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Berry seeks to bring back fans

Joe Rutter

The Pirates’ vice president of marketing and sales said the team has a tremendous fan base.

He can’t do anything about the weather, specifically those rainy days in April and May. He can’t control the Pirates’ record, their placement in the standings or the way they play on the field. But what Mike Berry can impact is the type of experience baseball fans have at PNC Park next season.

And his goal is to make sure those experiences are pleasant — and repetitive — ones.

“We can’t determine wins and losses, but we can try to give fans a great time at the ballpark every night,” said Berry, who is one month into his new job as Pirates’ vice president of marketing and sales. “We want to address any issues that are out there so we can continue to service the fans better and enhance the family atmosphere. We’re always looking for ways to be better, and we don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Berry was hired in late August to replace former team vice president Vic Gregovits, who left to take a position with the Island Sports Center.

Some would say Berry has his work cut out for him. Attendance at PNC Park declined for a second consecutive season, dropping from a franchise-record 2.43 million fans in 2001 to 1.78 million in 2002 to 1.63 million this season.

Berry is in charge of enticing fans back to PNC Park. It’s his job to promote and sell a team that has strung together 11 consecutive losing seasons and alienated a portion of its fans this year with a series of cost-cutting trades that sent veterans such as Brian Giles out of town.

“We definitely have our challenges,” Berry said. “We also think we have a great opportunity in our market place. We have a tremendous fan base, and the great thing about our fans is they are passionate and want a winner. We think they are open to hearing our message.”

That message is still being formulated, but it includes what Berry calls “reasonable” season ticket packages. The ticket plans will be unveiled within the next 30-45 days.

“We’re going to be sensitive to our fans,” Berry said. “We’re aware of the economic climate. We’re not making decisions in a vacuum. We’ve gathered a lot of feedback and put the best plans out there.”

The emphasis will continue to be on full-season and partial-season plans, and Berry said fans will have more options from which to choose.

“We can’t be all things to all people,” he said. “We understand that not everybody is in the market for an 81-game plan, but we will have something to offer fans at a variety of pricing levels. We are addressing concerns with the economic climate and will have a revamped structure.”

Berry said the Pirates have no immediate plans to introduce variable ticket pricing to fans. That’s a policy in which the Pirates could charge higher ticket prices for, say, a weekend game against the Cubs than a weekday game against the Expos.

“I don’t know if this market is driven that much by the opponent,” Berry said. “It’s more by the day of the week or the promotion. We don’t ever want our fans to think we are price-gouging them based upon the opponent.”

As for marketing and promoting the team, Berry said the Pirates will pay homage to the 25th anniversary of the 1979 World Series championship team. Feedback from this year’s “throwback” game against the Boston Red Sox was positive, and Berry said the team may consider “toning down some of the promotions on certain nights throughout the season.”

Still, fans can expect the usual assortment of bobble-head dolls, fireworks nights and kids-oriented promotions on weekends.

“We have a tradition of being a promotional-driven marketplace,” Berry said. “We sometimes get knocked for that, but I think fans like how we implement our promotions.”

Because of this year’s trades, the 2004 Pirates might be devoid of many household names, but the team won’t be ignored in the marketing strategy, Berry said.

“We definitely will not overshadow the current team,” he said. “That is our priority as we finalize our marketing for 2004. How can we draw out those personalities and connect them to our fan base• That’s one of the challenges we have.”

Enhancing Berry’s cause is that ESPN.com recently rated PNC Park as the best place among the 30 major-league venues to take in a baseball game. The “total ballpark experience” also figures to play a role in the team’s marketing concept.

“Like I said, we can’t control wins and losses, but we do have an influence over the overall baseball experience,” Berry said. “We still have to deliver value when fans come to the ballpark.”


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