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Padres Swing for Home Run in the Ticket Selling Game

The Padres are a winning team, one that has made the playoffs for two consecutive seasons for the first time in their history. Yet team officials are well aware of a losing trend they intend to stop, declining attendance at Petco Park.

Last season, the Padres drew 2.65 million fans to Petco, down from the prior year’s 2.87 million, and 2004’s 3 million, a team record, for Petco’s inaugural season. While the two recent seasons have been down, the three seasons at the downtown ballpark have been the highest in the club’s 38-year history.

The Padres’ 2007 regular season is set to start Tuesday, April 3, in San Francisco, with their home opener slated for Friday, April 6, with a 7:05 p.m. game against the Colorado Rockies.

Team officials are quick to point out the drop in attendance was expected and has happened at virtually every other city where a new baseball park has opened in recent years.

“The last three seasons have been the three highest in Padres history, and that counts all those seasons where we played at Qualcomm, which holds more than 60,000,” said Jeff Overton, the Padres’ executive vice president of business operations.

To recapture some of the casual fans who may have come to only a few games after the 42,500-seat ballpark opened in 2004, the Padres made some changes to their ticket programs before this season. The team introduced a nine-game discount package that starts at $99, and a Two-for-One Days promotion where fans can buy two tickets for the price of one, as well as two hot dogs for the price of one. A potential downside to that program is that there are only five such days this season, and all of them are midweek games that begin at 12:35 p.m.


Premium Prices For Premier Games

The team also introduced a premium ticket pricing model where tickets for some of the most attractive games, a three-game series against the Boston Red Sox in June and four Los Angeles Dodgers games (two early in the season and two late in the campaign), will cost $2 to $7 more than the regular single game prices, which range from $5 to $53.

The upside on the premium model is that season ticket holders aren’t affected.

The team also increased ticket prices for five seating areas, but maintained the same prices on nine other areas that constitute 70 percent of the ballpark’s available seats.

Again, the changes don’t affect the lowest priced seats and season tickets. The latter is the key group team officials want to please and retain, but the results have been less than spectacular.

Overton said season tickets sold as of late March were at 16,000, almost exactly what they were as the team opened its 2006 season.

Single game ticket sales, however, are going much better. The team sold about 30 percent more single game tickets this season above what they did at this time last season, said Overton, who did not report the actual number of tickets sold.

The increased sales are the result of the Padres instituting an advanced, tiered system that discounts the price of tickets sold before the day of the game. If purchased on game day, the tickets will cost $2 to $5 more.


New Faces

On the field, the Padres have also made changes, opting not to re-sign some of their highest priced players such as Ryan Klesko and Chan Ho Park. They signed 40-year-old free agent pitcher Greg Maddux, a virtual certainty to make the Hall of Fame, and re-signed popular veteran hurler David Wells, who will turn 44 on May 20.

Noticeably absent was adding a power hitter that everyone, including Padres’ management, said the team needed. That has caused many Padres fans to question how serious the team is in improving its lineup, and getting past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since the 1998 club advanced to the World Series.

Steve Scholfield, senior sports columnist for the North County Times in Escondido, said many of the hard-core Padres fans he’s talked to aren’t renewing season tickets, and are taking a wait and see approach to the season.

“They (team management) always suggested they would get someone with a big name, and what they ended up with is Greg Maddux and David Wells. It wasn’t exactly the kind of splash you want to make,” Scholfield said.

The team also let popular outfielder Dave Roberts go to the rival San Francisco Giants, and traded a young talented infielder, Josh Barfield, for two unproven major leaguers, third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and pitcher Andrew Brown.


New Strategy

Since Sandy Alderson was named the team’s chief executive officer in 2005, the Padres are following a strategy he installed with the Oakland Athletics that puts an emphasis on finding and keeping younger, talented players and avoids signing higher priced veteran free agents, Scholfield noted.

While many fans may be disappointed that the team didn’t get a big name home run hitter, the fact is Alderson’s strategy helped turn around the fortunes of the Oakland A’s, said Ted Leitner, the Padres’ lead broadcaster on XX Sports Radio.

“Sandy’s track record is absolutely amazing,” he said.

Leitner said the free agent market this off-season got so overinflated that owners were paying out ridiculously huge sums of money to “mediocrities” who didn’t deserve it.

“The Padres took a smarter approach, and decided not to spend the big bucks. They saw their money wasn’t going to go far, and held it back so that they could invest it in developing their minor league system, improving their pitching, and maybe spending it later in the season,” he said.

Last season, the Padres’ player payroll was just below $70 million, according to The Associated Press, 17th highest among the 30 major league baseball teams.

Geoff Young, who has run a blog on the Padres called Ducksnorts since 1997, said the team’s 2007 payroll is somewhere in the “low $60 millions.” But Overton called that figure way off-base.


Avoiding Bidding Wars

Young said the Padres are doing the right thing in avoiding signing overpriced sluggers since San Diego is a smaller market team and cannot afford to take the same strategy as the New York Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers, teams that collect significantly more money from TV and radio contracts than the Padres.

There was no way the Padres could afford to get into the kind of bidding war that surrounded the best long-ball hitters, Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee, who were signed for multiyear contracts in excess of $100 million this past off-season, said Young.

One of the best things about Alderson’s reign has been hiring Grady Fuson to run the Padres’ farm system, the same Fuson who made the A’s system the envy of every major league ballclub, Young said.

While some minor leaguers may eventually become major league stars and help fill the seats at Petco Park, the Padres are continuing their efforts to attract fans to this season’s games by offering freebies.

As they have almost every year for the past two decades, the Padres have put together a lineup of promotional giveaways and events intended to bring both casual and hard-core fans to the ballpark. This year’s lineup includes dates where fans will get such trinkets as Trevor (Hoffman) Time desk clocks, Padres T-shirts, yo-yos, beach blankets, children’s backpacks, and caps.


Military Ties

The Padres, who bill themselves as the Team of the Military, are also pushing their connections with the armed forces. Out in the right field concourse area called the Power Alley, the team is bringing in a large model of the USS Midway and setting up an exhibit that features photos and a video about life on the World War II ship. The idea came about as a cross-promotion for the actual San Diego Aircraft Carrier Museum at the Navy Pier near downtown San Diego, and as a tribute to all of the area’s military personnel, Overton said.

In addition to the exhibit, the team is offering active, reserved and retired military, and Department of Defense employees a $6 discount on tickets that cost at least $12.

In line with the Padres’ 2007 marketing theme, “Experience it!” the team is emphasizing the connections that fans can make by watching and listening to games on radio and TV, and following the team through its online sites, padres.com and the Spanish-language padresbeisbol.com.

“We want to encourage fans to connect with the ballclub by watching the Padres on television, or listening on the radio or following on Padres.com,” Overton said. “As people become more connected to the team, they’re more likely to come to a game.”

Of course, what many fans do depends greatly on how the Padres perform on the field.

“As Yogi Berra said, ‘If you win, the fans will come, and if you don’t win, they won’t be here,’ ” Scholfield said.

Now that the Padres have won two consecutive National League Western Division titles for the first time in their history, many fans expect them to do well once again, but there are many unknowns at this stage.

Can Maddux continue pitching at a high level? Can Wells avoid injuries? Can Kouzmanoff hit at the big league level? Can All-Star pitcher Jake Peavy return to his stellar form after a sub-par season in 2006? And can Bud Black, who replaced Bruce Bochy, the Padres’ skipper since October 1994, manage in the bigs?

Asked where the Padres should finish, Leitner says he’s clueless. “They invested in pitching and you win with pitching.”


Related Story: Restaurants, Shops Learning to Play the Petco Game

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