Sunday, April 20, 2008

Our Conversation With Mike Shapiro

Honestly--it's very difficult for me to follow Our Washington Nationals from my current location. Too much real business and safety have interceded. Those issues must take precedent from my current location. Although I am aware of the fact that Washington is still not playing well, a 5-14 record--worst in The Major Leagues. A 6-1 loss to The Florida Marlins today adding to the misery. So, commentary will have to wait until our scheduled return this Wednesday. But from afar--its pretty clear--Our Washington Nationals have little Team Chemistry. Maybe more talented than previous squads--but too many individuals--and that needs to change. But it also does not mean there is not something fresh to add to The Nats320 Blog--something fun about baseball in Washington, DC.

On April 12th Sohna and I sat down for a very special interview with Mike Shapiro--Senior Vice-President of Business Affair with Our Washington Nationals. Having worked in Legal Affairs with The Atlanta Braves and Business Affairs with The San Francisco Giants--Mr. Shapiro has been brought on board by Team President Stan Kasten to handle the many daily facets of running a Major League Team--off the field. One of Mike's current top priorities is to get The New Ballpark Tours up and running. The $15 inside look at the new South Capitol Street Ballpark began yesterday. A business investment that just scratches the surface of opportunities to come to--not only view New Nationals Park privately--but use the facility for your own personal event--at a cost.

The African Queen and I sat down with Mike Shapiro in The Diamond Club last Saturday Afternoon before Our Washington Nationals hosted The Atlanta Braves. With all that now out of the way--here we go.

Let's start with the reason beyond The Ballpark Tour at Nationals Park? (SBF)

"Well, first we have this wonderful new facility that we want to share with the public. And those of us who work in this business have an obligation to share it--to give baseball back to the people that pay for tickets and love the game as much as we do. And one of those ways to do that is allowing fans to see what this building is like--behind the scenes."

"So, in many cases, you have people coming to Washington, DC--from all over the world--who may have the opportunity to buy a ticket and come see a game--but how many of those people actually get to see The Diamond Club and understand all the interesting facts, the artwork here--or in The Presidents Club--go down into The Clubhouse to see what that looks like. Or--go out and sit in The Dugout. We are going to take fans up to the Press Box--to see what that is like."

"These are behind the scenes opportunities that most ordinary folks would not have the chance to see--unless we offered it to them."

Also--there might be times where someone is visiting the city and The Nationals are not playing--but they still want to see the park. (SBF)

"Yes, that is exactly right."

You mention artwork in the stadium. How well versed are the Tour Guides in their knowledge? (SBF)

"They are extremely well versed. We have these massive thick books of every section of the ballpark which contains an inventory of all the artwork--whether they be photographs or paintings, or artifacts. And--by the way--that Collection is increasing all the time. Now, part of the Guided Tour they (The Tour Guides) are giving will reflect on this artwork--a great segue into baseball's historical past."

"If you come in here (Diamond Club)--you will first see the 1924 World Series Champion Picture (of The Washington Senators). The Final Line Score from that 7th Game--which is a great opportunity for the guide to talk about The 1924 World Series. As you well know--there are some interesting aspects to how this game got into extra innings. The famous pebble. The ball bounces over the 3rd Baseman's head. It's a great story and a part of the tour."

"So, the tour integrates the background surrounding all the interesting details about the stadium. How it was built? Why it was built here--all of that--with The History of The Nationals, The History of Baseball in Washington, DC. And, The History of Baseball--generally."

"And one of the great things about The Artwork Program--is that everything depicted is not Washington Senators or Homestead Grays. Take a look at those wonderful columns surrounding the main concourse--they are Hall of Famers from all different teams. They are a part of the education process the tour reflects."

The columns are one of my favorite things in the entire ballpark. I find myself staring at them all the time. (SBF)

"Mine too. And you know what? They are not Washington centric because they draw you into the history of the game. Just take a look in here (Diamond Club). These Old Tobacco Cards (T-3 Turkey Reds)--they are not just Washington. They reflect all different teams. So, this ballpark and subsequently--the tour--celebrates The History of The Game."

Are there interactive parts of the tour? (The African Queen)

"Yes, there are. In fact, there are a couple of interactive portions. Now again--it's also in process. But, the way the tour is set up right now--we have a couple of fun things that people will have the opportunity to do. One being: When we take the fans down into the batting cages--to see The Nationals Batting Cages--we will have a pitching machine set up. The Tour Guide will have everybody around him involved in a conversation about Walter Johnson. He will then say; 'Would you like to see how fast a Walter Johnson fastball looks?' (everyone chuckling)"

"We have the machine set for 100 MPH--put a ball in there--and let it fly!! They will be able to see how fast 100MPH really looks. So, that is a fun way to teach a little bit about what Walter Johnson was all about."

