Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Why Go To DSG Park?

Sorry to be so quiet, there's just nothing going on with this team.  I assumed that in the first 9 days the window was open we would make a move of some sort but not only have we not made a move, we haven't even heard any good rumors.

So we're going to move on to another discussion.  I was at the Vancouver game in May and after getting to my seat I looked around, thought about the experience getting to my seat, and wondered "why would anyone come to a Rapids game?".

Two things as we get into this discussion.  This is really focused on the experience outside the play on the field.  Yes, the play this year has been ugly at times and that certainly doesn't help but all teams have to deal with bad seasons.  That's the risk when you buy tickets (unless your a Yankees or Man U fan) but that doesn't mean you can't have a good time while watching a bad team.  Secondly many of these complaints are things that I know the Rapids Front Office also feel but KSE doesn't.  Because of the nature of the hierarchy in KSE and the way stadium operations are set up the Rapids have less control in their own stadium than many (most?) teams do.  So while this is a critique of the experience that critique is mostly directed at KSE not at the Rapids FO.

Obviously the first issue is that the Victory Crossing development plan never came into being.  For readers who were not around in the mid-2000s the original announcement was that the area outside the field complex was going to be developed into light commercial use including bars, restaurants. a Dicks Sporting Goods, etc.  The drive up past City Hall to the main entrance on the West side was supposed to be retail and food all the way to the entrance.  For many reasons that didn't happen.

Because of that there is nothing to do out at the stadium other than the stadium itself.  Centennial 38 does a wonderful job of compensating for that with the best tailgate in the league (something that would not be possible with many of the "dream" ideas of having a stadium downtown).  Outside of that though the pre-game options are hit and miss (more miss).  Off and on the Rapids have tried to run their own tailgate, had Burgundy Boulevard, had concerts with local groups, but in general if you're not going to the C38 tailgate or doing your own your plan is to show up about 20 minutes before kickoff and go straight to your seats.

Of course, that process takes much longer thee days with the new security rules.  I have no problem with security if security is needed and in this day and age with what we've seen in places like Manchester I think its right to be concerned.  That doesn't matter though if your security isn't trained and ready to handle the crowds.

At one point last year I ended up getting into the stadium without anyone checking my ticket (and I wasn't trying to avoid a ticket check).  This year I got to the security line only for the Argus security guard to say out loud as she picked up the metal detector wand "now if I can remember what they taught us on how to use these" (and she wasn't making a joke) and afterwards she thanked me for being her guinea pig.  This combined with the fact that security is significantly slowing down the lines to the point that they recommended to fans that they be at the World cup Qualifier an hour before kickoff to make sure you got to your seat on time.  As a fan you start to wonder where the value is in the security process, all that seems to be coming out of it is annoyance for the ticket holders.

One you get into the stadium your food options are...not good.  I'm not much of a drinker and certainly not at stadium prices so I can't comment on the alcohol options but food-wise you have Aramark catering, which sucks, Famous Dave's BBQ which is passable outside the stadium but looks gourmet compared to the other options inside the gates, and individual carts contracted with the stadium like Jake's Baby D's mini-donuts (the best option in the stadium by far).  Again C38 does a great job compensating for this in their pre-game tailgate but that only goes so far.

Once you head to your seats you have one more hurdle to cross.  As of this year they've stared checking tickets every time you enter a section.  This isn't unusual at sporting events but it is a bit insulting when long-tome season ticket holders who have been sitting in the same seat for 10 years have to show their ticket multiple times per game.  It makes sense for big games (like the 4th of July) when the stadium is expected to be packed and you want to make sure there are no issues but does it really matter who's sitting where during a mid-week game in June where the stadium isn't even half full?  Its particularly annoying that C38 has an agreement with the Rapids FO that ticket holders in the two C38 sections (108 and 117) can move back and forth between the sections assuming there are no capacity issues, yet the stewards have been instructed by Argus not to allow it.

