I've been to two home games at the new Winston-Salem Dash baseball stadium and I'm rather unimpressed. I love baseball, especially Minor League baseball, and I wanted to be impressed. I'm just not feeling it, especially when I compare the experience with the experience that the Greensboro Grasshoppers provides. It's a fair comparison -- the stadiums are similar, the level of play is similar, and I would expect the experience to be similar. There are some things you do well, and I'll talk about that later. First, let me describe areas where you can improve.
Parking and Traffic
OK, I know a lot of this is outside of your control, but getting around the ballpark near game time is insane. For the first game I attended, I spent a lot of time navigating one-way streets that didn't go the direction I wanted them to go. The streets were gridlocked. The lots were full. The traffic pattern around the stadium is confusing, inefficient, and difficult. Yesterday, I managed to avoid the traffic difficulties by arriving at the stadium 1 hour before the gates opened, 2 hours before the game started. A fan shouldn't have to arrive that early in order to avoid a hassle.
The Team Store
Seriously? The team store is squished in a tiny area next to the broadcast booth that would be better served as a closet. There's a single door to get in and out of the store, and there's not even enough room inside to keep the cash register. So, the single cash register is outside, which means the line queues up and quickly gets long enough to block the entrance/exit from the store. At least you had a fairly decent selection of merchandise yesterday. The lack of Dash merchandise available on Opening Day was simply embarrassing.
The main concession stand is a perfect example of inefficiency. Last night, I think I stood in line for an entire inning, with only about six people in front of me at the peak. The man working behind the counter obviously did not want to be there, and was making no effort to help the customers beyond what was minimally required. I got a cheeseburger, a sausage dog, and a bottle of water. That's a pretty unwieldy order to carry and I had to specifically ask for a tray, which was given to me with a huge sigh and an eye roll. Not a good way to treat your customers.
Time-Warner Cable Promotion
This one's pretty specific, but it was particularly frustrating for me. Last night, I won the Time-Warner Cable promotion where the first ten fans to text a specific word to a phone number win a prize. I was one of the winners (as you can see from the screenshot from my phone). I wasn't in a rush to retrieve my prize since the message said I had until the end of the game and I didn't want to miss any of the action since the Dash were doing so well at the beginning of the game. A few innings later, I headed over to customer service to pick up my prize and was told by the nice lady in the booth that all the prizes were gone.
Obviously, there was some sort of mix-up with either the promotion sending too many "congratulations" text messages, or with the prize distribution handing out prizes to fans who didn't win. One of the fun things about Minor League baseball is the promotions, and I was really excited to have won a prize. Especially since I received a notification that I won, I wasn't going back to my seat without a prize. The lady at the booth was insistent that I was not a winner because I didn't get to the booth in time. I was pretty sure that the contest was just on the speed of text messaging, not also dependent on getting to the booth. It was obvious that the lady at the booth was not going to be able to give me a prize, so I asked to speak to someone in the promotions department about it. She called a nice man over, who quickly assessed the situation, saw the text message that said I was a winner, realized that all the prizes for that promotion were gone (I don't even know what the prize was supposed to be), and offered to give me a hat as a prize. I was cool with that, and he went off to get me a hat. He came back a few minutes later and gave me two hats and told me to give one to a friend. It was a really smart move, and helped erase the frustration I was feeling.
Whatever is going on with this promotion needs to be fixed. If you have 10 prizes to give away, make sure that you only send 10 congratulations text messages and make sure that you only give the prizes away to people who show the text message. This would have avoided the situation that happened last night when I arrived with a message saying I won, but all the prizes were gone. The other thing to do is empower the people working at the customer service booth to deal with issues like this without having to involve someone from the promotions department. I saw a box of hats behind the counter. If she had simply given me a hat when I showed my winning text message, I would have been none the wiser that they ran out of prizes. Sadly, it was obvious that the lady working at the customer service booth was not authorized to do something like that. Give your front-line, customer-facing employees the authority and resources to solve problems like this before they happen. Trying to retrieve my prize ended up in an ordeal that had me miss an entire inning and left me very frustrated.
Between-Inning Promotions In General
Here's the biggest disappointment. Your between-inning promotions are just generally lame. It's really sad. Except for the chopsticks game. That was pretty cool. But, in general, the energy just isn't there. The transitions between the baseball game and the between-inning entertainment is stilted. What's most confusing is that I'm used to these games to be tied to local businesses for promotional purposes. If there were any tie-ins with your games, they weren't memorable at all. The tire race should be sponsored by a local garage or tire shop. The chopstick game by a local chinese restaurant. The egg cracking game by ... um, OK, I don't know who should sponsor that one.
The biggest thing you can do to improve the entertainment is to get a unique personality to be in charge of presenting the between-inning festivities. The young lady who seemed to be in charge of that last night was great and had a good level of energy, but she didn't stand out from the other promotions people. Give her a different-colored shirt (or a team jersey), have some interaction between her and the ballpark announcer. Yeah, I know it sounds like I'm describing Spaz from the Greensboro Grasshoppers. They have a really good formula going there -- Spaz helps keep the fans engaged and really keeps the excitement up.
In fact, why don't you send your entire promotion department to a few Greensboro Grasshoppers games next time the Dash are away and the Hoppers are home? I really think you can learn a lot from how they do things in Greensboro.
What You Do Well
The ballpark itself is beautiful. I absolutely love that the seats next to the field are right at field level. Sitting down that close really draws you into the game. It's exciting. I see you've got an undeveloped area near the main gate and I assume you'll be building it up at some point. That's pretty cool. I love the concourse that lets you walk around the entire field. That's also pretty cool. I also like the TVs you have by the concession area. I was really happy to be able to keep an eye on the game while I was standing in line for my food.
I also love that you don't root though my backpack before letting me inside. I bring a camera, a scorebook, and sometimes a glove to the ballpark, meaning I've got a small backpack packed to go to the game. It's nice to just come inside without feeling like I'm going through a security checkpoint.
For most fans, a Minor League baseball game is about the overall experience. I know you're still working out the kinks in the new ballpark, but I think you have a lot of growing yet to do.
I'm glad to have made it to a couple of games so far. I bought a 7 game mini-plan, so I'll be back a few times this year. But I'm definitely not planning on buying a package next year. I'll probably make it out to a game or two in 2011, but until y'all improve the overall experience, Winston-Salem Dash baseball really isn't anything to get excited about.