Braves Brass Meets With Media

Monday the Braves top executives met with the media to discuss several changes going on this season as we approach Opening Day on Tuesday. Bill Shanks supplies a transcript of the press conference.

"I think we've really just scratched the surface on some of the things we're going to do. We have a tremendous number of surprises for you as the year goes on and even into next year. So much of it that Derek (Schiller) and Mike (Plant) are working on – it's going to take some time. We're doing things that have never been done here at the stadium as far as looking under every rock and turning over ideas. I guess the bottom line is that we have a passionate group of people here who really care a lot about this team. They care about the fan experience, about everything that goes on – every nuance. As far as I'm concerned, everybody is accessible every day. If you have any ideas, if you have any questions, we're all open every day of the year. We had a three hour meeting this morning – and one of the things we do now just to give you a birds eye view of what we do – there are six or seven of us across player, business, and marketing, and PR and all the different disciplines of the Braves that now meet almost weekly and spend three of four hours together and just talk about all the ideas we have. It's amazing how much everyone is learning about the things we all should be knowing about. I think we're all equally knowledgeable about the business and the marketing issues. I'm impressed. I've been in a lot of other executive positions and I'm very impressed by the quality of people that have been brought to the Braves organization and the depth of thought they're bringing to all issues. So I'm looking forward to a fabulous season.

"We follow Terry's mandate pretty well to this point. Derek and I have immersed ourselves in working with John and Frank and others here and the entire operation in recognizing that we on the business side need to compete. We need to compete for people's entertainment dollar. Discretionary dollars are drying up and getting tighter for everyone. We are an opportunity – just like people's decision to go to restaurants and movies. We need people to understand that when they come here there will be quality competition but they also need to recognize that our standard in my mind is like the Ritz Carlton. When you walk into a Ritz Carlton people know that they appreciate you are there and everyone seems to know your name within 24 hours. When you walk out of the Ritz Carlton you feel pretty good as a customer that the company, that staff really appreciated you coming there and you want to go back. For us, we've looked at everything from getting here, from the parking lots, we're doing a big engineering study that will go on for the length of the season. Terry's asked us to make some short term fixes and some long term fixes. We've looked at the transportation regress for nine years since this stadium was built. A lot has changed. There are a lot more homes here, more traffic here. Obviously it's incumbent upon us to recognize that is an important part of it. Concessions of the stadium – you know we've got 2000 plus people that work for us or Aramark for the bigger games. Again our quality of standard of making sure everyone here is responsive and everyone here recognize that our customers and our fans mean a lot to this organization."

"Of course I want to echo what Mike has said about the experience we want people to have when they come to Turner Field. We've lost quite a few fans over the past four or five years. It's a very public number. It's something we don't shy away from, but we don't like it either. We're trying to do something about it. We start of course with our best customers: the season ticket holders. We've been doing a lot of things this offseason trying to focus on season ticket holder related amenities and benefits. Increase the level of service and communication we provide to them. Something that is very apparent – just one of many examples – when season ticket holders come to Turner Field they'll have special gates that are for season ticket holders only. They won't have to wait in line with the other customers. Of course we want to showcase those benefits, do certain things for them. There are a host of other things that we provide to them, benefits and rewards based upon how many times they come to the game, etc. We want the experience here at Turner Field to be a little bit different this year. I think one of the things that have happened in the past, and I can acknowledge this just from coming as a fan, is the experience at Turner Field for the last five, six, seven years was very consistent. You knew what you were going to get each night. For our fans this year we want to try to spice things up. What's paramount is what goes on the field. We want to protect the game of baseball and celebrate that. But there are other things when the game of baseball has some breaks that we want to entertain our fans in a new and unique way. There will be lots of things going on. In fact, there's something going on in the outfield right now above the Eddie Matthews sign. There's something being installed right now that will hopefully become an icon and lead us off in the Tomahawk chop. It's a gigantic drum being installed here at Turner Field. It's just some new fun things. We want fans to come here and have fun. This is a baseball game. We want to come here and enjoy their experience here. The other thing is communicating to them. Every single fan will get a game day program – Braves Game Day. It will include lots of information and will be newly developed for each of our series. We have 27 different home series this year and it will include information about the series lineups, what's going on at Turner Field, new and unique things. It's the information we're trying to convey to our fans. Also, it will give some information about our players, which is something we all want out there. And then our roster on who our opponent is. On the back it tells you about the benefits and rewards I told you about. The experience here is suppose to be new and different and we look forward to a terrific season.

