Friday, February 14, 2014
Checking in on the fan experience with CEO Stan Kasten
By Mark Saxon
Dodgers president and CEO Stan Kasten flew to Arizona late Thursday in advance of the team's first full-squad workout. He was up at the crack of dawn for early meetings, paused briefly to speak with reporters and then caught a flight back to Los Angeles.
He's a busy man. The Dodgers will launch their own channel in 11 days. For the second straight winter, the Dodgers have spent lavishly to upgrade their stadium, adding about $50 million in improvements from the $100 million they spent last winter. Kasten thinks stadium-wide wireless access will be up and going by the first Dodger Stadium exhibition games.
All that, plus they're nailing down preparations to open the season 7,500 miles from home in Sydney, Australia.
Kasten discussed all that and more on Friday at Camelback Ranch:
Q. You guys released a statement urging fans to pre-purchase parking this season and you will now be charging more at the gate ($15) than if you buy parking ahead of time ($10). Can you explain that move?
A. One of our biggest challenges, always, is traffic and parking, so we’ve spent a lot of time on it this off-season. We came up with a whole program of changes that we think will help. There’s not much we can do about the traffic on the 110 or Sunset, our two main access roads. The main bottleneck we have is transaction time at the gate. We experimented with free parking on car pools. It didn’t have any impact at all on traffic. You can do this online, you can do it on your phone on the way to the ballpark. We can zip you right through. The consultants asked if we can make that price higher. Our point is it’s not a revenue thing at all. The best thing is if everyone could get their parking pass early. This is in the name of providing an incentive.
Q. What else will you do to ease traffic?
A. We’re going to get the Scott gate open again. We’re going to have signage for people in the long lines to make turns to other gates, like Golden Gate or Academy, and they can get right in. We learn as we go. We keep experimenting with things that work and that don’t work. For all the complaints we get about traffic in general, for half a century, 40,000 or more people find their way there every night. We’ve talked about making parking free. We really have. But that’s what every consultant has told us. That would lead to more cars coming. Public transit is still the quickest, cheapest easiest way to get to Dodger Stadium. On the Union Station shuttle, we’re now going to have two stops in the parking lot, so people won’t have to walk all the way around the stadium. We’re enhancing pedestrian walk-ways from the Chinatown stop on the Gold Line.
Q. Some people are going to complain, right? Not everyone has a printer.
A. There was an on-line petition when we chose to get rid of paper tickets and someone tweeted, “What, they couldn’t get a paper petition?” That was great. I say, ‘We’d love you to come. It just means your transaction is going to be $5 more. If you could find a way to print it in advance, it’s still the same $10.”
Q. Can you update us on season-ticket sales?
A. We capped them at around 34,000, which is up from about 32,000 last year. We had to have some day-of-game tickets, we had to have some available for ticket plans. We can’t sell out the stadium on a full-season basis. We’d be thrilled if we could get the same 3.7 million people in attendance we had last year. I suspect we will do a little bit better than that.
Q. Tell us about SportsNet LA and how will you possibly fill 24 hours with all-Dodgers programming?
A. That’s what our customers seem to be wanting. I don’t know what the future holds, I just don’t. I wouldn’t rule anything in or out, but we really like it that we are the first team-owned station anywhere that is dedicated to this team only. There is no other programming, other than pure Dodger programming. There are games, there are replays, there are pre- and post-game analysis shows and during the day. There will be long-form interviews, documentaries, behind-the-scenes stuff. Our guys who are doing that are having no trouble filling in the schedule. If you’re a Dodger fan you’ll have somewhere to go, literally, 24 hours a day.
Q. How will the Comcast acquisition of Time Warner affect things?
A. The company we do business with is still the same company we do business with.
Q. Some providers, like DirecTV, haven’t signed up for the station yet. Is that a concern?
A. Right now, the best way to access Dodger content 24 hours a day is to get access to SportsNet LA. Change your provider or get your provider to provide it. I want what all the providers want, every game to be on in every home. They’re in the business of doing that and we’re in the business of having people see it. I can’t tell you the timetable, but it works out in virtually every city. I think we do have a good team and an interesting and appealing team. We’ll get there.
Q. One of your biggest stars, Yasiel Puig, seems to be media-averse. Is that a problem given the saturated coverage you’re talking about?
A. I don’t think he’s media-averse. I think he was new to this country, learning a lot of things, having to get comfortable. I think in the right circumstances, he’s pretty good with the media, but it was a learning process for him. We have talked to all our players, we’ve shown them some of the stuff we’ve already been producing what’s ready to go on air in two weeks. I think everyone there is excited, because they know this is our network by us for us. It’s going to be putting everyone’s best foot forward, which is good for them, too. If the point of your question is we’re not going to have enough Puig content, I wouldn’t worry about that.