April 19, 2014

Dolan, Lerner, Best Buy and Amazon.com

One of the topics that has become hot this weekend with all dirt that Chris Perez stirred up this is that Cleveland sports fans are hypocrites. As we all know this fan base sells out Browns stadium year-in and year-out1 with an ownership group that has been almost 100% inept in winning football games since 1999. By comparison the Indians have done far better in their standings and certainly playoff appearances. There is no denying that. So the thought then is that Cleveland sports fans are hypocrites for supporting the Browns while not selling enough tickets for the Indians to be above last place in attendance in the major leagues when they’re also first place in their division. While that seems to make some sense on the surface, I find it to be a red herring.

It made me think of Best Buy. I have been fascinated by Best Buy and their downfall for a lot of the last year. I invested a little bit in them after a bad quarter of sales thinking I could make some money on the stock. It seemed to me that Circuit City dying could only help them and they were sure to turn it around quickly. I quickly learned otherwise, and sold the stock when I heard some scary things from company management. Best Buy was failing as an electronics retailer. There are lots of complaints about them and their business model, but the one thing that kept coming up was that they were angry with Amazon.com customers using Best Buy as a showroom so they could then order products online. They were also clamoring for a fair deal with regard to local sales tax which Amazon skirts in many states due to aging catalog rules. When I heard this, I instantly though, “Uh oh.” Thank goodness the Indians brass hasn’t said anything like this, but it is still troubling to hear it out of the fan base in Cleveland.

So, what does electronics retailing have to do with the Indians and the Browns? Let’s say the Indians are your local neighborhood Best Buy. The Browns are a division of Amazon.com, albeit not a very good one. The Indians franchise is run pretty well for a Best Buy, but they are a franchise store in a business that is far from thriving and faces struggles. The Browns aren’t the best division of Amazon, but they’re part of a larger company that people flock to.

The Indians can’t seem to get people to flock to them no matter how successfully they seem to take care of their business. To me, that means that the problems run much deeper. Certainly they run much deeper than to call Cleveland sports fans hypocrites for how they choose to value their entertainment dollars on an annual basis. Calling out Browns fans for loving NFL football enough to continue to pay for losing is not a good attempt to fix MLB / Cleveland Indians problems with the apparent value proposition presented by their tickets.

That value proposition, in the end, is what drives everything. For all the variables and factors flying around, Clevelanders are finding MLB / Indians tickets to be a much less attractive option. There is no “should” in business when it comes to customers. The Indians are in first place and fans “should” be flocking to the Jake. If they’re not then these are the appropriate questions. What are we doing wrong? What have we done wrong in the past? What can we do better? What should we do to turn this around? Is it the Dolans, Bud Selig, MLB as a whole, free agency, luck, weather, marketing, P.R., and competing alternatives? What can we do to overcome that?

Anything else pointed at the Browns and their lack of success with Randy Lerner at the helm is mis-direction and irrelevant with regard to the Indians. All it would do is further alienate potential customers that the Indians so desperately want to pull into the park this summer. That’s what was so troubling about Chris Perez’ statements this weekend, by the way. When it comes to the booing complaints, I can’t disagree with Perez. But really, telling Indians fans that they’re responsible for free agents not wanting to come to Cleveland in baseball is pure alienation and comes from a place of anger, not honesty.

In the end, honesty and common ground is what we should all shoot for. So let’s skip the false angles that seem like salient points, but really just distract from the issues at hand.

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1 Some sell-outs were aided over the years, but the fact remains that these pitiful Browns teams have never been blacked out on local television since 1999.

