Well that didn’t go exactly as expected, did it?
A RailRiders’ squad decimated by call-ups, trades and injuries took it to a (almost) full-strength IronPigs team three in a row. Dan wins the “expert” poll on team/victory–but I’m still not sure it wasn’t an attempt at a “reverse jinx.”
As our buddy “dE” points out, it’s “system depth.” Even with taking players from Trenton, that team from New Jersey beat our AA brothers in Reading in four games. Sheesh.
We’ve talked about that over on the hockey side–that injuries and call-ups are always going to happen. You need quality players at every level who are capable of moving up and contributing right away. We see it with Wheeling and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in hockey. We’re seeing it with Trenton and Scranton now. The Phantoms have put together a nice group for this season, and seem to have come capable guys for Reading as well, so we’ll see how that works out.
For the Phillies in the minors, they do have waves of prospects due to pass through East Allentown in the next several years. Not all will make it. Not all will be good. But the sheer numbers suggest that we should have some quality talent. Beyond that, it will be up to the organization to sign free agents and use their waiver advantage to augment the talent at AAA and MLB levels. They’ve already started this with guys like Phil Klein and Taylor Featherston. They were also able to get some quality relievers and a veteran guy like Cedric Hunter. This needs to continue, of course.
Let’s take a quick peak at the 2017 IronPigs Roster (I’m guessing…for April):
Morgan or Buchanan
(Veterans and guys returning. I’m fearful for Cordero’s shoulder…)
There are some veterans needed of course, and some guys may or may not be back. Starting pitching should again be a strength, and that bodes well for winning in the International League. Of course, the Moosic Mashers should still be a force in the division. But there’s some serious talent there, even before we start signing free agents and claiming guys off waivers.
What Can The Team Do Better
Now that we’ve covered the baseball part, I’ve been thinking about how the organization can plan a little better for a 2017 playoff run. I understand, of course, that it’s a long season, and anything can happen, and we’re not guaranteed of a post-season spot. It’s not like in hockey, where 4 of 7 teams in the division make it.
But the first thing they can do, starting right now as they start planning for next season, is to formulate a plan for the 2017 playoffs. They don’t need to activate anything or spend any money yet, but they need to look more ready for it than they did this season. I’m certainly not asking them to include the games in my
season ticket membership plan–just have things ready to go in the case of 2017 playoffs:
- Staffing: Look, I know it’s tough when the seasonal employees head back to school. I know the regular staff are tired after a long season. And I know they won’t start firing people with five games left next season (I do?) next year. But keep playoff games in mind while hiring for depth the same way the baseball organization has to plan for having enough players. Running around with your hair on fire in September is nobody’s idea of fun–not for fans or for staff.
- Food and Drink: This is another tough one, of course. You don’t want to be running out of things down the stretch and you don’t want to have a bunch of leftover stuff go to waste, either. Use evidence from this season to tweek ordering down the stretch in August. Plan for some specials or alterations in the menus to use things up or to distract from things that have to be removed from the menu. Just a random example: If hot dogs are $1 I might not notice that chicken sandwiches have been removed from the menu–and it gets rid of the extra hot dogs. Carry forth the “fan appreciation” discounts from the final game. There are ways to use this to both create a “special-ness” as well as be efficient in this profit center.
- Promotion: There’s not much time to do promos; getting the rally towel ready was a good thing. It might be tough to arrange for anything else, but here’s an idea: a grab bag giveaway. Put previous giveaways, T-shirt toss leftovers, koozies, the random signed ball or novelty item, leftover card sets, etc. -all in paper bags and give away like 3,000 of them. // I thought the team did a pretty good job getting the word out about the games and when they were. I tried to help. I know there’s still a misconception that the games are sold out and that tickets are tough to come by–that’s a difficult one to overcome because you really want folks coming out to these games. The big players in the media need to be cajoled into publicizing not only the playoff games, but the run up to it as well, which will help August attendance and increase pre-sale for the playoffs.
- Ticket Prices: I’m not sure there’s a winning strategy here. Giving away tickets like Columbus did will fill the stadium, but then there’s no going back from that, and you cheapen your product. That also can create an atmosphere which the baseball fans detest: Free ticket fans don’t always respect the game very well. What about raising prices for the playoffs? Stay with me here. Would the threat of higher ticket prices in the playoffs convince more folks to buy the ticket packages or at least single playoff games in advance in order to get the tickets for less? Probably not, and it might create some bad will. I was just thinking outside the box.
- Merchandise: Evidently, no one remembered 2011 when they ran out of T-Shirts 100 times during the playoff run. The lack of playoff merchandise probably did hurt them a bit, as I encountered many people who couldn’t get a $22 T-Shirt in their size and didn’t bother trying four times (like I did) to get one on one of the re-orders. Having two designs, plus the hat, and having the staff wear them–along with photos of players wearing them–was a fine strategy. However, with the margin those shirts command and their “favored nation” status with Majestic, and two guaranteed home playoff games, there’s no excuse for not having plenty of shirts to sell. There might be other opportunities here as well if we’re thinking ahead. Jerseys with playoff patches on them? (ooh, we could do that with the 10th anniversary logo as well…) A commemorative ball? And golly, if we win the Governor’s Cup, there’s all manner of “Championship” merchandise you could sell. And we’d buy it, too.
- Game presentation: They did have bunting up, but they didn’t introduce the players and coaches or change the logo on the field or do anything to really create a playoff atmosphere around the game and the stadium. The fans tried to, but alas the game flow prevented it somewhat–especially the second game. The crowd was getting into it, though, in the first game with Ben Lively’s performance on the mound. I thought the ops guys were a little heavy on the music and cheer stuff Wednesday–not that they shouldn’t do some, but let the fans get stuff going on our own a bit. Even if it feels a bit empty with the smaller crowd, everyone is into the game more than the other distractions, and word of the atmosphere will spread and increase ticket sales in seasons and playoffs to come. They could have done better here. Some of this stuff doesn’t really cost much, but you have to have the plan ready and the staff available to carry it out.
One last note about playoffs. I got a private message from dE the other day letting me know that hockey would draw bigger playoff crowds than baseball. He’s right, of course, but there are a couple caveats:
- The tickets are already bought and paid for: I’ve paid for 6 playoff games in 3 years already–and been to none. The first couple games are included in season ticket plans and that would virtually guarantee a large crowd.
- The Phantoms are still in the “honeymoon” phase of their Allentown tenure. Playoff baseball in 2009 or 2010 would have drawn better than 2016.
- Playoff hockey is a different animal. The speed and intensity of the game and the way players approach it is completely different from baseball and would make the games more compelling. I’m saying. I mean, it’s not like we’ve had playoff hockey here yet…. 😉
- Hockey fans: Also different. See #3 for why they might be drawn to such a product.
So there you have it–the 2016 baseball season is over. I always think about writing a retrospective, and going back to that cold Friday in April when we were camped out in the press box to watch baseball in an empty stadium. Or those cold days in Reading when the Phillies came to play the prospects, and the Fightins beat the IronPigs. I could put in the milestones and litter the post with superb Cheryl Pursell photos. But alas I’m too tired and too sad and hockey is coming. I’m looking forward, not backwards, as the 2017 “10th season” of IronPigs baseball promises to be another special one. The future is bright, as long as the Phillies and the Management don’t screw it up.
See you—well, probably at the arena,