Thursday, September 24, 2009

Out of Touch, Out of Time

One of the pervasive complaints leveled by Mets fans this season has been that ownership and the front office are out of touch with the pulse of their fan base when it comes to the little things that either please or upset fans. This phenomenon has manifested itself repeatedly through various fixtures and features of the Mets' new home, Citi Field.

Ranging from major complaints, such as the naming of the stadium's main entrance after a player that never played a game in a Mets uniform (Jackie Robinson) and painting the outfield wall black, rather than the traditional Mets blue, to petty ones, such as the dressing the Citi Field ushers in maroon shirts that are the same color as the Mets' biggest rival (Phillies), many fans have expressed the belief that there is a disconnect between the Mets' brass and its fan base.

The latest transgression (which was pointed out to me by Eric, the other night) is the addition of a new advertisement down the outfield lines. Where previously resided a billboard for "Teammates" now hangs one for a swiss army knife company named "Victorinox," a company whose name is nearly identical to that of the most reviled player on the Mets' most hated rival, Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino.

Now do I actually care about the billboards that hang at Citi Field? Well yes, to the extent that they be aesthetically pleasing and not belong to no-name corporations that make the stadium look pathetic. But do I actually care about the names of the companies that advertise there and their potential likeness to that of MLB players? No, not really. Practically speaking, this ad has no impact on anything and does not matter at all. Further, most of these complaints are admittedly, the types of things that nobody notices when a team is in 1st place and everybody throws a fit over when you are 20 games out.

However, this ad is simply the latest in a series of incidents that clearly demonstrates that when it comes to understanding their fans and being able to get the little things right, the Mets' front office is clueless. In a million years, would Fenway Park ever hang an advertisement for Jetter Cleaning Company? How about an ad at Yankee Stadium for Papi underwear brand - see that happening any time soon?

Bill Simmons of ESPN has often claimed that every professional sports franchise needs to hire what he calls a VP of Common Sense: "someone who cracks the inner circle of the decision-making process along with the GM, assistant GM, head scout, head coach, owner and whomever else. One catch: the VP of CS doesn't attend meetings, scout prospects, watch any film or listen to any inside information or opinions; he lives the life of a common fan. They just bring him in when they're ready to make a big decision, lay everything out and wait for his unbiased reaction." I wholeheartedly agree, except I would extend the VP's role to the small things as well, to anything and everything that could potentially be noticed by fans. If I was hired for this position, when they would have come to me with a new ad for Victorinox, I would have replied, "you mean like Shane Victorino" and nixed it. Again, these things don't really matter practically in the big picture, but they go a long way in perpetuating the belief that the people running the organization just don't get it. And if they don't get it when it comes to the small things, how will they figure it out when it comes to the big ones?

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