  • Slooz

    I thought kjn said it perfectly:
    “What can be more Cleveland than these Cleveland Indian teams? They’re a cobbled together team of cast-offs, unproven rookies, and last-chance vets. Against a stacked deck they persevere, knowing that they’re usually outgunned and just about always outspent. Yet they’ve still found ways to make the occassional playoff run.
    When that happens to the Indians in the movies, we embrace it and make it part of the collected Cleveland culture. When it happens in real life, we boo, ignore, and criticize it.”
    Perez’s comments aside, it amazes me that the town hasn’t embraced this version of the Indians the last couple of years. There are probably very few teams in all of the history of our major sports that have so perfectly mirrored the current state of the city, with the “cast-offs, unproven rookies, and last-chance vets.” There’s sense of playing on an uneven playing field, in which we simply don’t have the same resources or opportunities or even weather. Heck, even the inability to retain “stars” and higher-priced players mirrors our own — given the economy, what do people who can get better jobs somewhere else do? They go somewhere else (and justifiably so). The population dwindles a bit more. The situation gets a little bit tougher for those left behind. 
    But MAN, look at some of the ways we’re responding! These issues aren’t new, and yet the city fights on, scrappin’ away at the shores of Lake Erie. Look at the a renaissance downtown, or how the the old stalwarts (West Side Market) are now talked about with newish and newer neighborhoods (Tremont, Gordon Square) lifting themselves up and creating change. We still have our struggling people and neighborhoods and a very long way to go, but for once, it seems like things are trending positively despite the economic situation. Because Clevelanders are a scrappy bunch (even if not technically “blue-collar” anymore, as someone noted), and fight on. And this Indians team reflects that — they don’t have the stars or the magic of yesteryears, but they fight hard, they eke out wins, they suffer setbacks, they refuse to give up, they refuse to accept the narrative that they can’t win.
    If this city looks into a mirror and doesn’t see the Tribe — with its challenges but also its promise — then maybe it isn’t looking hard enough. How can you not throw yourself wholeheartedly behind that? Or as li’l Gilbert said, “What’s not to like?”

  • Nigel Tufnel

    I thought this article was going in an entirely different direction. Did VMart, CC, Cliff Lee
    all get sampled at our best buy, only to be sold on amazon?

  • Hypno_Toad

    I get that dude. But what kills me is that you’re sayiing 5.5 years like it’s a good thing. Look at Pujols in St. Louis. They had him for 11 seasons. He represented that town and the fan base connected with him on a level we haven’t seen in Cleveland in a long time.

    I’m not saying that the Indians should be able to keep every player forever, It just sucks that some of our favorite players we haven’t even had a chance to keep.

    I know baseball is what it is and I love it regardless. But when we’re having this conversation about why we can’t crack 15,000 on a day home game I believe it’s because people haven’t had a chance to connect with the players like other teams can with theirs. I don’t buy the “Dolans are cheap” argument or the “concessions are too expensive” argument either. It’s because nobody has any connections to this team, no passion about any of the players. 

    Look at the way we talk about the players from the 90′s and how to this day we are still passionate about them. We don’t even have a chance to have that passion about these players.

  • Hypno_Toad

    Right but that’s WHEN they start to fade. CC has been tearing it up with the Yankess since he went. He won them a world series as their ace. 

    Wouldn’t you take a couple bloated contract years with low production if you got multiple all-star caliber seasons and a chance to win a ring? I know I would.

  • Hypno_Toad

    I agree that Hafner and Sizemore were bonafide when we signed them. It’s really a shame that neither has panned out.

    But doesn’t it upset you that the Yankees infield makes more than our entire payroll? You can’t sit there and act like the deck isn’t stacked against our team to succeed. 

  • floydrubino

    The Indians should buy a gas station and if you buy a ticket to the game you get money off on your gas. For every ticket you buy you get a discount on gas. Do something out of the box creative that makes the situation a win win for everyone. For every ticket you get 30 or 40 cents off a gallon up to a 25 gallon limit. This way if a family comes out and buys 4 tickets if they drive from Columbus and other cities that are further away they don’t have to account for the gas money. I think people are discouraged from going there because it’s 60 or 70 dollars in gas to get there if you live a couple hours away. With fewer people to draw from the city they should come up with some ways to promote fans to come out. There are things they can do to try to help out and draw more people. I’m not saying my idea is even possible but come up with some things to bring people out.

  • mgbode

    i am not saying it doesn’t suck.  it does.  i hate it.   but, I think people are just refusing to open their hearts more than it is the amount of time they are here.

    Albert Belle spent 6 ‘real’ seasons with the Tribe.

