Mark Shapiro Q&A - Re-branding the Indians
The Cleveland Indians spent $117 million on guaranteed contracts to free agents this year, bringing in Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Brett Myers, and Mark Reynolds in free agency, while acquiring potential ace Trevor Bauer, outfielder Drew Stubbs, and relievers Matt Albers and Bryan Shaw in a blockbuster December deal. It is clear they hope to not only perform better in 2013, but also be a playoff contender.
Building a team capable of winning a World Series used to be Mark Shapiro’s responsibility. He came closest in 2007, when his Indians came within one win of reaching the World Series. He was named Major League Baseball’s Executive of the Year that year, an award he also won in 2005. He was considered one of the best young general managers in all of baseball.
In 2010 Shapiro was promoted to Team President. Since taking over he’s led a re-branding effort of the Cleveland Indians’ public image, but most of his work can be seen at any of the Tribe’s 81 home games. Under Shapiro, the Indians have made a concerted effort in improving the game day experience for fans and making Progressive Field a family-friendly environment.
Fans have seen the expansion of Kids Fun Days, including pre-game activities in the Gateway Plaza such as batting cages, pitching cages, a photo booth, a gaming tent, face-painting, and meet-and-greets with Indians players. The Indians took it a step further in 2012 by opening the Kids Clubhouse, a safe and fun play area for kids to enjoy while adults watch the game.
With Shapiro as President, the Indians have also revamped the concessions available at Progressive Field. Unique concessions have popped up while prices have been slashed. Most fans don’t realize it, but the Indians have also made it easier for families to save money by bringing their own refreshments. Fans can bring in outside food in soft sided coolers or bags that fit within the MLB-regulated 16” x 16” x 8” size restrictions. In addition, single-serving juice boxes and water bottles are permitted.
The most creative innovation formed under Shapiro’s leadership might be the Indians’ new “Tribe Rewards” program, their way of showing appreciation to Tribe season ticket holders. Haven’t heard of it? Think eBay, Indians-style. Fans earn points for various reasons - having longer tenure as a season ticket holder, attending games, and having paperless tickets to name a few. Points can then either be redeemed directly for jerseys, autographed memorabilia, bobbleheads, and other items.
Perhaps even better, fans can bid in auctions for game day experiences. Ever want to take batting practice at Progressive Field like the big leaguers? Have dinner in the visitor’s clubhouse? How about sharing a suite with Mike and Sharon Hargrove for a game? These are all possible with Tribe Rewards. Additional rewards include a family softball game at Progressive Field, participating in a season ticket holder All-Star game at the stadium, and sitting in the Indians radio booth with Tom Hamilton for an inning.
Mark Shapiro has always been known as one of the most passionate, innovative minds in Major League Baseball. It is clear that as the 2013 season approaches, his goal is to truly turn Cleveland into a “Tribe Town.”
Shapiro was kind enough to answer a few questions concerning all that is new at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for 2013, while providing insight into the thought process behind the continued evolution of the Cleveland Indians game day experience.
Q: "Tribe Rewards" for Season Ticket Holders is the newest innovation for Indians season ticket holders. Where did this idea come from? What has been the response so far? Will new auctions be added over the course of the season?
A: Tribe Rewards was designed for our most devoted fans, our Season Ticket Holders. Pursuing initiatives that value and reward our season ticket holders, the lifeblood of our organization, is an important priority for us. We conducted extensive research with them and heard their desire to have more personalized benefits. By introducing Tribe Rewards, we can now offer our most valuable customers benefit flexibility and customization. The rewards program also offers unique, never before available experiences such as throwing out a ceremonial first pitch, sitting in the radio booth with Tom Hamilton, or attending the manager’s pre-game press conference. Ultimately, the program allows our fans to more easily manage their rewards and decide which ones are most important to them.
The initial response has been positive as fans are receptive to the personalized nature of the rewards program. We expect to build on this positive response when a new portion of our website goes live on March 15 – this will allow fans to redeem seat upgrades, parking passes, and manage their ticket exchanges.
Q: The new marketing slogan is "This is a Tribe Town"...what was the thought process behind this campaign? How will it be implemented throughout the season? What was the response you received to the "What If?" campaign?
