Thursday, April 19, 2007

Dodger Management Once Again Gives Fans the Finger

Is there anyone, anyone, in the Dodger organization who has an iota of customer service training?

Bill Shaikin's LA Times article on the Dodgers' recent and sudden decision to reopen the residentially positioned Scott Avenue gate demonstrates yet again that the Dodgers are absolutely inept when it comes to public relations with its loyal (but increasingly precarious) fan base.

What's worse, management's history of illogical and unsound decision-making (which catalyzed this whole parking mess in the first place) not only creates public relations disasters--but the Dodgers then try to ameliorate the situation by pissing more people off. SoSG has documented a long list of management ineptitude, which has real costs to both fan loyalty as well as total profitability. Yet the bumbling McCourts continue to remind us how poor they are at customer management, once again. In a nutshell, the process goes as follows:

  • Make a poor decision without thinking it through (in this case, introducing a new parking concept to constrain parking options, further exacerbating traffic at high-volume gates);
  • After chaos and mayhem ensues, deny that there is a problem (publishing internal propaganda (stories and photos) in a weak and insulting attempt at spin control);
  • Fail to apologize to fans (the McCourts, now 50% richer from increased parking fees, suddenly withdraw from all public appearances, leaving others to speak the party line);
  • Find another constituency to disadvantage, in an effort to improve the situation caused by the initial poor decision, by railroading a new and separate idea which is equally dubious and rife with deleterious consequences (screwing the Echo Park residents living near the Scott gate without recompense or even a modicum of basic concern).

Let's go to the videotape on this one so we report the full brunt of the Dodgers' latest public relations maneuver:

As the Dodgers pitched their neighbors on what the team called a pilot program to reopen a fifth gate at Dodger Stadium, community members Wednesday evening expressed skepticism that the team would ever consider closing the gate once it opens back up.

The Dodgers plan to open the Scott Avenue gate Friday, for the first time since 1996. Although they had intended to use it as an exit and entrance, Dodgers Senior Vice President Howard Sunkin said it would serve only as an exit gate during a trial period.

Sunkin agreed to the concession before about 75 people at a meeting of the Greater Echo Park Elysian Neighborhood Council. He rejected another proposal — that the Dodgers keep the gate closed for day games — but did agree to work with the community on establishing carpool discounts and public transit options.

A council committee approved a motion opposing the reopening of the gate — a vote not binding on the Dodgers — and plans to follow up with City Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Ed Reyes, who represent the neighborhood.

The Dodgers agreed to close the Scott Avenue gate more than 10 years ago after neighbors argued that fans had overrun the residential area surrounding the stadium. Sunkin said Wednesday that the team would pay for traffic officers and barricades to keep fans on Scott and off side streets.

But resident Pete Lassen said: "I cannot believe you will provide the level of control along Scott Avenue that would be absolutely necessary for this — quote — pilot program to work. I say 'quote' because I believe it's a pilot that will become a reality."

Sunkin said the Dodgers would evaluate the decision at the All-Star break in July, considering neighborhood feedback in the process.

The team plans to use the gate at games with projected attendance of 40,000 or more, which this season, Sunkin said, is 70 of 81 home games.

With Dodger Stadium designed to funnel cars through five gates, he said, the team must open them all to accommodate record attendance and the accompanying traffic.

Residents expressed concern that the Dodgers are implementing the change unilaterally and on short notice, providing the community with little time to respond.

The team announced the change Tuesday, after the first homestand and 72 hours before it takes effect.

Christine Peters, chairwoman of the neighborhood committee, said fans troubled by the crowded stadium lot and the $5 hike in the price of parking have begun to park on side streets and walk into the stadium.

"Street parking already has become an issue because of the increase to $15," she said.

Peters said she is willing to consider the pilot program but questions its potential effectiveness.

"If it means we're going to take 10,000 people out of the stadium and stuck in our neighborhood, it won't make a difference. Right now, it's just going to get them stuck on Scott Avenue."

Our first-hand experiences to date have not been positive regarding the new Dodger Stadium parking concept. We're still willing to give it a shot. But it seems to us that screwing over more fans in order to placate other fans doesn't really make sense. And Sunkin's comments at the community meeting make us wonder (once again) how far the Dodger management has thought through this idea, as well as the consequences it will trigger.

If the Dodgers seriously believe that they will be able to hire enough staff to stem the tide of fans parking in the Scott Avenue residential area, why haven't they done so to date already (as the issue, catalyzed by the $5/car increase in parking rates, has surfaced even without the Scott gate's opening)? Why won't they give the community ample time to respond? Why even send talking head Howard Sunkin to the community meeting in the first place, if he is only going to reject community proposals and offer up lofty and ambitious alternative concepts of solutions (I'll believe the public transportation option when I see it, especially since Dodger management has already tried to discount it as a viable option).

