Spring training is just around the corner. (Finally! At long last! Hallelujah!) Pitchers and catchers for the Diamondbacks and Dodgers report on Feb. 6 and Feb. 8, respectively, as those two teams get ready to open the season in Australia on Mar. 22. All other pitchers and catchers report the week of Feb. 10. It’s not just the players and coaches who need to practice for the season, though. Marketing and ticket sales representatives need to get in shape, too. So do the fans.
Which brings us to the season of Fan Fests and Caravans. Fan Fests are typically one, two, or three-day public events sponsored by teams, at which fans have the opportunity to talk directly to players, coaches and team executives; wait in long lines for autographs; check out the latest team gear and merchandise; and buy tickets for the upcoming season. Caravans take players and coaches on the road to the fans.
Most MLB teams host some kind of come-one, come-all Fan Fest, either at the ballpark, or a hotel or convention center nearby. Those teams with fan bases spread throughout a state or several states also conduct Caravans. Some do both.
But not all teams. The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox, Angels
and Marlins will not be hosting any type of public, fans-meet-players event before the 2014 season starts. One of those teams is not like the others. Or is it two teams? More on that later.
Let’s talk first about the Caravans: the Fan-Fest-goes-to-the-fans party. Literally. Groups of players, coaches and team representatives load up a bunch of decked-out buses and travel around the team’s regional area meeting and greeting fans. The Astros are travelling around southern Texas this week. The Tigers are doing the same in Michigan, as are the Reds in Ohio, and the Braves in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina. The Mariners just finished up their three-week journey across Washington state, as did the Twins, who cris-crossed Minnesota, and the Blue Jays, who tramped across Ontario Province. The Cardinals made 20 stops in Missouri and Illinois over the Martin Luther King weekend. The Royals road show kicks off next week. Caravan events are typically free of charge.
All of those teams — except for the Blue Jays and Braves — have held, or will hold, Fan Fests, too. Redfest took place in early December at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati. The Cardinals Winter Warm Up was last weekend at a hotel near the St. Louis Arch. The Astros, Tigers, Mariners, Twins, and Royals will open the gates for fans over the next few weeks. All of these teams — save for the Astros — charge an entrance fee for their Fan Fest.
Like the Cardinals, the Pirates held their Fan Fest in December — a one-day event at a Pittsburgh convention center in December. The Cubs entertained fans over three days last weekend at Cubs Convention, held at the Sheraton Hotel. The team has sponsored Cubs Con — as it is colloquially known — for 29 consecutive years. Take a look at the program. There were activities for fans of all ages and interests.
Most of the teams not mentioned so far will also be hosting Fan Fests over the next several weekends. I’ve collected links if you’re interested in information on your favorite team’s event: Giants, Orioles, Rays, Rangers, Diamondbacks, Nationals, A’s, Brewers, White Sox, Indians, Rockies, Dodgers, Marlins, and Padres. The Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Astros, Marlins, and Rays will not be charging an admission fee. My guess is that the Giants and Dodgers don’t charge a fee because they can afford not to, while the Diamondbacks, Astros and Rays can’t afford to impose any impediment that will keep fans away.
Wait, what about the Phillies? Well, they fall somewhere in between. The Phillies don’t host a traditional Fun Fest or board buses for a Caravan. Instead, according to James Trout, the team’s Director of Marketing Services and Events, the Phillies host banquets with each of their minor-league affiliates, and send players, coaches and, of course, the Phanatic, to meet with fans in those cities. The Phillies also invite all season-ticket holders to a breakfast or lunch at Citizens Bank Park, where they dine with players, coaches, and, of course, the Phanatic. During the season, the team puts on the Phillies Festival, a charity fundraiser attended by all active players, and open to the public.
That brings us back to the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Angels,
Let’s talk first about the Mets. As ESPN reported earlier this week, the Mets used to host a winter caravan that featured players on the active roster at various stops around New York before the start of spring training. The Mets stopped doing caravans after the 2005-2006 offseason because “there is only so much they can ask of any player,” according to Mets VP of Marketing Dave Newman. “It’s how we use our players knowing what we ask of them, whether it’s related to media, community, business partners — the Citis of the world, etc. It’s a limited amount of time,” Newman told ESPN.
This year, some fans stepped into the breach and organized the Queens Baseball Convention, which was held last weekend at a restaurant at CitiField. Former players Ron Darling and Ed Kranepool attended and there was a panel with folks from the Mets ticketing and marketing department.
The Angels have also come to rely on a fan-sponsored event for revving up the fan base before the season starts. The folks at AngelsWin.com — an Angels community blog — started hosting a fan fest-type gathering seven years ago. At first, just a handful of people showed up. This year, they expect more than 200, according to Geoff Stoddart, the Editor-in-Chief of AngelsWin. The event takes place in Tempe, Arizona, where the Angels have their spring training complex. Team executives, broadcasters, and players have attended in the past, and are expected back this spring. Money raised through entrance fees is donated to one of the team’s official charities.
I reached out to both the Yankees and Red Sox to ask why neither team sponsors a fan-fest or caravan type gathering before the season starts. I didn’t receive a response from either team. Draw your own conclusions.
So get out there baseball fans. Go meet the players. Shake hands with the coaches. Check out the latest in team gear. Opening Day is right around the corner. Right there. I see it. Really.