The dust has settled, Joe Maddon is history, and the manager’s seat for the Tampa Bay Rays is now vacant.
While the pundits and prognosticators pontificate on where Maddon might go or who might steer the Rays ship, I want to look at the business side of the Rays.
Joe Maddon was a face of the franchise. He was the leader who, despite personnel turnover, guided the Rays to franchise records. He was a community favorite and easily recognizable. That is tough to replace. Most managers are not like Joe Maddon, either on the field or off it.
So now what?
First and foremost, I want to congratulate the Rays front office for not mentioning attendance when talking about Maddon departure. They made that mistake when Andrew Friedman left and I commented on it. This time, they did not throw the fans under the bus. Bravo to that.
While the Rays will hire a new manager and that new manager might do as good of a job as Maddon, selling hope and expectation will be the Rays biggest marketing hurdle this offseason. Season ticket agents will have a tough time convincing fans of the potential of the team without Maddon and Andrew Friedman. They had a tough enough mission after the David Price trade. Thankfully, Drew Smyly did a better job for the Rays than David Price did pitching for the Tigers.
Smyly for Price is easy to talk around. And sure, Price is gone, but why not buy tickets to see Cobb, Archer, and Odorizzi? All three are potential all-star aces.
That’s an easy sell.
But selling the Rays in the post-Maddon era will be more of a challenge. The wrong manager might push the wrong buttons and capsize the franchise. No one wants to buy season tickets to watch a sinking ship. Even a 3-game flex pack would be tough to sell if fans don’t have a good feel for the new skipper.
But while familiar candidates such as Dave Martinez or Charlie Montoya might ease season ticket buyer trepidation, neither will be as marketable as Maddon was. Neither will grace billboards flexing his muscles reminding fans to buy flex packs.
We need to look at how marketing will fill the Joe Maddon hole. Maddon was known in the community. Not only was he the manager, he looked like a baseball manager. Due to his young age, Dave Martinez might have a tough job being as marketable, if he is chosen to take the helm. Other managerial candidates might be even bigger unknowns.
The Rays marketing staff needs to look at the q-scores of players and other entities to fill the gap. Do they use Raymond more? Would he attract adults? What about a DJ Kitty billboard? Would that work? A Ben Zobrist billboard might work well. I don’t think Evan Longoria sends the right message to the adult fanbase and Wil Myers just isn’t ready yet.
Perhaps the Rays could sell a group concept this year. Maybe they could market their pitching staff as the highlight of the team. Maybe they could incorporate a five or four aces theme on the billboards, with each starting pitcher being a card suite, with little Rays logos instead of clubs, spades, hearts, or diamonds.
Moving beyond billboards, the Rays also need faces in the community to replace Maddon’s impact. Initial word is they will still be doing the Thanksmas events started by Maddon and his wife in 2006. The most logical choice to replace Maddon at Thanksmas would be Ben Zobrist and his wife, Julianna. Bringing in Evan Longoria and his wife also might help to open Longo up to a more grown-up demographic.
Another challenge will be the crafting of the season slogan for 2015. Last year, they used “Rays Up” and before that, “Welcome Home”. Each season has a slogan.
The slogan for 2015 is quite possibly the most important slogan in franchise history. It needs to convey optimism. It needs to ring in the ears of the fans and reassure them the franchise is on the right track, not only on the field, but in the community.
Might I suggest “This Is Our Team”?
“This Is Our Team” conveys a sense of unity, that no matter what happened during the offseason, this is the team we have. It is acceptance but also a sense of team pride, a sense of us against the world. That’s for the players and the franchise. The message needs to be sold right and emphasized right, but I think the team and the front office can do it.
No more talk that the front office is not confident they can be successful. No talk that the team is not confident. They have been so before and they will be again. Fake it if you have to. I want to see Vines and YouTube clips and commercials of players and front office personnel saying “This Is Our Team” loud and clear. I want to see a sense of camaraderie.
“This Is Our Team” also conveys civic pride and the Rays desperately need that. They need to create incentive for people to root for them. Tying the Rays to Bay area pride is huge. Sort of a “We Are Tampa Bay”-type message.They need to reinforce the idea that “real” Tampa Bay residents root for the Rays. The message should be clear: Tampa Bay residents shouldn’t root for the Yankees, the Red Sox, or any other team. They should root for the Rays.
That might be risky with ongoing stadium negotiations (the last thing the team needs is a headline that reads “Rays leaving the Bay” while a billboard reads “We Are Tampa Bay”), but I think it is worth the risk.
Fans need to buy into the Rays message of optimism. They need to be sold that this is still a good team. The team needs to sell the message and sell it loudly.
I’ll have more ideas throughout the offseason, but these are some initial thoughts. There is no doubt the post-Madden era is going to be more challenging for the Rays, both on the field and off it.