"We're talking about this great experience, and you can tell the pride that Terry has and we all have in this experience here that we've shared for these past fourteen years. Not the least of which are those yellow pennants that hang up there on that wall and they came about as a result from hard work from a lot of people: our scouting and player development have over that span of time have received high praise as well they should have for the great job they've done in scouting, and signing, and developing the young players that have filled the pipeline of our organization with quality young talent that has allowed us to perpetuate this remarkable legacy that you see before symbolized by those great pennants that you see out there on that wall. We're all extremely proud. And if you saw Tommy Glavine's comments in the newspaper yesterday regarding that remarkable accomplishment you know that others in the industry even not wearing our uniform and not apart of this organization feel as strongly and as deeply as we. A lot of people have had a lot to do with that and this remarkable success that we've enjoyed here. We've won 75 more games that the nearest major league team over the span of time. But you've heard me say often that I regard one person as key, and I said it again this spring when I referred to our manager Bobby Cox as the secret ingredient. We talked this spring about the challenges we faced this winter particularly in the restructuring of our roster to put ourselves in a position at least in our minds to be competitive for a thirteenth consecutive division title. And we made those moves with great confidence because we believe we have the secret ingredient and that's number 6 Bobby Cox. In keeping with that feeling, we are exercising the option that is on Bobby's contract for the 2005 season. He is now under contract to our organization for the 2004 and 2005 seasons. So it is very comforting and very appropriate actually that we do this today as we begin to celebrate the accomplishments of the past and look forward to the excitement of the coming year and years beyond that. I can't tell you as a General Manager as we structure a team to know that – sure we make good choices we think, our scouts give us good information, we think we analyze the good information well. We make choices that we have to make. We are the final filters in that process. But being the final filters in the structure of this team, it's awfully comforting to know when you put guys on this roster you put them in the hands of who I think is the best manager in baseball Bobby Cox.



QUESTION: What does the Opening Day crowd look like?

SCHILLER: "Opening day looks good. We're selling very well. We're ahead of last year. If everything works out right, if the weather works out right, we expect a sellout."

QUESTION: Was the decision to play the first game at night made with the idea of drawing a bigger crowd?

SCHILLER: "It's partly our decision, but partly a television decision too. I think more had to do with having a good game for television. Of course television prefers to play at night rather than during the day. We think we can do well day or night. We'll probably do a little bit better because it is a night game and people who otherwise during the day will hopefully come and enjoy our game.

When are you going to join the rest of baseball and start your night games at 7:05?

"That's a good question. This marketplace is very difficult as far as start times go. As you know our Wednesday games start at 7:05 with it being that way for Fox Sports Net. I think if you sampled our season ticket base first and then the rest of our fan base, and we have done it with our season ticket holders already, you'll find it's pretty close to an even split with a little advantage to the 7:35 games. I think traffic conditions in Atlanta – you know you can't put another market especially where this stadium is in comparison. It's a difficult thing for us. We'd like to start at 7:05 because it helps everybody getting home earlier and it would probably help more kids get to the game and that's a good thing. But the traffic and all the other considerations make that difficult."

"There are no closed minds to the idea."

"We'll let our fans dictate it though."

So it's not just TBS then?

"TBS is an important factor. But the health of this game with the fan appreciation will dictate it."

This is the third of fourth year in a row people are not picking you. Do you still think the title must come through Atlanta?

"I've got a great answer for that. The line is the longest streak in professional sports right now is our 12 consecutive division championships. The second longest streak is the number of years we've been picked in a row to lose our division. So we're use to that. It doesn't matter. We worry only about what our expectations are and what we can do. We think our staff did all that was necessary this winter to build another championship caliber roster. We continued our work into the spring when we finished some moves with our bullpen. We believe very, very confidently that this is a team capable of winning a championship. The Phillies made a lot of moves, and they made a lot of moves last year. The Marlins are the defending World Champions. So we understand that someone would feel more comfortable picking someone else. It doesn't matter much to us. What matters is that we do the right thing. We think we've done that. We really do. That's not looking through rose-colored glasses either. We know we're up against stiff competition but we think we're ready for it."

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