Put differently, it seems so obvious how the Dodgers could have handled this particular situation properly, if only their bumbling ineptitude and egos hadn't blinded them from logic and common decency:

  • Work with the community along a reasonable timeline in order to listen to concerns and address them appropriately.
  • Send someone with a shred of sympathetic concern, as well as the ability to agree to concessions, as your lead representative. Or better yet, go to the meeting yourself, Frank and Jamie, to show that your fan base is a priority.
  • Perform analyses to forecast the impact of your decisions, and pledge concrete, specific, and transparent steps to ease any negative impacts and monitor them on an ongoing basis after a decision has been implemented.
  • Go back and review the root causes which are triggering this issue, to see if there are other viable remedies (say, for example, restoring the parking process to the way it was last season, which seemed to work fine for 2006 as well as prior decades).
  • Give the fans a meaningful avenue for raising concerns, ensuring management won't turn a deaf ear to legitimate issues or disappear from public view.
  • Throw the fans a bone, for pete's sake, by offering free tickets to a future game (which will still bring in revenues off of concession sales, Frank! There is still money to be made beyond parking fee increases!) or even a frickin' bobblehead doll.
  • And above all, treat your fans with the respect and decency that they deserve.

The people of Los Angeles love the Dodgers. I don't see why the McCourts persist to test the strength of that love.


Orel said...

Fight the power!

Rob said...

The problem I have with this analysis is that it conflates "fans" (= "paying customers") with "nearby residents affected by opening the Scott Ave. gates". Looking at the geography of Dodger Stadium, you can pretty rapidly see why it's questionable how opening the Scott Ave. gates will be much of a help in emptying the stadium. Scott Ave. eventually intersects with Glendale Blvd., which becomes State Route 2 (Glendale Fwy.). Since the Dodgers have decided cars will be directed to the gates they entered from (season ticket holders excepted), people coming in from the west will likely enter from the Elysian Park gate and some of them will exit from the Scott gate -- only that means they'll have to merge back on to Sunset at some point, thus backing up traffic at that gate.

Steve Sax said...

To be clear, I wasn't trying to conflate the two issues in my analysis--I was trying to show how the Dodgers are taking problems they have caused with one constituency (regular fans) and seeking to remedy it by screwing another constituency (nearby residents). As of now, there is likely an intersection in that Venn Diagram. But from the way the Dodgers are mishandling the situation, I'm guessing there won't be much of an intersection soon.

I assume that you (Rob) are referring to the McCourt's analysis, not mine? Or am I missing something?

Anonymous said...

As a lifelong Dodger fan, I want to take issue with you when you attack the Dodger management. Frank McCourt was trying to help with the parking problem not to make it worse. I know you want to speak for the fans and I appreciate that but the McCourts just want a viable option for the parking problem.

Steve Sax said...

Anonymous (or should I call you "Frank"?),

I too am a lifelong Dodger fan. And I too have been in parking lot jams at Dodger stadium prior to this season. But I have never gotten in parking lot messes like in Games 1 and 3 this year. And I take umbrage at that. If you want to call what happened in prior seasons a "parking problem," then it's only fair that you call what has happened this season a "parking disaster."

Your comment misses two key facts:
1) The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I understand Frank McCourt and Dodger management were trying to help. However, the facts of the first week were that his plan failed, and many fans came away very angry from his attempt to improve the situation. (Don't forget, the Dodgers are now charging $15 instead of $10 for parking--a 50% increase.)
2) What is most ridiculous about this parking issue is that Dodger management, from Frank McCourt all the way down the line, has ignored any opportunity to accept responsibility for this mess. This was the point of this last post--I'm not just ranting about parking (frankly, I'm willing to give it a fair shot, and I did say that it showed improvement from Game 3 vs. Game 1), I'm pissed off that Dodger management doesn't say "I'm sorry." McCourt claims to be an owner in touch with the people, yet whenever there is an controversy or any criticism, he withdraws from public sight. In the void, he and Dodger management send a phalanx of unempowered represenatives to deny any problems, even stooping to issue propaganda that insults fans' intelligence. And on top of that, the new "remedy" to impose traffic upon another constituency only metastasizes the problem further like a cancer.

Look, Dodger management knows where to reach me (address on sidebar). I'm open to a dialogue. Any reasonable Dodger fan waiting in the traffic of the first three games would feel absolutely crapped upon by Dodger management, particularly after spending 50% more coin for 2x the wait and 5x the aggravation. McCourt and his management team must be held accountable, particularly if he claims to value the loyalty of their fans.