Great.  You've gotten to the game early, visited the C38 tailgate, gotten through security, showed your ticket to get into your section, and are in your seat.  Kickoff, first half, halftime.  The play has been bad but maybe halftime will have something to entertain you.  Probably not.  There seems to be less effort put into the halftime shows than at many minor league baseball games.  Its probably great fun for the kids who are playing on the field and their parents but for the rest of us, meh.  The halftime games with fans are great, for those fans, ,but not much for the rest of the stadium.  At least C38 is (usually) entertaining during play.  Even the mascots (not that I love the mascots) have dwindled in recent years.

So given all that, what's the appeal to go to a game?  Outside of what C38 does I have a hard time "selling" the idea of coming to a game to friends and coworkers.  Obviously winning solves everything (as we saw last year) but the team needs to be able to sustain a fan base through lean years.

I've done a lot of critiquing (or to be fair, complaining) in this post so far so thanks for sticking with me.  I don't want this to be just a list of complaints though.  As i said at the start, a lot of this isn't the fault of the Rapids FO.  I know that they are actively trying to solve some of these problems but are being stymied.  My guess is that they're being stopped because they don't have the power to make sweeping changes to the contracts that are in place with Argus Security, Aramark Catering, DSG Stadium Ops, etc.  Given that we see almost identical setups in security, food, etc. at both the Pepsi Center and DSG Park (and I would guess the Paramount as well) I'm assuming the contracts are negotiated as a group, not at the individual location or event level.  That doesn't give the Rapids FO much to work with when they want one of these groups to make changes.

That's just the Rapids FO though.  KSE has the big stick in this scenario and they could use it, if they cared about the experience at DSG and not just about the $$$.  Obviously contracts are contracts, I'm not suggesting KSE unilaterally break the contract.  But as the entity who's making the decisions on these contracts they have a lot of power to go back to Aramark and say "we want to renegotiate to allow more food options at DSG.  If you're not interested fine, but when we consider renewing your contract next time we have a chance we will be considering what other options we have".  You could repeat that for whatever contract is involved.  For intra-KSE contracts like between the Rapids FO and DSG Stadium Ops that should be even easier to sort out, but KSE has shown a long history of not caring (see the reason Richard Fleming was finally hired by the Rapids instead of relying on whatever yahoo Altitude decided to throw in the booth after Marc Stout left).

Specifically here's some of the stuff I would like to see changed:

  • Start bringing in food trucks outside the stadium for pregame eats.  If you can work out how to bring some in to the stadium itself (like on either level on the north end) that would be great too.  Long-term work the Aramark contract to allow more local places similar to Famous Dave's in.
  • Get fully staffed competent security checkpoints.  Better yet if this is going to be a long term thing (and I think it will be) invest in permanently installed metal detectors.  The StubHub Center has had them since it opened in 2002.  This will make the experience consistent for the fans and I have to believe its faster than a wand scan.
  • Stop checking tickets in the sections unless the game is close to a sellout.  Trust me, unless you've bought a table or a field side seat the seats aren't different enough to make a real difference in people moving around.
  • Start improving the halftime show.  One thing they had early in the stadium's life is Frisbee dogs.  I know many fans enjoyed seeing them.  Its not something you see every day (unlike U-8 soccer which you can go to any park on the weekend and see) and its entertaining.  Other things like that would be good.  Mascots doing t-shirt tosses, use the video board for fun games (the "find the soccer ball" challenge or even the races were good things in the past), get the fans more involved.
In general the experience needs to significantly improve and with a team that appears its going to be pretty bad the rest of this season it needs to improve quickly because the play is not likely to get fans to come out.


idiovoyager said...

Well said Jason, I was a season ticket holder from 2008 until 2015, BSG and Terraces mostly but I have sat in most sections for one game or another. For the last 2 years I have lived in Kansas City and have attended a number of games here. The game day experience is not even comparable, DSG is a minor league experience. I have issues with the excessive(and loud) use of electronic music to hype up the stadium, but it gets the job done, it would be nice if they didn't need it(like Portland) but a number of other clubs around the league pipe in some of the atmosphere(RSL).