    Kenny was only here 5 seasons before he left the first time (and he was already beloved by that point)

    manny was with the tribe for 6-7yrs (depending on how you count it)

    Baerga 6.5yrs

    Jim Thome 9 ‘full’ seasons

    —————

    we’ve had Hafner for 10 ‘full’ seasons
    Sizemore for 7
    Choo for 5
    Carmona for 5
    along with a bunch of youngsters.

    the main difference?  well, we’re talking HOF for a bunch of the guys from the 90s and a city desperate to end 38years of absolutely pathetic baseball.

    regardless, the point is that we were losing most of our best players in the 90s as well and fans didn’t have a problem latching on to them in that amount of time.

  • Hypno_Toad

    So what is the issue then? Why aren’t people going to the games? Why don’t they care? Is it winning? We’re in first. 

    I still go to the games and I still love the team religiously. Why don’t the other fans?

  • 5KMD

    Hypno, if you are going to use CC as your selling point then I can’t help you. When the Yankees truly want a FA they are going to get him. Whatever the Tribe offers, they will add 20 million and another year.

    I agree we should try to keep our own superstars, but it is not going to work out for the uber superstars.

    In summary, those guys won’t even consider letting us give them bloated contracts.

  • mgbode

    or rob other teams prospects through trades (which is what we did when we were drafting poorly)

  • mgbode

    you also are not taking the financial loss in that situation.

    if a team does that for real, then they start paring down the payroll to nothing for a few years to catch up on their books.

    if it works out (Marlins 2X – stupid miami), then sure it’s worth it.  if it doesn’t, then you are stuck with a bare-bones operation for years while you try to build things up again (even in our ‘down’ years recently, we have still had talent).

  • mgbode

    personally, I think 2009 poisoned the well. 

    2007 we came so friggin’ close.  2008 we had too many injuries and ended up having to trade CC before we lost him for virtually nothing.  Fans hated that but understood it.

    2009 – FO put their chips to the middle of the table with a high payroll.  Fans/FO banking on Carmona/Lee being enough to offset the loss of CC a bit with improved health from some of our hitters.

    of course, that never materializes and attendance goes down the toilet when you couple a bad beginning of the season with the economy going through the worst recession in 30yrs.   come trade deadline, the FO wants to cut payroll and decides to sell Cliff Lee early.

    now, let’s remind ourselves that they followed the Texas model on Texeira who built some of their current corps by selling him early to Atlanta and reaping rewards.

    well, we got an underwhelming haul from Philly when fans were clamoring for Dominic Brown and Kyle Drabek.

    then, seemingly out of nowhere, they trade “I love Cleveland, I bleed for the Tribe” Victor Martinez.  That seemed to be the catastrophic death knell for most fans.  The White Flag being waved on competing in MLB.

    (funny enough we actually did very well on that trade, but the perception is what is killing us from it)

    So, now, we have to deal with the jokes about trading back-to-back Cy Young winners and the heart-n-soul of our team’s lineup.  The team not surprisingly has a bad year in 2010 and the fans just don’t trust the team anymore.

    IMO of course.

  • mgbode

    yes, it sucks and i make no bones about it.  if we were in the AL East, then it would suck 100x more. 

  • Steve

     You can get free tickets when you buy gas at BP. C’mon people, pay attention.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Torismylover4ever Jake Udell

    a lot of it is unreasonable expectations for one a lot of fans want the Dolans to spend money first when they can’t reasonably give up money when fans aren’t even coming to the games. Its common sense you can’t spend more money than you’re bringing in

  • floydrubino

    I don’t buy BP anymore since the incident but I think it goes to show you that the Indians don’t team up with local businesses enough to promote the team. There are tons of opportunities and I live in Columbus where we never hear anything. Promote more down here in Columbus because it’s the biggest city in Ohio and you have a ton of fans down here. Get together with local businesses and make it a win win.

  • http://www.CAfranchiseopportunities.com/franchise-business-model/ franchise business model

    I also agree with you, the Indians franchise is run pretty well for a best buy.  I am pleased to see that a story has been written in support of franchisees.