May 22, 2011

A Call For Quiet

Nick Cafardo gets a lot of criticism (usually with good reason), but he is dead-on in his Sunday Notes column today. I'm quoting liberally, because it's so great, and a lot of it seems lifted directly from my own thoughts (my emphasis):
One of the more enjoyable parts of this season for me came during a Friday night Red Sox-Yankees game when the Yankee Stadium PA system malfunctioned for about two innings. Unfortunately, it was fixed.

No more blaring music or dancing mascots. It was pure baseball, just like the old days, when all you heard was the occasional organ music in the background.

We all understand the "presentation" that very talented and creative people put together for a ballgame, but couldn't those same talented and creative people incorporate a two-inning silent time during the course of the game, when baseball is the most important thing taking place in the ballpark?

At the Yankee game, the crowd got louder, and the players actually could hear the fans.

"I thought it was pretty cool, actually," Adrian Gonzalez said that night. "It was different."

It was not only "different," it was great. There was nothing attacking your sensibilities. I'm not saying eliminate all the distractions, but have some quiet time.

They tried this at Fenway last night. The Sox, in celebration of their first meeting with the Cubs in 93 years, were trying to re-create a 1918 atmosphere, with no amplified sound and no video. A man with a megaphone announced batters for two innings, and the teams were decked out in uniforms of the era.

To the Red Sox' credit, they were going to measure the fan response and gauge whether they could incorporate more silence into future games.

Baseball is a cerebral game. It doesn't need shenanigans all of the time. Give the electronics a rest. Let the game take over, so people actually can concentrate on it rather than wonder what silly song is about to play when Jonathan Papelbon comes into the game. ... [W]hy not shut off the audio for a bit and allow fans to be fans and let the players actually hear them?

Longtime baseball and NBA executive Stan Kasten said that, based on surveys and research, silence is not what fans want.

"I think the line always has to be drawn, and I admit you walk into some places and it's too much," said Kasten, "but I must say, I think for the most part baseball gets it right. I think it adds to the customer experience and I think the customer wants the entertainment between innings to complete their experience and make their experience more enjoyable. ... The people we have talked to over the years want more of it, not less of it. ... [W]e need to appeal to a broad base of people and younger people are a very important demographic."

Important, but do they buy the tickets? Aren't the tickets bought by an older demographic who bring the younger demographic to the games? Don't those people just come to watch David Ortiz hit a home run or Dustin Pedroia lay down a bunt? Do they come to watch scenes from "Animal House" on the Jumbotron? ...

Sox CEO Larry Lucchino isn't against limited quiet time.

"I do think we have to manage sensory overload," Lucchino said. "There's a danger in doing too much and detracting from the game. We worry about that." ...

I'm just asking for what we experienced that night at Yankee Stadium and last night at Fenway. Let the game stand on its own. It was so refreshing.

"Novelty is always good," Kasten said.

It's amazing that in this era, just watching baseball without the show is a novelty.
Cafardo says he is not suggesting eliminating all the distractions. I say: Why the hell not? If you're watching a game at home and your neighbour is making a huge racket right outside your window, you don't accept that as part of your baseball experience. Why is the crap shown on the Jumbotron any different? In his previous sentence, Cafardo described those non-baseball things as "attacking your sensibilities". Who wants to be attacked?

I disagree with Cafardo that baseball has done a good job of balancing things. Baseball has utterly failed and continues to fail every single day. Camden Yards is a beautiful park, but I've truly enjoyed myself there because of the incessant noise. One reason Laura and I stopped going to the old Yankee Stadium was because we were unable to have a normal conversation between innings - and we were sitting shoulder to shoulder! It was oppressive. Pointless noise is the biggest reason why I have no desire to see the Red Sox at Skydome. For me, getting through a game amid the music and commercials has become a battle.

It saddens me greatly to know that Fenway Park has been headed in that same direction. (Even batting practice, and its wonderful, lazy sounds that echo around the park, has been ruined at Fenway.) I wish the Red Sox owners would understand that the game on the field is the sole reason why people pay big money for tickets. No one is paying $100+ to subject himself to four-second blasts of canned pop music or to be forced to watch loud unmutable commercials for four hours. The fact that people are willing to sit through all that shit is a sign of their deep love of the game.

