I promised on my latest podcast that I would report back to everyone on my "experience" at the Washington National's "Grand Reopening" of RFK Stadium this past weekend in a game on Sunday between the Cubs and the Nationals. The reason for this was that, in their zeal for improving the fan experience, for a last place team, they hired what is apparently a well-respected "customer experience management" firm (I HATE CEM as a term, though I admittedly use it in lieu of anything better at times), LRA Worldwide, though one that is unbeknownst to me, to train the Nats' stadium personnel in improving the "fan experience" at the ballpark.
For those of you who have been to RFK Stadium in recent years, "reopening" the ballpark is reopening the rift to hell - the ballpark is old, decrepit and has little charm beyond the team that's playing there - a team with little charm except for Alfonso Soriano, the astoundingly talented left fielding All Star for the Nationals - on his way to what may be the first 50-50 season in history - that's 50 home runs and 50 stolen bases in a single season, for those of you who aren't baseball cognoscenti.
Thing is, there is a new management. The Nationals, formerly the Montreal Expos, were owned until yesterday (or so) by Major League Baseball, but a management team headed up by real estate mogul Ted Lerner and Atlanta zillionaire (and Hawks NBA team owner), Stan Kasten, bought them and transferred $450 million in MLB coffers this week. So, in celebration of that, the Nationals, trying to get fans to the stadium despite their last place positioning in their division, decided to "reopen" the RFK sinkhole and at least they powerwashed it.
I'll give them credit. They tried very hard. Between outs they had constant giveaways and fan promotions, a new area for local cuisines and they did the aforementioned powerwashing. The announcer was funny with his pronouncements like "fans running on the field will be prosecuted and besides, how will it look when you tell your cellmate that you're in for running onto a baseball field?"
Not bad and he did a lot of that. Kind of the highlight of the thing.
The work of LRA Worldwide might have gone on - apparently they trained everyone for a single day in being attuned to the fans "thinking" and improving the customer ambiance via customer service training. But they get a C- at best, for any visible changes in stadium personnel. The only thing I can think about that might have represented their work was one of the staff who pointed us to our seat - remembered as an afterthought to say "enjoy the game."
Which I did, primarily because ex-Yankee Soriano hit a double and mammoth home run during the game. Otherwise, the experience was non-descript. Chances are if they needed such a vivid experience, even a CEM firm wouldn't help much because the state of the stadium doesn't encourage a new beginning or feeling of "new ownership" or renewal or anything but an old, old stadium with a last place team and fans who are lukewarm.
LRA either did a great invisible job or there wasn't much they could do. It was sad, because teams like the Philadelphia Flyers or the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Dallas Cowboys or the Packers generate a great deal of excitement when they are good or bad because they have the fans engaged in the experience and proud of the passion and commitments. They do what has to be done to make the fan part of the program. This was just a lot of marketing and polite behaviors (which was still welcome. The stadium staff were very nice) in a ballpark that will be replaced with a new one in 2009 in Washington D.C.
Maybe they shoulda waited until then to "open" rather than "reopen." Reopening the door to the bathroom doesn't mean it isn't a bathroom anymore.