Thursday, February 21, 2008
Catching Up With The Team President
At the conclusion of practice this morning in Viera, Florida--Team President Stan Kasten took 10 minutes of his time--on the field--to answer some questions for The Nats320 Blog.
What was the reason for the hiring of The Disney Institute for Game Day Staff? (SBF)
"From the first day we got here we put an emphasis on customer service--as you know. We met with our ushers and ticket takers, food servers--right away--first thing--and we have continued to preach that (customer service). Its a hard thing to do all the time, but it is really important--whether they are having a good night or a bad night. Whether you have a complaint or praise, everyone notices how they are being treated. And of all the emails and letters I get--and whether they praise or complain--almost 100% of the time they say--'But, your people were really nice to me. They treated me really professionally.'--which I love hearing. Occasionally, someone will have a bad time, and say 'your person was rude.' Generally, I don't believe that. But, the point is that whether you are happy or unhappy, you are noticing how you are being treated. And that solves alot of problems if staff remembers how to treat people well."
"The Disney people are the World Leaders in that aspect. They are so renowned for that. No one is better to come in here and give us a refresher."
Can you be specific about what exactly they provided? (SBF)
"They had this syllabus and they told everyone about being courteous, being helpful, knowing your product and anticipating problems--while keeping the place clean, being friendly and smiling. The basics we all know to do. But, it was a good reminder of the IMPORTANCE of doing all those things."
Is it also important because many of those you want to attract, may not necessarily be baseball fans--and this is just an entertainment option for them? (SBF)
"That goes through everything we do. We have areas now that I think relate to hard core fans. But, we work very hard on relating to non-hard core fans. We now have the massive Kids Area (at New Nationals Park). We have the entertainment stuff going on in The Plaza (Half Street/Left Field Entrance) and during the game. This week, all our game ops people are down here shooting new video, because none of the old stuff works anymore because the board is HDTV. (laughing) Everything has to be redone. Everything will be new and fresh. We've needed to completely rethink the music and completely rethink the things that go on between innings."
"Of course--we have many, many more bars and restaurants (at New Nationals Park). We have upscale ones, and we also have open to the public ones--in a way that helps people enjoy the four hours (at the ballpark). You guys (Sohna and I) love sitting in your seats and watching the game--but alot of people aren't just like you two. They like to get around and do other things. They like to buy things, and buying things is a really nice thing (all of us chuckling)--if I do my job and give them a good reason to buy these things. We have alot more stores, alot more merchandise--you see these shirts The Foundation is offering right now (Mr. Kasten was wearing a yellow with blue horizontal pinstripe polo with Curly "W" Logo--sold by The Nationals Dream Foundation). Which you can get online at The Foundation (always the salesman--SBF). So, we are doing all these things--its a complicated job--but of course we are having the time of our lives (facetiously). And, it will all come together in 38 days."
You are going to make it? (SBF)
"Absolutely, we will keep refining. We will keep revisiting our policy, and our spaces. We will try to make it the very best it can be. There will be no doubt--there will things added over the course of the season and into next season."
Is everything coming together, as you expected (The African Queen)?
"Yes, its more complicated than I ever thought it would be before I got here. Principally, because of the complexity of the parking issues. Parking is not just parking spaces--its the traffic management issues to the different lots. Its the signage on the highways. There is just so much going on and we haven't finished. We are still looking to get additional lots. Ed Cohen (Principal Owner), in particular, among our owners has tackled this problem. He is working 24/7 on this problem--he really has--months and months now. But, its falling into place. I know there will be learning curves, obviously--the first weekend. And maybe through the first homestand--but it should all fall into place reasonably quickly."
You were talking about the stadium being ready for play on March 30th--what should people understand about the stadium being "Baseball Ready" but more coming down the line? (SBF)
"Yeah, that's true. We don't have all the entertainment or the sponsorships areas that we will have in the future. But, we have PLENTY. All the stuff we expect will be ready--the Kids Areas, the Video Stuff will be ready--the music--the game operation stuff will be ready. Virtually, everything will be done--but we are always going to be looking to add stuff. Most of the artwork in the stadium will be done, but we will be adding more artwork. Obviously, the biggest things we will be adding to the stadium--will be the statues--like an '09 addition. But, there will be other things as well."