If this ownership group actually wants to know how fans feel, that's great. We should not hesitant to call - 617-226-6000 - and tell them. I would be thrilled if the Red Sox took the lead in saying No to Noise, and stating proudly that the glorious game of baseball CAN stand on its own, and Red Sox fans do not need movie clips or dot races or instructions on when to cheer or anything else.

Give us the game - and only the game - and allow us to watch in peace, and cheer and hear each other and enjoy the community of the ballpark.


Jere said...

Batting practice at Fenway is quiet for the first 45 minutes of the vistors, then it's strictly organ music for the rest of it. (And the Red Sox BP has actual songs but that's now before gates open.)

Another great thing about Fenway is there's no music going on while batters are up or while the visitors are up. Aside from between innings* and pitching change, you've only got the at bat music for each hitter, the run-just-scored music, and the visit-to-the-mound music. Yes, it's still too much. But for much of Fenway's action, it's strictly crowd noise. Or crowd quiet. So it's better than all the other parks in that respect.

*The between innings crap can be too much sometimes, but I have noticed on games where there's no "special" event--a State Day, this Cubs series, etc.--they do keep it quiet between innings. They've also clearly lowered the volume of the speakers for 2011. So yeah Larry obviously pays attention to this stuff, but for some reason they still wanna get the texting assholes who like to sing and dance in the crowd but know nothing about baseball, too.

The Omnipotent Q said...

Excellent column, Allan. I will link it to my site as well.

Can the Noise!!

laura k said...

THANK YOU Nick Cafardo! (Not something I expected to say!) I've been saying exactly the same thing for so many years now. It's terrific to see my thoughts reflected in the mainstream sports media.

The incessant noise and the decibel level was one of the main reasons I stopped going to Yankee Stadium when I lived in NYC, and one of the reasons I have always loved Fenway so much. I complained to Yankees management - just to let them know how I felt, not that I expected anything to change - and John Sterling read portions of my letter on the air.

It gets so bad you cannot have a conversation with the person sitting next to you, cannot talk about the game you are watching together! without shouting at each other. Batting practice, as Allan says, has been ruined. It doesn't need musical accompaniment. We can hear classic rock everywhere. At the ballpark, we want to hear the sounds of the game.

There are many parks worse than Fenway for ear-splitting volumes and incessant "distraction" - Baltimore and Cleveland come to mind. But Fenway used to be a haven from so much of that garbage. No more.

How amazing would it be if Red Sox management turned back the clock on the noise???

I'll write. Why not.

allan said...

Jere: The current Fenway report is appreciated. And it does not sound so bad, copmpared to other places.

Still, once upon a time, batters were able to go up and hit without 8 seconds of a song they like playing beforehand. ... And the Sox get no revenue from that, unlike commercials. Dump 'em!!!

mattymatty said...

Great stuff, Allan. Maybe as an intermediate step the Sox would consider having "Quiet Days" at Fenway where they'd keep the noise to organ music and player announcements (I like player announcements).

Jim said...

Yeah, never thought Id see Cafardo come down on the right side of this topic, let alone raise it on one of the most hyped weekends of the season.
In the article, Kastens mentioned some kind of survey that found that fans liked this stuff. Really? Would love to see the content--probably something like: Do you like entertainment? Yes or No. So who circles No?
Anyway, in the end, it's all advertising. Either a bought commercial or the indirect enhancement of the mighty Red Sox /Fenway brand.
One thing we can be thankful for is that the current owners seem to understand that a lot of fans are entertained simply by winning. So JWH and co. do part with dollars in that direction. Maybe we can convince them that's the only direction which appeals to us.

FenFan said...

I was at the game last night. It was odd having it so "quiet" as compared to when the scoreboards are active. I've never thought of Fenway Park as "noisy" but I have been to other events where the music is a little too loud and there are too many distractions DURING game play.

One note I will make about the men with the megaphones: my seats are in the grandstand above and past third base (section 29). One of the gentleman with the megaphone was standing on the visitor's dugout, which means that he was no more than 100 feet from me. I COULD NOT HEAR ANYTHING HE SAID. Neither could my friend at the game with me. Even with a "quieter" Fenway, there was still too much crowd noise to make out what he was saying.

