Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Is The Corn Well Pleased?

Matt: Today ESPN released the results of this year's fan satisfaction survey, ranking all 92 franchises in the three major professional sports. The results were intriguing; my hometown team, fresh off one of the most inspiring runs in postseason history, rated a mere fourteenth out of thirty teams. Apparently Diamondbacks Nation gets more out of its baseball experience than Sox fans, as do the staunch devotees of the Milwaukee Brewers. My co-blogger will speak to this more in a moment, but the New York Mets finished a distant, call-a-hearse last. The Anaheim Angels finished first, which leads me to the conclusion that it must be considerably less difficult to please seven people than it is to minister to the needs of several million, conservatively estimated.

Satisfaction, as the poll defines it, consists of eight categories: Bang for the Buck (basically the efficiency with which an organization turns fan dollars into wins), Fan Relations, Ownership, Affordability, Stadium Experience, Players (effort and off-field likability), Coaching/Managing, and Championship Expectations. The breakdown ESPN provides shows each team's ranking with respect to all professional teams. Here's how the Red Sox rank with respect to other baseball teams, i. e. out of 30 rather than out of 92.

Red Sox Fan Rankings

Bang for the Buck26thStadium Experience13th
Fan Relations12thPlayers9th
Affordability30th (last)Championships Won/Expected3rd

The Red Sox rate well in what I'll call competition factors; Boston fans like their players and they like their chances. Leadership factors are more ambiguous; we like our owners but aren't crazy about our coaches. A little unfair to Terry Francona, in my opinion, but only a little. Economic factors, predictably, are what really drag the organization down. The cost of the cheap seats at Fenway has tripled in fifteen years. I know that ticket prices are up all over baseball, but I'd wager that this increase far exceeds the industry standard rate of inflation. What is a little more surprising, perhaps, is that despite all the lip service paid to Moneyball theory on Yawkey Way, the Sox have not been particularly efficient with their revenues, although I doubt many fans would complain at this point. (Keep in mind that bang for the buck, according to the survey's methodology, is computed objectively rather than left to the fans to ascertain.)

The real surprise here is what I'll call outreach factors. Since the new ownership grabbed the reins in 2003, it has made a concerted effort to make Fenway more friendly. Even so, fans are finding the accessibility of the players and the ambience of the lyric little bandbox only middling. I'll have more to say about this in a minute, but I'll let Jay jump in here with his take on how the Mets rated.

Jay: Not surprisingly, after seasons in which the Mets scraped together 75, 66, and 71 wins while the payroll was 6th, 4th, and 3rd overall respectively, the Mets finished dead last in the fan rankings. And, as you can see, they stunk it up across the board:

Mets Fan Rankings
Mets Bang for the Buck28th
Mets Fan Relations28thPlayers29th
Affordability29thChampionships Won/Expected13th

The only two categories that the Mets fared halfway decent in were ownership and championships. The Mets ownership, which has actually been fairly brutalized the past few years by the NY media, may have gotten a bump in this survey by the hiring of Omar Minaya (which was back in late September). It's not very likely that the signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez factored in since they came much, much later.

As for the championships, I think I speak for all Met fans when I say that as long as we have a talented, hard-working team, we're fairly happy. 1986 is still pretty fresh in the minds of most people my age and older and, since it was such a spectacular postseason (sorry Matt), I think that itch has still been scratched fairly well.

The Mets were pretty awful in everything else and, looking back at the last three years, I can't say I disagree with them. The teams were old and injured, Art Howe became a punch line, the Mets raised ticket prices and instituted that silly 'tiered' pricing plan, and Shea, as lovable as it is to us, really hasn't aged very well and honestly repels fans of any other team. As for Fan Relations, they've been non-existent.

That is, of course, until this offseason. I'll say a bit more about that in a sec but my co-blogger is hopping up and down faster than Homer waiting to go to the chili cookoff. OK! OK! Here's the blog again!

Matt: I just want to unpack, quick-like, the lukewarm figures the Sox posted in the outreach categories, and speculate a little on the methodology of the survey. The Red Sox have improved in these categories over the past couple of years, and I must admit that on the increasingly rare occasions that I make it to Fenway it does seem to be a more fan-friendly place. Note that "increasingly rare occasions," though. It is something of a vexation to me (and, I suspect, to other fans as well) that it has become so difficult to swing tickets, and an additional trial that the Red Sox are so rarely on free television. I know, I know, the isolated rantings of a quasi-indigent coot, except that they might partially account for the relatively low "accessibility" score the organization posted this time around. (I don't envy Mets fans much, but I'll frankly admit to being jealous of the fact that they don't have to plan a trip to the ballpark six months in advance.) It should be noted that these rankings don't register the massive trophy-sharing initiative undertaken by the Hair Club for Men this winter, so it might be the case that this problem is, in some sense, already solved.

Which brings me to the question of the study's methodology. What got me musing on this whole thing in the first place was the fact that my team's middling ranking seemed to confirm a popular misconception about Red Sox fans. We're whiny, insatiable, and utterly incapable of appreciating just how good we have it. This isn't true of most Sox fans my age, I don't think, and a closer look at how the survey was conducted will bear this out. The eight categories outlined above were weighted in accordance with fan priorities. "For example," the methodology explanation informs us, "fans rated Affordability about 20 percent more important than Stadium Experience, so that's the weight we assigned it." The methodology never makes this explicit, but my hunch is that this weighting is based on national results, rather than adjusted for the preferences of individual markets. Of the eight categories, Championships Expected or Won rated dead last in terms of importance. This simply isn't reflective of the priorities in Red Sox Nation. I don't know too many Sox fans who would rate "Stadium Experience" above Championships, especially when "Stadium Experience" is tied to "quality of game-day promotions." Bottom line: that fourteenth ranking aside, I suspect that most Sox fans are considerably more content than some of its more prominent "representatives" would have you believe, and that future rankings will likely bear this out. Here endeth the rant: back to the sane guy.

Jay: I think Matt may be using "sane" a bit too liberally. But he does bring up some good points on the methodology. My nitpick, however, doesn't concern any particular category but I do wonder about the time period of the survey. If you polled Mets fans today on those same eight categories, I'm willing to bet you would see substantial gains in virually all categories except Bang For Buck and Stadium.

We signed the top two free agents in the offseason. We have a new manager who's running a tightly controlled, discipline laden spring training and expectations for this team couldn't be higher. We have Jose Reyes healthy, happy, and running around like crazy. We have an owner who has stepped out of the spotlight and let the GM do his job. We finally have a team that seems to have a plan, a direction, and if you look closely you can see the backbone of a young talented team that will be able to contend for a very long time.

The last three years can't be erased and they won't be forgotten. They even may come back to haunt us, ala Scott Kazmir. But the Mets have eased the pain of the fan base, and totally changed their psyche, with all of the changes they've made in this spectacular offseason.

Next year, when this survey comes out, it will certainly be interesting to see how high the Mets rise.

(Note: The cryptic title of this piece comes from this creepy little story and is frequently quoted by our good friend Missie. As a Red Sox fan, she is currently very well pleased.)


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