Local newspapers profile Rays Senior Vice President of Strategy

Over the weekend, both the Tampa Bay Times and the Tampa Tribune profiled Melanie Lenz, the Rays Senior Vice President for Strategy and Development. While there were some similarities, reading both articles gives a good picture into one of the key members of the Rays front office.

She has a big league vision for a new Rays stadium – Tampa Bay Times

Rays exec fields dreams, drives lofty ambitions for next-generation ballpark – Tampa Tribune

Definitely read both. They are both good.

Both articles focused on Lenz’s success in building the Spring Training facility in Port Charlotte and both discussed the cost benefit of the complex. However, neither asked her why they built there. If it was for the reason of expanding the fanbase, has the strategy worked? According to last year’s New York Times/Facebook “like” map, the zip code that is home to Charlotte Sports Park is 29% Rays fans, 20% Yankees fans, and 16% Red Sox fans.

If we take the entire population of Port Charlotte (54,392), assume half the people are baseball fans, and then take 29% of them, we see Port Charlotte has 7,887 Rays fans. It is very possible people from Tampa Bay are driving down to Port Charlotte to see the Rays, especially from the Sarasota/Bradenton area. Does Lenz think that is a good thing? Or would she rather they spend their money on tickets at Tropicana Field? Does she think Port Charlotte is cannibalizing the Tampa Bay market?

Would the Rays have been better off building a new complex in Orlando, where they could have increased their fanbase in a larger major metro area and the biggest metro area in the US without baseball? Or could they have stayed in St. Pete at Al Lang Field, which might have prevented the Rowdies from becoming a local phenomenon?

Does Lenz consider the Port Charlotte complex a marketing success as much as financial one? I think that question should have been asked.

I also found this line in the Trib article interesting:

But she is also working with consultants on detailed market analyses of Tampa Bay’s business centers, exploring socio-economic and demographic data to help the team identify the best location for a new stadium.(emphasis mine)

If you have been reading this site for any amount of time, that is exactly where I am leading. The attendance stuff is nice, but analyzing the market is more fun. Lately, I have posted several zip code posts and there are several more on the way. Those, in conjunction with my Fangraphs posts on distance and population are designed to give readers insight into what the Rays are doing from a strategy perspective.

But there is one thing missing in the above quote: marketing data. The Tampa Bay area is more divided than any other area in the nation in regards to fan loyalty. Building a new stadium near a population center might not be effective if a majority of the nearby population supports the Yankees, Red Sox, Braves, Phillies, or Blue Jays. Does Lenz believe a new stadium will affect fan loyalties?

And the bigger question: if they build a stadium within 15 miles of another local stadium, will the Rays attempt to change the MLB territorial rights rules to include Spring Training? Doing so would have a major effect on the Yankees, Phillies, and possibly Blue Jays.

The most obvious gain would be those local fans who now spend their money at Steinbrenner Field or Florida Auto Exchange Stadium for Spring Training would have to wait a month or two until their favorite team visits Tampa Bay and spend their money at the new Rays park. That’s increased revenue for the Rays.

According to Mindtools.com,

“Strategy at the business unit level is concerned with competing successfully in individual markets, and it addresses the question, “How do we win in this market?””

MLB is constantly competing in every market it is in. It is competing against the NFL, NHL, NBA, Netflix, museums, amusement parks, aquariums, restaurants, bars, the beach, and the mountains. Winning each market requires a different strategy. Which is why Strategy Officers are incredibly important.

I’ve said this before: the Rays cannot win the Tampa Bay market trying to win fans in a similar method as the Yankees, Cubs, Red Sox, or Dodgers. The Tampa Bay baseball market is one of the most difficult in all of sports. It was difficult in 1998 and due to neglect, it was more difficult in 2006 when Melanie Lenz joined the Tampa Bay Devil Rays front office.

It’s great to see local media focus on the minds behind the Rays. While winning is great and the on-the-field decisions are what fans root for, knowing the franchise as a business is in good hands is almost as, if not more important.

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