A few years ago I attended a game here vs the Rapids. I ended up sitting behind a group of Rapids ticket reps, who seemed to be there as a perk/bonus. I don't think they were on the clock but they did sit in the away supporters section. The whole game they made disparaging remarks about C38, unaware of who was around them. More important in this context, they talked to each other about the experience that they had to sell "family friendly/dippin' dots" vs the experience Sporting is selling "luxury/major event/place to be seen/place people want to be/you don't want to miss out" I wonder who which set of reps has the easier job.

Sporting is everywhere here, you can buy a tshirt in any supermarket, walmart, etc in town. You see people out on the street wearing sporting gear, talking about the team, they are on local news and talk radio. Sporting has a very visible philanthropic effort around the city. In a sense they stand on pretty equal footing with the Chiefs and Royals, in a sense they are treated like a major league team. It also makes a difference when you have a team representative like Robb Heineman who is willing to be the public face of the team(among many). Another big one, the players here have personalities, they are interesting to follow and talk about. Benny Feilhaber had his youtube show. Dom Dwyer and Sydney Leroux are made for sappy local news segments and lifestyle profiles of their house in the newspaper. Gram Zusi has his hair and appears in many local advertisements. Matt Beasler is the hometown kid. Aurelien Collin started a fashion line. Jimmy Nielsen had his redemption backstory. etc etc. We have been told for the last several years that Dillon Powers is the kind of player we are building our identity around, the kid is nice but he is nothing special on the field and is wet, vegan toast off of it. I haven't lived in Denver since we signed Gashi and Howard so perhaps they have a bigger presence in the community. they certainly have the personalities for it, but from afar I just see wasted opportunities. You can't only push content through your own very very limited media channels and expect to reach a bigger audience. We had Pablostache for a bit but that wore out its welcome quickly.

Before I moved here I questioned whether MLS had really grown up as a league, sure there was Portland and Seattle but they seemed more like outliers than the norm. Increasingly it looks the other way around, there are less and less teams with low ambition. As a Rapids supporter I primarily only watch Rapids games, on occasion though I catch a non Rapids game and am always struck by the level of play, at times it is like I am watching a different league. When you see games where both teams actually came to play, it is really fun to watch. With Pablo-ball I get bored and start looking at my phone.


idiovoyager said...

... got cut off by the max character count

I'll add one more thing for anyone monitoring this space, I have worn a Rapids ballcap almost literally every day for the last 5-6 years. This spring I put it in the back of the closet and have been sporting a Rockies hat instead. I don't like baseball much at all but I would rather represent my city/state than this no ambition franchise. I will still watch the games(for now) and I am willing to be proven wrong but the Rapids will not get any more money from me until they prove that they deserve it. This season is as good as done, it is time to demonstrate that we can build a competitive team that won't be embarrassed in the CCL and is truly competitive in 2018 and sustainable for seasons to come.

Sorry about the word vomit, I started writing and found I had more and more to rant about.


Jason Maxwell said...

Thanks for the long post jimluk. a couple of comments. First I find this funny:

" The whole game they made disparaging remarks about C38, unaware of who was around them. More important in this context, they talked to each other about the experience that they had to sell "family friendly/dippin' dots" vs the experience Sporting is selling "luxury/major event/place to be seen/place people want to be/you don't want to miss out" "

I suppose it never occurred to them that the Cauldron (KC's supporter group) was an integral part of getting that team and experience to that level and C38 would need to be the same here, right?

Also you asked about Gashi's and Howard's presence in Denver. Minimal. No more or less than any other player the Rapids wanted to hype. As you very accurately point out, KSE's attempt to control the distribution channels for Rapids promotions has stifled them.