What’s the best way to measure the Dodgers’ success in 2013?
Stan Kasten tries every day. He pools together his resources – maybe that’s not the best term to use if you looking at it from an Diamondbacks perspective – and crunches numbers until he’s that certain shade of blue in the face.
His metrix of the moment: Fans in the stands.
The NL West champions will emerge from recent apathetic attendance decline to not only eclipse the 3.7 million mark at home – leading all of baseball as they had once done on an annual basis in years gone by — but they’ll also have the greatest road attendance average per game.
“We don’t even know the last time a National League team led in both those categories,” the 61-year-old Dodger president, CEO and co-owner said the other day, a reference to the fact that the almighty New York Yankees have accomplished the feat on several occasions, most recently in 2010.
“To me, that speaks to the progress we’ve made. None of us feel our job is close to being done because we want to be a team that has sustained success, and we’ve just started. But we feel we’ve made real progress. The response, the reaction and the support from our fans have been very gratifying.”
Ask any Dodger fan how far this franchise has come since the departure of Frank McCourt, who with wife Jamie took over in 2004 only to see it all come unglued by early 2012, and you’re likely to get number in the vicinity of infinity.
When former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals GM Kasten pulled together a ownership group that starred the Chicago-based deep pockets of Mark Walter with the L.A.-savvy Magic Johnson, and then outbid everyone else on the planet with a $2.1 billion deal, a lot of major promises were made 16 months ago once the paperwork was completed.
In concert with upping the team payroll to $216 million on Opening Day (second only to the Yankees’ $228 million), the extensive excavation of Dodger Stadium included an elaborate new underground training facility – which came in very handy this season considering all the injury rehab taking place.
So while capturing the NL West title last week was a nice accomplishment, Kasten admits it’s all about keeping the proper perspective at this point.
“The NL West title is a milepost, a marker on the road in what we want to accomplish this year,” Kasten said. “I do think the most extraordinary part of this restoration process over the last year and a half was implicit on our bet on this fan base that, if we did things right, it would make the gamble pay off for us.
“Not that we ever thought it was a bad gamble – it was a good, smart one. Mark Walter put it best when he said that we’re a little tired of the silly question: Why did you pay so much for the team? Because we thought it was worth a lot more.
“That’s as straight as we can be, because of the size and depth of this market and the passion of its extraordinary broad fan base.”
General manager Ned Colletti, who has seen the very highs and lows of the franchise since arriving in 2005, has this perspective:
“Any business in the sports and entertainment industry should prioritize opportunity to create goodwill and precious memories at their events. That includes an exciting, competitive team, a comfortable ballpark experience conducive to a family outing, an outreach program that makes a positive impact in the community and region. Those three facets should be able to independently stand on their own but also need to blend together for the ultimate fan experience.
“We have a tremendous fan base and brand that reaches throughout the world. We see it every road stop we make. By next April we will have played in Beijing, Taiwan and Australia during the last seven years. When you have a fan base that vast and they are proud to be connected to a franchise and they voice their support and show their passion, that is also a measure of being successful.”
When ESPN The Magazine recently released its 10th edition of the “Ultimate Team Rankings” – objectively taking eight weighted categories derived from fan surveys and marketing research and deciding which franchise of the four major sports qualified best as “turning dollars into wins” — the Dodgers were placed at a rather pedestrian No. 56 spot.
The NHL’s Ducks (8) and Kings (24) were far ahead. The MLB’s Angels (51) and NBA’s Clippers (55) were in the same ballpark. Interestingly, the NBA’s Lakers (77) were lagging behind at a distance.
Since 2011, the Dodgers have seen a most noticeable rise in these standings based on ownership – moving up an incredible 65 spots, and now sitting at No. 43 in that category, the best number of all eight categories on the Dodgers’ ledger.
That still may put them back of the Ducks’ Henry and Susan Samueli (13), the Kings’ Philip Anschutz and Ed Roski (17) and Lakers’ Buss family (39). But it is better off than the Angels’ Arte Moreno (65) and the Clippers’ Donald Sterling (89).
Ownership — defined as “honesty and loyalty to core players and to the community” – only accounts for 10.2 percent of the total package in this ESPN aggregated mess. More important are fan relations (25 percent), the affordability of tickets, parking and concessions (17.4 percent) and something called “bang for the buck” (16.8 percent, which accounts for “how efficiently teams convert revenues from fans into performance on the field.”
In fan relations, the Dodgers are placed at No. 53 – ahead of the Angels, Lakers and Clippers. In “bang for the buck,” the Dodgers are 52nd.
Aside from not being sure what those ESPN numbers mean in the grand scheme of things, Kasten offered this analysis to ESPN’s poll: “As a guy who runs a team, I can’t think of anything more important than how your own fans feel about you. That’s why being number one — of all the teams in all the sports — is the most gratifying ranking of all.”
Performance in 2013 means the Dodgers’ first post-season in four years. A team roster mixed of veterans and youth, experience and talent, and the rejuvenation of the farm system, only point toward moving up future franchise polls, no matter how they are measured.
During a town-hall meeting Kasten attended in July at the L.A. Sports Museum, at a time when the team had rebounded from an injury-riddled start and had finally crept back up to the .500 mark, he was asked if there was every a chance at getting an All-Star game back at Dodger Stadium.
Kasten said that was a bit problematic, since “until a year ago, this wasn’t a popular franchise or a popular place for Major League Baseball, you know?”
In the last couple of months since saying that, he has noticed change in that perception.
“No question, the way we are treated and received with the rest of baseball, I think any questions that were raised up to the time we’ve got here are put to rest,” said Kasten. “We have an excellent relationship with central baseball as it relates to all of our partners.”
“Maybe with the possible exception of that one team that has a pool or something in their stadium,” he added with a slight grin. “Other than them, we have a pretty good relationship with everyone else.”