meaning you re-priced individual games based on perceived market demand. So, for example, you charge more to see the Yankees than the Astros. But as season ticket holders, we are blind to such distinctions. For our group this year, the price per ticket worked out to a bit more than $42. (For the record, my partners and I forked over more than $6,800 for two season tickets – payable in full almost three months before the first pitch was thrown!)
Yet when I recently visited Safeco to trade in a pair of tickets for another game, my $84 counted for only $64 worth of credit, because you arbitrarily decided to print $32 on the particular tickets I wanted to trade in. The nice woman at the exchange window explained that as a season ticket holder I had enjoyed a “special discount” – a discount I was forfeiting if I wanted to swap out tickets. Really? Season ticket holders should always receive full credit when they seek an exchange, dynamic pricing be damned. Case closed!
9. Enough with the seat police. No doubt you had good intentions when you decided to position ushers at the top of the lower-bowl aisles. You equipped them with “courtesy signs” and orders to block fans from returning to their seats while play is in progress. Problem is, play has often resumed by the time some of those quarantined fans are allowed through. Plus, there’s nothing to stop fans from rising from their seats at any time, forcing others to stand and block views. Ask yourself how much of a “courtesy” this practice is for the fans forced to wait in the walkways with their overpriced beers and hotdogs balanced on a cardboard tray. Argghhh!?
10. Okay, you knew this last one was coming, right? Just be better. With the M’s trailing Boston 9-0 in a particularly depressing game in early July, my friend Tim and I decided we’d had enough and left in the seventh inning. As we headed for the street, I told Tim I’d be writing this list and asked if he had any nominations. Tim did not hesitate: “Shitty baseball is the worst thing about Safeco, when it gets right down to it.” You have to agree: As the winning streak spanning the All Star break shows, a contending team could do wonders
Any additions to Peter's list? Toss 'em into the Comments area below.