Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Parking Predicament Is Only A Symptom of Greater McCourt Management Problems

In the aftermath of the Dodgers' home opener, there seem to be more articles about the parking fiasco than about the game itself. The LA Times had pieces on the cover of the California nee Metro section as well as the Sports section decrying the horrors of Frank McCourt's new parking system, which led to confusion, anger, and a traffic situation that seemed even worse than before.

Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts posted a piece today that appealed for patience from the already frustrated fans (many of whom commented below on this and prior posts). He correctly points out that under McCourt leadership, the Dodgers have become distanced and unresponsive to fan concerns, and this parking situation is just another symptom of a bigger issue:

That message should go straight to the top. The McCourts need to be responsive to fan complaints, not in denial. Something didn't work yesterday. Something might not work again tonight. If that's true, the Dodgers need to be prepared to say why things aren't working and what they plan to do about it. They need to be able to say what's going to be different tonight or Wednesday.

They can't just blame the fans for not knowing what they should be doing, ask for patience, then be silent. This is the approach they took when they first bought the Dodgers, and it was a disaster.

First off, having been at the game yesterday, I have to say that the parking situation wasn't so bad for me. I know I am in the minority here, so let me also indicate that this was largely due to the fact that I had a preferred-lot pass (as a season ticket holder), which allowed me to zip in and out rather quickly. I got there plenty early (11.05a) and also was unfortunately forced to leave early (top of the seventh inning) due to another appointment. The parking lot looked pretty bad as I left, but I also wasn't fighting many cars at that time of departure.

It was clear as I left, though, that the new parking mechanisms left the stadium even more difficult to maneuver than before. Had I been able to stay until the end of the game, it would have been a disaster to get out of even the preferred lot, most notably due to an inexplicable ring of cars parked smack dab in the middle of the inner ring. This tactic seemed so idiotic and bound to cause horror afterward, that I'm a little shocked they didn't have overflow parking up the foul lines of the stadium. I was lucky to have left early. Others would not be so fortunate (as other friends and family members attested after the game).

But again, Opening Days are always bad, and maybe this was an aberration due to the insanely high traffic. We will see if the parking situation is any better the rest of this homestand. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that it will be more of the same.

Rather than dwell on this specific issue, however, I'm more concerned with the McCourt administration's ability to dream up and implement half-baked ideas without thinking any of them all the way through. With the exception of the Olmedo Saenz Pavilion (which apparently got rave reviews, according to the LA Times, on day one), Frank McCourt has a long history of rash and questionable decisions that would have failed any sanity test considering public impact, timing, or execution/implementation issues. Let's recap just a portion of the poor decisions made by Frank and Jamie McCourt to date (with details of the execution disaster following in parentheses):

  • Expanding the dugout club up both foul lines (without having thought through the poor sight-line issue, they had to be completely remodeled one year after they went in, leading to the bandaid of new "box seats" which still have poor sightlines to the field);
  • Removing the names off the player jerseys (which was met with public frustration and outcry, further exacerbated by a new GM who sought to remake the entire roster in his first year, leading to fans not knowing who any of the players were (at one point, ushers were actually handing out wallet-sized roster cards just so everyone could keep them straight. Efforts to replace the names faced a one-year delay due to MLB rules, such that the disaster lasted twice as long as it should have);
  • Adding a ribbon scoreboard to the base of the loge level (which impeded views for the highest-elevation rows of the field level);
  • Prematurely announcing that every game would be televised (which later turned out to be untrue due to last-minute scheduling issues, not to mention eroded negotiating leverage of the Dodgers as they tried to deal with the team's television network partners);
  • Unceremoniously firing broadcaster Ross Porter (while continuing to inflict Rick Monday on us, as well as Steve Lyons for random games);
  • Deciding to swap between-innings periods formerly filled by Nancy Bea Hefley's organ with obnoxious rock music (another widely-criticized move by the public, which has led to at least one instance of playing explicit and offensive lyrics over the speakers (Nancy Bea never had that problem));
  • Firing GM Paul DePodesta three weeks after firing Manager Jim Tracy back in 2005 (leading to widespread and well-founded questions and concerns about ownership's mercurial management style and unstable foundation);
  • Putting son Drew McCourt in place as the "Vice President of Marketing" (whose inexperience level and naivete led to stadium giveaway fiascoes like a commemorative championship fleece blanket that printed the wrong years of the Dodgers' world championships, among many other well-documented gaffes);
  • Initiating a much-ballyhooed Dodger Rewards Club to create incentives for spending at the stadium and usage of a Dodger credit card (only to shutter the program one year later, without warning or recompense to any of the club members who had accumulated points in the program, reflecting the poor consumer response);
  • Constructing left and right field Team Stores (but not including air conditioning for these ugly portable construction sites, meaning that they will become saunas and hothouses by mid-May);
  • Adding new color-screen scoreboards to the outfield wall (but including a hard plastic facing with that scoreboard which may have injured Dodger Matt Kemp in his first game during what would normally have been a routine play);
  • And finally, implementing a new and confusing parking program (which has arguably worsened the stadium's pre- and post-game traffic flow, and already has many speculating it will not last).

That's a long list of miscues, by any stretch. And worse than that, on each occasion, the eventual pitfall issue complementing each idea is so obvious that one would think any reasonable management team would be able to consider the downside. The McCourts have chosen to surround themselves with family members and yesmen, and the result is an organization that treats one of the few crown jewel franchises of major league baseball like it's a traveling circus, complete with liability and safety issues and a whole lot of clowns.