Yes, I just completed an interview on the upcoming artwork. (SBF)
"Yes, I understand you spoke with Frank Ceresi."
The stuff he showed me was pretty incredible--especially The Timelines. (SBF)
"The Timelines are going in right now on the south side of the stadium (Main Concourse). We have started to ship tickets. (Some patrons started to receive their packages today). That process will take another week for all the people who paid at the deadline. The others will come a little later. We are trying to get the mass of people as soon as possible. Parking (voucher & locations) will take a few more weeks. It is very, very complex. But, those folks will get their parking before Opening Day--obviously."
Although Sohna and I are not getting the pre-paid parking, we are playing it by ear, does the fact that the team is sending out emails again asking if I want parking--mean that parking did not sell as well as thought? (SBF)
"No, no, no. We keep adding space to accommodate. So, yes--we can still sell to season ticket holders. We are hopeful of finding spaces we can use on a daily cash basis. That is not done yet, but we are still working on it."
Going back to the tickets question--this came up the other day in the comments area of the blog--although I was not directly involved. Some 20 Game Season Ticket Holders were upset over the fact that they could only order two seats for Opening Night--no matter how many seats were in their plan. (SBF)
"Look, its simple arithmetic. Its a blessing for us and also a downside. We have a smaller stadium. We sold many more tickets (18,000 Full Season Plans by Opening Night). We couldn't possibly accommodate everyone with extras for Opening Day. We just don't have enough to accommodate everyone this year. We had to put limits on it. Its a good problem to have, but I understand people who want as many as they want. All we can do--is sell up to our availability--and when we run out--we run out."
Moving to the team on the field, how do you feel about the changes on the team? (SBF)
"I feel great about the changes. I have all winter--as you know. I believe this has been a great winter of progress so far--both in terms of acquisitions and internally (management). A year ago we were down here (In Viera) and people were really wondering who the heck was going to play this position? Who the heck is going to pitch for you? This year, the question is which of these guys is going to win out--which of these guys is going to get the at-bats. The questions are much better than last year. The most fun thing for me is that with the talent that we do see here right now--I think we can see a much clearer picture of the next wave--right around the corner--maybe this year, maybe the next year or two--but all of us can see it now--that this (The Plan) is really working, and is really happening. It will not be long before we are competing with everybody."
What about Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young--its a tough situation? They are both good guys. (SBF)
"Opening Day is 38 days away and alot can happen and there is alot of time to make decisions. I feel really good about that we have a General Manager that is resourceful (Jim Bowden). And, he will do whatever his role is in that (decision). And, that we have a Manager (Manny Acta) who really does find playing time for all his guys. He was really good at using all of his guys last year. Now I hope we don't tax him like we did last year. He had to use 40 or 50 guys over the course of the year. I hope he doesn't have that challenge this year (chuckling), but he did. He managed to keep most everyone happy with their playing time. He got contributions out of all of them. With the GM and Manager we got in place--whatever the final decision is--I know it will be a good one."
I know you had a Press Conference yesterday with Elijah Dukes--how tightly is he being watched? (SBF)
"Watched is not the word I would use--worked with, assisted are better choices. We have spent alot of time with him. We have had alot of professionals in different areas spend time with him to help with the many challenges that he has. Since we picked him up, he's been terrific--diligent and cooperative. Having said that--he still has alot of residue that he has to contend with that happened before we got him. That is going to be around for years. People he has to deal with, legal issues, personal issues, financial issues--so managing all of that, understanding all of that, takes maturity of his part--which is important. We have provided him with a support system that will allow him to be the best player he can be. That's our job. We don't need a medal for doing it. That's what our job is. If he takes advantage of it--he will be very successful. If he doesn't, it will not work--and we will move on. But, I feel better about it every day--lets just keep our fingers crossed."
Last question--is The President Of The United States throwing out the First Pitch at New Nationals Park? (SBF)
"That is what we all hope. (He has been asked?--SBF) Oh, yes--ABSOLUTELY!! The Invitation is there. He (George Bush) would like to do it. He and I have talked about that--because as you know--he is a HUGE baseball fan. And, National Security Interests permitting--I think he will be there."
That concludes Our Chat with Team President Stan Kasten--Spring Training, 2008--In Viera, Florida.