ANALYSIS <b>Corporate Case Study</b>: Padres' new park scores with - and for - San Diego

The San Diego Padres are ready to make a major contribution to the city with its new stadium, Petco Park, and an aggressive PR effort to educate present and potential fans about its merits.

The San Diego Padres are ready to make a major contribution to the city with its new stadium, Petco Park, and an aggressive PR effort to educate present and potential fans about its merits.

It's Opening Day, and baseball fans coast to coast have eagerly awaited this unofficial national holiday since the World Series ended in October. But the season never ends for the communications departments of the 30 Major League Baseball teams. This winter has been particularly challenging for most as they look to occupy a part of the spotlight that is dominated by issues like performance-enhancing drugs and the never-ending game of one-upsmanship between the Yankees and Red Sox. Amid all this chaos and controversy, the San Diego Padres, armed with a brand-new stadium and a determined outreach effort, are poised to make a mark for both the team and their city. "The Padres have reached a monumental point in their 36-year history," notes Brian Brokowski, SVP at Fleishman-Hillard's San Diego office, which has worked closely with the club since June 2002. At the heart of this excitement sits Petco Park, a new, 42,000-seat stadium that, Brokowski emphasizes, was built just as much for the city as the club. In fact, local voters passed Proposition C in 1998, approving the ballpark initiative and agreeing to partially fund it. "We built this park to ensure long-term stability with a fan base that has been incredibly supportive," explains Jeff Overton, the Padres' EVP of communications. Despite losing records in each of the past five seasons, the club has averaged nearly 30,000 fans per game. In turn, John Moores, the team's owner, was determined to give San Diego something it could be proud of. "Petco Park isn't just in San Diego; it's a part of San Diego," says Richard Andersen, EVP and MD of ballpark operations. "Every aspect of the park was designed to celebrate San Diego's unique attributes. The natural stone and stucco exterior represents the soft colors of the Torrey Pines cliffs along the coastline. A wall of flowing water at the park's entrance captures the hue of San Diego's coastal lifestyle." Moreover, adds Overton, the Western Metal Supply Building, built in 1909 and one of the city's more famous landmarks, is integrated into the stadium. "Park in the park" is a 2.7-acre space in the outfield for which fans can purchase $5 passes, sit atop a lush, grassy hill, and watch the game. And as a baseball-only facility, Petco Park's seats are closer to the field and offer much better sight lines than those at Qualcomm Stadium, the multisport facility the Padres had called home through last season. Another key aspect is the park's downtown location, stresses Brokowski. "The park is located in an area which housed old warehouses and numerous abandoned buildings. Now, Petco Park is the cornerstone of a 26-block redevelopment project." "We're offering our fans a new experience with a downtown ballpark," says Andersen, "but if fans don't know about the wonderful amenities and multiple options available to them, then we've failed. I work with Jeff's team on a daily, sometimes hourly basis to ensure that our fans get comfortable coming downtown for games. We continue to engage in an aggressive public education campaign to familiarize fans with public transportation and parking availability through town hall meetings, a dedicated section on Padres.com, morning show appearances, and numerous print articles." Building a community Perhaps no entity was more impressed with this endeavor than Petco, a leading specialty retailer of premium pet food, supplies, and services. The company signed a 22-year stadium sponsorship deal last June. "Petco is one of the largest San Diego-based corporations," notes Overton. "[Executives] want to see the community thrive and were blown away by how this new stadium truly represented the city. When they learned that the ballpark and the redeveloped surrounding area would champion a family atmosphere, which is very much in line with their corporate objectives, they were sold." From the team's perspective, partnering with a local yet nationally prominent family-products company made perfect sense. "Both sides benefit tremendously," claims Overton. "It's the ultimate cross-branding effort. It solidifies both Petco's and the Padres' stature in the community." In fact, Brokowski predicts, the years that the Padres have spent on community relations should give Petco Park advantages that other recently built baseball stadiums haven't enjoyed. "The Padres have done a really good job of building a strong foundation with the community," he says. "As such, the new ballpark makes a healthy situation even better, as opposed to being a panacea to cure ills." The key to that strong foundation has been the on-field talent and the communications team's efforts to instill a sense of community and media-relations savvy into each player. "Obviously, people will look at on-field statistics," notes Overton. "But fans also want to feel as if they have a relationship with players. That's what creates the bond that overcomes losing seasons. Fortunately, our players willingly cultivate that relationship." Overton points specifically to Trevor Hoffman, the team's star relief pitcher and longest-tenured player. "Trevor is a tremendous leader. He encourages community involvement and openness with the media to all players. For a PR staff, that's invaluable." Equally irreplaceable is the team's commitment to multicultural marketing. San Diego has a large Hispanic population. Moreover, the city's proximity to Mexico has helped foster a substantial fan base in Tijuana, Overton notes. "Many of them cross the border to come to games. We've long provided special Sunday ticket and transportation packages for our Mexican fans." All printed team materials are bilingual, and all games are broadcast on TV and radio in Spanish. There is even a Padres store in Tijuana that sells tickets and merchandise. "We've concentrated on incorporating the Mexican community into our family," says Overton. Stepping up PR efforts Another welcome addition to the team's fold has been Fleishman, who Overton admits has significantly broadened the team's PR scope. "Just a few years ago, baseball media relations was limited to game notes and media guides," he explains. "Over the last few years, baseball has grasped how vital PR is. As such, we've surrounded ourselves with experts in that field, and Fleishman really helps us dissect certain issues down to talking points." Moreover, the agency has helped emphasize Petco Park's many points of interest beyond sports. "There is an obvious business element with the sponsorship deal," says Brokowski. "The stadium's architecture is another fascinating angle. When it comes to sports journalists, the Padres have all the bases covered. We've been able to deliver a vast non-sports media contingent to the equation." In the end, however, the fans determine long-term success. To stress that point, Overton, who has been with the Padres for a year after long stints with the Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians, refers to an interview he conducted when the Indians went through an IPO during his tenure there. "A reporter asked me, 'What's the difference between doing PR for a public company and a privately owned one?' I answered, 'Absolutely nothing. To be a successful baseball team, you must be run like a public company every day.' "With a corporation," adds Overton, "shareholders focus on the bottom line. With sports teams, you have fans who greatly impact that bottom line, but their concerns are more emotional. We must reach our key shareholders - the fans - on that level." The first regular-season pitch at Petco Park will be thrown this Thursday before a sold-out house against the San Francisco Giants. In fact, the team can expect many such crowds, as records have been shattered for both season and individual-game ticket sales. And while the final score is unknown, the Padres, their fans, and the city of San Diego have already hit a grand slam with this new venture. PR contacts EVP of communications Jeff Overton Director of media relations Luis Garcia Assistant director of media relations Mike Uhlenkamp VP of community relations Michele Anderson Marketing director Jenifer Barsell Asst. marketing director Angelica Ortiz Marketing manager Carlos Martinez Outside agency Fleishman-Hillard

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