A: For all of our campaigns, we test them extensively with our fans to gauge the response prior to airing. The “What If?” campaign was received very positively by fans prior to both the 2011 and 2012 seasons. After experiencing a challenging second half of the 2012 season and bringing in a new, dynamic leader in Terry Francona during the off-season, we felt it was an appropriate time to move in a new direction for our 2013 brand campaign.
The 2013 campaign embodies the special connections that key leaders of our organization have with the city and franchise. Terry Francona, Nick Swisher, Tom Hamilton, and Sandy Alomar all possess unique and significant connections to our fans and this organization. They all respect and admire the passion that our fans exhibit and we believe “Tribe Town” is a unique forum to showcase that respect.
Q: Concessions have evolved in recent years, including new, creative stops such as “Your Dad's Beer.” Are there any new, unique concessions for 2013?
A: In addition to the commitment ownership showed to our on-field product, the same commitment has been shown to enhancing the value of our fans’ experience at Progressive Field. We’ve asked our fans what they want most in their ballpark experience at Progressive Field, and more affordable concessions prices routinely top the list. Introducing our 4-3-2-1 value concessions program is a way for us to let fans know we’re listening to them and that we value them.
With 12-ounce beer now starting at $4, there is no lower priced beer in all of Major League baseball. Our $3 hot dogs are also one of the best values in the majors. $2 soda refills, 15 $1 hot dog nights – a jump from 9 last season – and other price reductions all are aimed at providing an affordable family entertainment option for our fans.
Also new in 2013 in Concessions is a new Terrace Club menu and pricing, which will feature more traditional ballpark-style food at a lower price point than that the Terrace Club typically has offered. The fourth floor of the Terrace Club, meanwhile, will be reserved strictly for groups.
Q: Many Indians fans are also Cavaliers and Browns fans. Are there any plans to collaborate more between the teams in terms of marketing/ticketing opportunities?
A: We celebrate each team’s success, and have a positive, collaborative working relationship with the Cavs and Browns, but we are primarily focused on the ways we can continue to better understand our fans, pursue new initiatives that enhance the fan experience, and create enhanced value for attending games at Progressive Field.
Q: Social media is a major part of sports right now. How do you plan to use that to the Indians' advantage?
A: Social media are excellent media for our fans to have an intimate connection with our players and also provide a forum for us to get feedback from our fans. Fans clearly value these special opportunities to interact with our players. Fortunately, many of our players are enthusiastic about being present in social media and enjoy the interactions they have with their biggest supporters.
Social media also represent a unique forum of receiving real-time feedback. We certainly see our fans’ passion on display, whether it’s regarding the team on the field or new fan experience products and initiatives that we introduce. One example is ‘Tweet Your Tribe” – a reoccurring program where key members of our organization and our players answers fans’ questions directly.
We will continue to monitor the social media landscape and look for new and innovative ways to further enhance our presence.
Q: You were a successful General Manager. Why did you decide to make the shift to Team President? What is your favorite part about your new position?
A: My transition from General Manager to Team President has been extremely educational and has given me a more global perspective on the business of Major League Baseball. After spending nearly 20 years on the baseball side of the industry, learning more about the business side and the interactions with the commissioner’s office has given me a new understanding of the game. I have enjoyed learning about what motivates our fans and how to deliver experiences that connect our fans to the Indians organization.
To sit here at 45 years old and now I have a much more detailed understanding of the business side and the Major League Baseball function and the commissioner's office as well as the on-field, I feel very fortunate to have that perspective.
At least this season Indians fans can feel they made a legitimate attempt to field a winning team with the bevy of moves they made. At least we can feel good that two Indians castoffs who wouldn't make this team, Ben Francisco and Travis Hafner, made the Yankees opening day roster. How is that for a role reversal?
The Blue Jays are only a half hour from my home, and they are Canada's team. But, boy, would I love to see the Indians come in and sweep 3 next week. GO TRIBE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I admire him greatly for not trying to milk the limited talent before leaving as GM. Instead, he did what was right for the organization by dismantling the team, rebuilding the farm system and handing over to Antonneti a much better situation than what he inherited when he took over as GM.
I also believe he has done a good job trying to make the fan experience more enjoyable.
Having corresponded with him for eight years and meeting with him three times, including a forty-five minute discussion in his office, I can tell all Tribe fans that he is genuinely a very nice man. He is confident but not arrogant, is very organized and thoughtful, and definitely attempts to make wise moves that benefit the team on the field, the organization and the fans.
Thanks for writing this article Steve.