So, conceptually, I like the idea, but in practice it didn't work unless you were in a field box seat.

laura k said...

I don't think anyone is suggesting a return to megaphones instead of a PA system! An end to blaring music, sound effects, audio advertisements and trivia games would be enough.

allan said...

I have no problem with the video boards for lineups, substitutions and other announcements, as long as it stays quiet. People can look at it if they want to, but it doesn't distract other people with noise.

Keep the ads on the Wall and everywhere else. Maybe even run mute commercials on the video board between innings - though I think baseball highlights would make more sense, if *something* has to be shown. Hell, show various 2004 ALCS highlights every fucking night!!! But get rid of the incessant NOISE and I will be happy.

Benjamin said...

The Sox, in celebration of their first meeting with the Cubs in 93 years, were trying to re-create a 1918 atmosphere, with no amplified sound and no video.

Still wasn't the Sox's first meeting with the Cubs since 1918, but otherwise a good many good points.

Patrick said...

I feel like the DB level probably also has to do with where you sit in Fenway.

I was in the right field grandstand earlier this year, and oh my god that sucked. Before the game started they pumped music under there and I couldn't hold a conversation with the people next to me.

Tim's Neighbor said...

I recently left a position with an MLB team as part of the game entertainment department. Our #1 target audience is "entertainment seekers." We know that you guys (baseball/specific team fans) are going to show up no matter what. So it's our goal to get these other people/families in to the park and keep them there. That's where all of these pre-game and post-game concerts come from. Get new faces in the ballpark.

I am a baseball guy, so none of the in-game entertainment fazes me and I would prefer silence because I find it embarrassing that our fans need to be told when to cheer. (Although I admit that I actually like the kiss cam and the mascot races.) I would love a silent 2 innings. I hope our team does this this year and I wish I had suggested it last year for throw-back day.

laura k said...

We know that you guys (baseball/specific team fans) are going to show up no matter what.

And that is exactly why MLB sucks, and everything it does is wrong. We are MLB's base, the backbone of the fan population. But we are taken for granted, treated like shit, our perspective discounted - because we'll show up "no matter what".

Those "new faces" at the ballpark, does MLB really think they're spending money on tickets for scoreboard games, blasting music and blasting ads between innings? That is not only an insult to us, the fans, but an insult to baseball.

The game itself isn't good enough to bring in new faces. We have to augment it, dress it up, even hide it.

Great strategy you got there, MLB.

allan said...

What L said.

Does MLB really think that "maybe if we force fans to sit through even more LOUD truck commercials and make it so they can't even have a conversation with their kids without shouting, they'll be more likely to spend $300+ for another game"?

I believe that fans and "regular people" will buy tickets to games even if YMCA is not played. But we will never know for sure because MLB adamantly refuses to treat the game with the respect it deserves.

What MLB is saying: "We don't think baseball is very exciting, but maybe if we throw in some loud noises and morning-zoo sound effects and flashy lights on the scoreboard, and keep you so distracted with other things, you won't realize how amazingly boring the game of baseball really is."

Anonymous said...

Several times in the past couple years, has listed the requested songs that various players have asked to be played when they come up to bat. Each time I was struck by JD Drew's specific request that no music be played when he comes up. Thank you, JD!!

I hunger for a Fenway experience that is entirely free of recorded music -- I'm sick of it all. That includes the boring "Play Ball" song they play at the start of the game, the "Sweet Caroline" stuff that needs to be retired, the coming up to bat snippets that are TOO LOUD, and Pap's "Shipping Up to Boston" intro. I would only keep "Dirty Water" after a win, which is sacrosanct -- and is technically after the game has ended.

I'm going to call the Red Sox and ask them to consider a game with no recorded music -- just occasional organ music, like they do during visitor BP.

Tim's Neighbor said...

The entertainment seekers do come in and spend a bunch of money. Probably more money at a game than traditional baseball fans. My roommate, who doesn't enjoy sports, will go to a game for the atmosphere and sit in the "gimmicky" seating area of our park. He doesn't watch the game, but he spends enough of booze and food. More than I do. And families who bring their kids spend a lot on silly bands, jerseys, etc. Guys who bring girls on a date buy them pink jerseys, etc. I couldn't tell you the last thing I bought at a ballpark outside of a beer or a scorebook.