"Then, they will go out into The Nationals Dugout, sit in the dugout--have their picture taken. Then, walk along the warning track and out to The Nationals Bullpen. And while they are in the bullpen--we will have a bag of baseballs. Every single person will have the chance to throw one pitch in the bullpen. It's kind of a fun thing to do."

"But, that's not going to be all. Over time--we plan on integrating more interactive things into the tour--but this is what we are starting with."

It would be nice if when you have the pitching machine set up--you could also incorporate a video of Walter Johnson throwing the ball--syncing it to the 100MPH pitch. (SBF)

"Which is actually one of the things I have been talking to our folks about doing in The Kids Zone. They currently have video of modern day pitchers throwing to those in the batting cages. Well, I would love to have them produce one with Walter Johnson throwing the baseball."

What is touch a module on the scoreboard--listed in the tour program? (The African Queen)

"That is another interactive piece. It's really cool!! (Mike had Sohna and I laughing because his inflection was great). Whenever you look at that HDTV Scoreboard--all 1500 or so square feet High Definition Television--similar in design to what you might have at home. It's all about these pixels--red, green & blue pixels. If one of these modules blanks out--they are interchangeable. On the tour--we allow everyone to touch one and see how this works."

Sort of reminds me of The Space Shuttle where the heat tiles for protection upon re-entry are replaceable modules as well. (SBF)

"Yes, but our HDTV Screen is not a life and death situation."

No baseball is not life or death. (SBF--everyone chuckling)

"It is to some people!! (Lisa Pagano--Nats P.R.--everyone now busting out laughing)

How about The Shirley Povich Media Center--will the memorabilia honoring this journalist's career be on the tour? (SBF)

"Not all of that is in place yet. Like I said, the ballpark is still finding its own level--in terms of artifacts. Mostly, the photographs and alot of the artwork are up. Although, there is still a massive mobile coming, lights on the garages and-of course-the three statues that are going to be in Center Field Plaza. That's all coming. So--much of the artifactual and artistic items are not in place yet. But, over time--over the course of this year and next year--we are going to have a whole lot more."

This visiting clubhouse is supposed to have these wonderful photos of Washington, DC. Is that a part of the tour? (SBF)

"The visiting clubhouse is currently not on the tour. Only because the best part of the visiting clubhouse are those nice pictures of Washington. But the timing (of the tour) has not worked to allow that visit. Our tour is one hour to one hour and twenty minutes. The design and flow of the tour--the logistics--just don't allow for its inclusion right now."

And the tour is only available when the team is away? (The African Queen)

"Only when team is out of town. Because I didn't want to do a cut rate tour. If we did a tour while the team was here--there is no way The Clubhouse or Dugout could be included. Everyone deserves the entire experience. We should not cheapen it. No--I would never do that."

How do you work out a private tour? (SBF)

"We already have private parties. If you want to rent the Presidents Club--you can. Or, rent The Diamond Club out. We have even had parties where companies have rented the field for batting practice. We do batting practice sessions. We have had party's rent the batting cages downstairs."

That has started already? (The African Queen)

"Yeah, that's cool. In fact, we have had several of those already. This is all apart of a division called Ballpark Enterprises. Ballpark Enterprises is in charge of generating interest, extending the brand and creating new revenue streams utilizing the ballpark itself. And by extending the brand--ultimately we expect it to be Nationals Enterprises. So, if you are aware of The Fenway Sports Group--they have gone way beyond baseball in marketing their skills and expertise. Well, we intend to do that as well with The Nationals. Eventually--that is going to find its way into fantasy camps. We are talking about a Nationals Cruise--Clinic programs and Summer Camps. A whole number of things. We have a whole group of ideas that we think are going to be revolutionary and fun!! We are going to take The Nationals Brand and expand. But, first we are starting with Ballpark Enterprises--using this facility and tour as the gateway."

The cynic would question a Fantasy Camp for The Nationals. They have no players? (SBF)

"it is funny that you mention that. Because when you sit down and write a business plan--you look at what your challenges are. That fact is definitely high on the list of challenges. But, using an old expression--where there are challenges--there are opportunities. What we (The Nationals) have--is an incredible asset--throughout our system of coaches. We have Barry Larkin. We have Jose Rijo and Tim Raines--Darnell Coles--Jon Stearns and Randy Knorr. You go through our list of coaches--and there is an All-Star Group there. Our intent is to use that great resource--and instead of using former players--and this is what will distinguish ourselves from alot of the Fantasy Camps--use our professional coaches as instructors."

