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Why the Diamondbacks killing Fan Fest is a mistake

They’re wasting a chance which could help them become Arizona’s team

FanFest 2014

The D-backs have been running Fan Fest, or events similar to it, since before there was even a SnakePit to report on it. I recall - and I think this might have been all the back way before the 2001 season - going to Chase Field and getting autographs from players and coaches. I think there’s a box somewhere in SnakePit Towers containing the Media Guide which was signed [Yes, it was so long ago, there was an actual printed media guide] Over the years, the event has changed and mutated. We’ve been covering it since as far back as 2011. The D-backs crockery picked up on that occasion is still in use, and the Tony Clark baseball bat remains parked by the bed, in case of intruders. Here are a few other reports since then.

From 2017 through 2019, the event moved out of Chase Field to Salt River Fields, which pretty much killed it for me personally. However, in February 2020, it came back downtown. Just a few weeks later though, the shadow of COVID fell across the nation, and consequently there was no Fan Fest in either 2021 or 2022. There was hope for its return in 2023, but in January, any such optimism was crushed. To be fair, the ballpark was one of the venues hosting the World Baseball Classic that pre-season, and I could understand, perhaps they didn’t want 30,000+ fans trampling across the outfield there just a couple of weeks before meaningful games were to be played. Roll on 2024, am I right?

Nope. Yesterday, Jack reported, “For the second consecutive year the Diamondbacks will host an exclusive spring training event for Advantage Members in place of the traditional Fan Fest the club operated up until 2020... It is now known as “Most Valuable Party” and will take place on February 17th.” Well, that sucks. Looking at last year’s “Most Valuable Party”, it seems to have been more or less the same thing as Fan Fest - player Q+As, clubhouse tours, etc - just for a far smaller audience. Looking at footage of the event, the crowd present was a tiny fraction of Fan Fest. Based on what I see there, a couple of thousand would seem about the upper boundary on attendance.

I think restricting the event is a huge misstep by the team, and a waste of a massive opportunity. They went to the World Series last year, their most successful season in over twenty years, and are well positioned to bring in the Valley’s casual sports fans. Right now, the D-backs are, clearly, the top team in Arizona. The Cardinals suck, the Suns are under-performing significantly, and the Coyotes are playing their home games in the NHL equivalent of a van down by the river. When was the last time the D-backs were top dogs? Likely seven years ago, after the 2017 season, and that was more of a blip, with a single playoff game (albeit a memorable one!) ending in victory.

I’m no marketing expert. But it seems to me that getting 35-40,000 fans who watched the team’s improbable run to the World Series into Chase Field, is a better proposition than a couple of thousand whose money you already have. Fan Fest let them enjoy much of what Chase Field to offer, without having to spend a cent. If they have fun, then from there, it’s a relatively small step to get them to buy a ticket to a game. I highly doubt that the “Most Valuable Party” is going to move the needle much in terms of signing up additional Advantage Members. It feels like the team is concentrating on the top of the funnel, rather than broadening the bottom. Every Advantage Member started off as a casual fan, after all.

Jack’s article says, “Citing overwhelming positive feedback, a team official indicated that a key takeaway was the smaller crowds... resulted in a more meaningful experience for all those involved.” No shit, Sherlock. I went on a cruise promo trip, back when Mrs. S was a travel agent, and I know damn well it was a VERY different experience with the ship quarter-full, than a regular cruise. What about the tens of thousands of people who had the Fan Fest taken away from them? Did the team get “feedback” from them? Let me save them the bother. Here’s a representative selection of comments from the Reddit thread on the topic, which is almost unanimous in its disapproval:

  • “What a terrible move”
  • “Fan Fest is likely dead. They didn’t make enough money off of it to justify the price tag.”
  • “it shouldn’t be about direct profit/loss for FanFest. It should be about energising the fanbase and getting people excited, and after the season we’ve just had it feels like the perfect opportunity to do something like that. Shame”
  • “STH here and this kinda bums me out too. “Fan” should mean everyone.”
  • “Limiting access to fandom for a wide part of the fan base encourages more away fan attendance again this year.”
  • “So lame.”
  • “Hate this organization sometimes”
  • “Yeah let’s not continue to build on the momentum of last season and make opportunities to grow the fanbase, the rich fans are the only ones who matter apparently”

I particularly agree with that last point, because there’s a palpable sense of loss. This used to be an event for everyone: now it requires a commitment of several hundred dollars or more to get in the door. The radical change seems unfair: like going to your favorite spot on the beach, only to find it has been walled off by a posh hotel, and is now “MEMBERS ONLY” Weirdly, it feels not dissimilar to when Ohtani signed with Los Angeles. Oh, look: the rich are getting richer. Again. Oh, I could afford a package. But to be honest, this kind of thing makes me less interested in getting one, because it sharpens the “Them and Us” divide in fandom, and I don’t want to be one of “them”.

For I’ll tell you something: it wasn’t Advantage Members who caused Chase Field to be packed for every one of the seven home playoff games last year. Thanks, D-backs.