To be fair, there are some ideas that the McCourts may have gotten right (I for one am a fan of the new Team Stores in concept, though the air conditioning issue needs to happen soon or they'll have asphyxiated employees with which to deal). But they're few and far between. On the field, their three years of management has led to two winning and one losing season, as well as no playoff wins--at best, this can be called "mixed."

But the miscues they have caused in their management have real costs, not only in declining fan appreciation and enjoyment. Often, the remedies for the execution mistakes that they have made (dugout club seating replacements as a prime example) are so expensive, that they compensate for any increase in "consumer value" that their fan base receives. Couple that with a doubling of parking and ticket prices, and it's clear where this money is going--right to the McCourt's pockets.

And throughout all of this, the McCourt's public response has been either disaffected obliviousness or reclusive hibernation. It appears McCourt is back out on the campaign trail trying to improve his public image (as evidenced by his public view yesterday at the stadium). He appears to be a personable enough guy who may even be likable should you get the chance to talk to him--in which case his publicist is clearly dropping the ball, particularly when online chat transcripts appear to be rife with planted questions (come on, what reasonable fan "really enjoys hearing McCourt visit the announcing booth?"--don't insult our intelligence!) If Frank wants to be a public figure, he should be held publicly accountable. And that includes public accountability for the failures.

Maybe it would be worthwhile for Frank and Jamie to hire a non-McCourt-named advisor to help them think about vetting ideas and considering execution / implementation issues before they sign the checks and announce the deals. For a small six-figure income, one would think that they could hire someone to add some sanity to an otherwise insane way of managing.


Alex Cora said...

Steve, you putting your name into the hat?

Steve Sax said...

Hey--any and all McCourts know where to reach me. Email is on the sidebar.

Rob said...

"Olmedo Saenz Pavilion" made my day.

Rob said...

It's probably worth mentioning that the company that they were teaming with on the fan rewards program went sneakers up. A former coworker of mine went to work for that firm (IIRC "Fan Rewards" or something like that, a local outfit), and like others in that genre, couldn't make a go of it. Paying people to be your fans just doesn't make much sense; people will show at the ballpark as the team wins, or not, or in the case of the Cubbies, if they are an excuse to drink in the middle of a very pleasant urban neighborhood with herds of wandering Lincoln Park Trixies to boot. But the cancellation of the program wasn't really the fault of the McCourts.

Rob said...

The name of the company was actually Sports Loyalty Systems.

Rob said...

Couple that with a doubling of parking and ticket prices, and it's clear where this money is going--right to the McCourt's pockets.

... and back to Bank of America, or whoever holds the deed to Dodger Stadium. Don't forget that this was probably the most heavily leveraged team sale in history. Three years later, I still haven't seen anything to indicate that McCourt can survive the debt load he's taken on to buy the Dodgers, previously retired loans notwithstanding.

KidCuba said...

You forgot not allowing the signing of Vlad Guerrero when they had him on the hook because of Frankie's insecure financial shenanigans, and instead the Angels signed him for the same exact deal. I boil everytime I see Guerrero rake in an Angel uniform thinking of what might have been if Frank wouldn't have nutted up and given the okay.

Steve Sax said...

I should do some investigation into Sports Loyalty Systems. But I do remember looking into this program in the infinite amounts of time I had before the game at Opening Day 2006. The program was flawed from the start, as many of the "incentives" were weak (whoop dee frickin' doo, two reserved level tickets!), and the few interesting incentives had no point value assigned to them yet. The marketing representatives were not informed about the program enough to make a compelling sell, either. So I passed. And I'm glad I did.

I do think there is a place for loyalty programs with MLB clubs, but I think it's more like the A's, Giants, and Padres (among others) had done it--attend X number of games and get a little gift; attend 2X games and get a bigger gift, etc. For me at least, this sort of program may have made the difference between going to the usual 15-20 games per season and going to an incremental 10 games (depending on the rewards, of course). It also could have meant an increase in incremental memorabilia spend.

But then, that's my point--they don't ask the smart people this stuff first. They just go off and try to implement half-baked plans, which are always doomed to failure.

Oh and qban, you are right on. Frank's waffling directly connects to our current lack of power bat (not counting Jason Schmidt, who has an INSANE 1.250 OPS!!!!). We could certinaly use Vlad this year (and all the other years we lost).

Rob said...

But McCourt will NEVER come out and admit the real reason that happened: he was (and had to be) Bud Selig's little bitch during the purchase process because he was so heavily leveraged. You will notice the Giants had no such problem when Peter Magowan was in the process of buying the team; that management group was busy negotiating with Barry Bonds' agent even though they didn't own the team at the time. As far as I can tell, the McCourts are always going to be mendacious at some level, and as with the current administration, once they've got a story, they're sticking to it. Just ask Josh Rawitch.

Steve Sax said...

I too was struck by the parallels between McCourt and Bush's administrations transparent attempts to control media coverage. Without opening up politics, let me at least make the factual observation that both parties have low approval ratings.

Orel said...

Ugh, Vlad. Just think what could have been.

Rob said...

Yeah. Vlad was enough to get me to start my own vlog, er, blog.

To your list you can also add the inhumane firing of Dan Evans. It was precedent for firing Paul DePodesta.

Felix Pardalis said...

Ross Porter wasn't fired, his contract wasn't renewed. and the guy was gettin' old, anyhoo.

Steve Sax said...

Any management that decides it's a good idea to bring back Rick Monday, but not Ross Porter, deserves to have its head checked.