"If you go to a Yankees Fantasy Camp. You are going to get a bunch of minor league instructors or college instructors. Then, they are going to bring in Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Moose Skowron or whomever--to sign some autographs and that's it. Our business plan is bring in our actual instructors themselves--to operate the camp. So, if you go and sign up for Fantasy Camp--for The Nationals--it is our intent that you will really get the experience to be a Rookie, showing up in Florida for your first spring training. And you are going to get hitting instruction from Tim Raines or pitching from Jose Rijo. "

It's like The Baseball 101 for Women? (The African Queen)

"Exactly!! That is precisely the goal. Baseball 101 is the model we are taking and expanding for an entire fantasy camp."

It was fun. I participated in that. (The African Queen)

"Yes, I agree. I watched it and I thought everything went well. That is something we are now using as the concept to take things to a different level. I am looking into a whole range of opportunities--so we can utilize all these great resources we have."

How about Birthday Party Tours? (SBF)

"We actually have quite a few booked for The Kid's Strike Zone. We cater it and everything. The kids get to use the machines, The Sony PlayStations. That part of the ballpark is very, very kid friendly. Also, we have had Bar Mitzvahs booked for The Presidents or Diamond Clubs. We even have a couple of weddings booked. We have not gone out and aggressively marketed the facility yet. We wanted to get the first couple of homestands under our belts and see how the ballpark operated before we went out and marketed the facility. But, even with no marketing--people have been calling up and asking to rent areas out, and we have been doing it."

Do you have a dollar amount on any of these planned events? (The African Queen)

"They are all different, customized based on how much you want to spend of each individual in your party--food, part of the ballpark you wish to use. Do you need a band brought in or a P.A? All of this is customized. So, it's hard to quote a price."

"One of the options--and this plays more off your original question--if you are planning an event here is: 'Do you want to have a tour?' There are a menu of options, tours, batting practice, do you want a player as a speaker--any number of different options you can have to throw into your event."

"We are trying to make Nationals Park a destination spot and attempt to share the facility to those who love baseball and want the experience of wanting to see it from behind the scenes--or want to have their event be a part of the ballpark."

"I will tell you this. We had this corporate event down in The Presidents Club. They all came out on the field and took batting practice afterwards. And a part of the event also was that every participant bought Nationals Jerseys with their names of them. So, they had their ties on--but their jerseys on--and all came up to hit. Their smiles said it all. They were pretty happy. It was quite a great experience for them."

Of course you know--He (SBF) will want to rent out THE ENTIRE BALLPARK for his birthday? (The African Queen)

(Nodding his head and looking assured) "Weeeee--can work something out!"

Manny, "The Chief" and "Z" also have to be there. (SBF)

"Anything for a price!!"

"But, that is EXACTLY the point of everything we have discussed today. People who love the game--are passionate about the game--this is an incredible opportunity for them to actually take batting practice on the field--which is kind of a cool thing to do. It's also a part of the allure of this building--and it is a fabulous building. It does lend itself very easily to--not only the tours--but for people to come and see it behind the scenes and for planned events as well. What we are finding. The reaction we are getting is that people are generally very happy. Centerplate does a nice job with the catering here. So, the clients have been happy with the food."

Speaking of catering for events. Can Centerplate handle any menu choice--like kosher food or other religious consideration? (The African Queen)

"Absolutely, the very first event we had here was a kosher event. The Jewish Federation had a kosher event down in Presidents Club. And then they could all go down to the batting cages (if they wished) to take batting practice. It was great. And since you can look down on the batting cages from The Presidents Club--they may have had more people looking down, than actually hitting--cheering them on. (laughing).

With that Our Conversation With Mike Shapiro came to an end. During the chat--Sohna suggested the Ballpark Tour should provide a Collector Pin as a keepsake for those who finish. Mike loved the idea and it reminded him of his days with The Giants at Candlestick Park--when for those brave folks that lasted any chilly night game at Candlestick Point--they where given a special "Croix De Candlestick Pin" as a momento. Most baseball fans enjoy pins--we can't imagine a New Nationals Park Ballpark Tour Pin not being wanted.

Finally--Mike told Sohna that fans with disbilities will have complete access to The Ballpark Tour--via elevator access and ramps. No one will be turned away--due to a handicap. Also, baby strollers are welcomed on the tour as well.

1 comment:

Edward J. Cunningham said...

Let's keep some things in perspective. As badly as the Nats have played the last few weeks, it's more important that you get home safely. You will be in my prayers, and hopefully we will BOTH see the Nats win Wednesday night at the park...