Really, it does make them money. (Scoreboards get sponsors as well as the revenue generated from amusing baseball fans.) With attendance up across the board since the 80's, it's pretty clear that these things do help the bottom line. You can feel taken advantage of or you can see it as a way to subsidize your team. These idiots in the pink and green hats in the stands with the three kids with 40 silly bands and throwback jerseys on help pay for a better on-field product. I find it easy to ignore all of the bells and whistles, especially if I'm keeping book.

allan said...

I find it easy to ignore all of the bells and whistles, especially if I'm keeping book.

I score every pitch - and I can't ignore any of it.

I'm sure if teams believed that doing away with all the non-baseball crap would lead to higher attendance, they would do it asap.

I'm in the minority. I know that. And I also know that MLB, for whatever reason, has an extremely poor opinion of baseball. If they truly believed in the game, they would say: "The game is important, so no noise. Watch and enjoy the game."

I'm often thought of asking fans at a game several questions, like this one: "Would you have bought tickets to this game if you knew there would be no commercials between innings?"

Many people may like the songs and videos and doo-dads, but I don't believe they would miss them if they were gone.

I wish my supermarket would not play muzak, and I'll bet many other shoppers agree. And if the store stopped playing Lite FM, how many shoppers would complain and go to another store? I'd say zero.

allan said...

I recently left a position with an MLB team as part of the game entertainment department. Our #1 target audience is "entertainment seekers."

I do appreciate your comments, by the way. I often wonder why teams do the things they do re the ball park experience. Unfortunately, they rarely talk about that in any kind of honest and forthright way.

Jere said...

Another thing to consider--the Red Sox now have little cards around the park at the concession stands with survey cards that you can fill out online. And any time you buy a ticket through, you get an e-mail afterwards which directs you to a survey. People who want change should fill those out. I just did one and it offers space to write things in. Again, it seems the Fenway ownership does care about fans and it seems to me anyway that they've been trying to continue to get it right.

Tim's Neighbor said...

My pleasure to contribute. Since I'm no longer employed by a team, I try to share what I know with other baseball junkies. It's a lot easier to love this game when you don't work for it, that's for sure.

Jere said...

"just occasional organ music, like they do during visitor BP"

Ya just gotta get there a little early, and you'll see music-free BP.

This is from yesterday at 6:25.

And this is a little before 7:00 (game time was 8:05). At 7:00 they started in with their usual cheesy organ versions of songs related to the day of the week or the opponent's city or whatever.

(Yes, I realize in the first video you can hear some music--that's actually the old-timey brass band out on Yawkey Way seeping into that side of the park.)

allan said...

If you've got any off-the-record stuff you might like to share, feel free to email!

L said:
We are MLB's base, the backbone of the fan population. But we are taken for granted, treated like shit, our perspective discounted - because we'll show up "no matter what".

Not always.

We stopped going to Sox games at Yankee Stadium because of the noise. And right now, the atmosphere at Skydome is stopping me from giving the Blue Jays $$$ for Red Sox game tickets (and beers and food) that would otherwise go unsold.

laura k said...

MyWeeklyListen, that's beautiful. I share your vision, and I will also tell the Sox. I'd better write it down so I remember...

With attendance up across the board since the 80's, it's pretty clear that these things do help the bottom line.

I respect your expertise in this, but it is actually not clear. You are looking at two separate phenomena and drawing a causal relationship between them. But you actually have no idea if the two are related, or if both are caused by another factor.

Many assumptions like that turn out to be false. For example, it's often said that new stadiums and sports teams bring in tourist dollars. That's been completely discredited (not that it stops cities from forking over all the taxpayers' money to teams).

I don't doubt that the folks you're referring to spend money. But do you know on any given day how many in attendance are diehard fans and how many casual buy-my-girlfriend-a-hat fans?

laura k said...

I didn't mean "show up no matter what" in a literal sense. It's like "vote Democrat no matter what". We stopped, as did many progressives, but many more will continue to vote for the LOTE.

The real crime is that MLB's contempt for us and for the game.

Also, thanks, Tim's Neighbor, for the perspective.