Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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Making The Wahoos Better

By Rick Outzen

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos open their 2017 season on Thursday, April 6 with a series against the Tennessee Smokies. Last year, the Double-A Affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds and a member of the Southern League was successful both on and off the diamond.

The team won its division last year and its first ever playoff game, before eventually being knocked out by the Mississippi Braves. Off the field, Blue Wahoos Stadium was voted the best Double-A ballpark as part of Ballpark Digest’s “Best of the Ballparks 2016″. The Blue Wahoos received the Southern League Community Service Award, and Ray Sayre was named Groundskeeper of the Year for the fourth consecutive season.

Inweekly caught up with co-owner Quint Studer a week before the start of the season and learned what fans could expect this season.

“We have a lot of changes that are coming this year,” Blue Wahoos co-owner Quint Studer said.  “I think one of the things you do is you never declare victory.  We’ve had five good years. We measure, and we look at things real carefully.”

An issue last season was the scoreboard, the Blue Wahoos, Community Maritime Park Associates board, who operates the city park, and the University of West Florida, which holds its fall football games in the stadium, agreed to replace the scoreboard, whose five-year warranty had expired.

“As people went to games, we had the scoreboard that didn’t work a lot of times, and we had a lot of complaints,” Studer told Inweekly.  “Due to the collaboration with CMPA chairman Jim Reeves, his board, UWF, and the Blue Wahoos, I think when people come on April 6 and look over there at the scoreboard, they’re going to be in for a very, very large surprise when they see what’s up there.”

At the cost of $235,000, the new video board is 26.3 feet tall—more than 10 feet taller than the previous video board at Wahoos Stadium—and is 30.5 feet wide, giving it a display area of 802 square feet that is a 74.3-percent increase in size over the old board.

While the expiration of the warranty was a factor in why the scoreboard was replaced, the technology had significantly improved since 2012. The Blue Wahoos organization played a role in paying $120,000 of the cost and financing the remaining balance interest-free. The CMPA will contribute $20,000 annually for five years ($100,000), and UWF will provide $5,000 annually for three years ($15,000).

“When we coupled the mechanical issues with our current board with what the new boards looked like during the Baseball Winter Meetings in Washington D.C., we thought about how great it would be to make this happen for the park,” Studer said.

Improved Food Service
Studer admitted the food service at Blue Wahoos Stadium wasn’t up to par with previous years.

“I don’t want to focus on what’s wrong, but we thought we went backward a little bit on food and beverage last year, particularly the lines,” he said. “We outsourced the food service, and we expressed to the company our concerns.”

The company made a change at the top and hired a new food service manager, Matt Risse.

“We’re very excited about what he’s bringing to the table,” said Studer. “Even though people have always liked the quality of our food, I think we’re really focused in on reducing lines, make it more deliverable this year.”

The Blue Wahoos organization and other teams use Turnkey Intelligence to measure the fans’ experience at Major League Baseball’s minor and major ballparks. In 2016, the team was honored with the Double-A Bob Freitas Award, which is designed to recognize the long-term excellence of minor league operations. The criteria for evaluation included community involvement, long-term business success, and consistent operational excellence. Studer credits the attention the team pays to the Turnkey surveys.

“After every game, a number of fans get a survey that asks them a whole bunch of questions,” he said. “It’s a one through 10 system. and they take the number of nines and 10s, then subtract the number of ones through sixes, which gives you a net promoter score.”

He continued, “Our net promoter score last year broke a record, even with food wait lines, and even with the scoreboard issue, we were about a 90, which is really unheard of. We would match that against anybody, including Ritz-Carlton or Disney. ”

Great Staff
Studer praised the Blue Wahoos staff. The team has 98-percent of its ushers returning this season.

“When you hold onto staff, it makes a big difference because they get to know the people, they get to know the processes, the tools, they get to know that when somebody spills a drink, we fill it up, no questions asked,” he said.

“They know when somebody’s not happy that we do everything we can to get them happy. I think we really do. Every minor league team’s going to say, ‘Oh yeah, we really focus on the fan experience.’ I will tell you that we measure it and, according to all the documentation for the last five years, we’ve been the number one team in fan experience in minor league baseball.”

Last month, the Blue Wahoos held auditions for the national anthem and other entertainers, calling the session “Pensacola’s Got Talent.” The try-outs took place on the field in front of a panel of judges from WEAR, 97.1 FM The Ticket, Pensacola News Journal, and the Blue Wahoos.

“We were open to all sorts of things,” Studer explained. “Years ago, the St. Paul Saints, the famous baseball team owned by Mike Veeck and comedian Bill Murray up in Minneapolis, always hired theater students from the University of Minnesota, and so we looked for people like magicians, jugglers, dance teams, and church choirs.”

He added, “You know, if they can sing the national anthem, they can sing the seventh inning stretch. Heck, we’ll let them sing between innings. For the last few years, Michaela Jacobs has been on our flag team, and now she was the lead in Pensacola Little Theater in ‘My Fair Lady,’ and she’s phenomenal. Our games are a great place to showcase local talent.”

Food App
The team will initially try out innovations with its season ticket holders. This year, season ticket holders will test a new food-ordering app.

“Sometimes we test things with our season ticket holders, so people have to just understand we go there first, they’re vital to us because the sponsors want to know how many season ticket holders you have because that’s what they can count on. This year we’re doing a few things for our season ticket holders,” said Studer.

The food app first will be made available in small sections of the stadium and gradually expanded. He said, “You’re going to have an app on your phone that you’re going to be able to order your food. It’s sometimes going to be delivered, or they’ll be a fast lane that you can just go to and pick it up, and we’ll make sure you know it’s available.”

The goal is to reduce the concession lines. Studer said, “It’s so new in baseball, we’re going to really pilot it this year, and hopefully figure it out this year to really run it next year, but for some people, they’ll have an app this year.”

Season Ticket Perks
Full-season ticket holders will now have their seats personalized with their names. He explained, “You could all of a sudden sit down and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m in the Bubba Watson seat,”‘ or the ‘Bobby Switzer seats,’ or the “Josh Sitton’s seats,” or things like that.”

Thanks to a sponsorship by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and Main Street Realty, season ticket holders will have, free of charge, access to the air-conditioned lounge pre-game, post-game, and during games. Studer pointed out the lounge is where the minor league and major league scouts and GMs hang out when they attend ball games.

The Blue Wahoos have taken measures to improve safety after the night games. He said, “We’ve been really concerned about the parking lot at the old ECUA site because it gets dark, and our community is a dark community everywhere. We’re going to be putting up some special temporary lights with generators after games, so people have a little safer place when they go to get to their car.”

Another innovation for Pensacola is adding a concierge to the staff. Season Ticket Concierge Manager Nancy Berry joined the team in March and brings 16 years of experience in the sports industry. Berry worked with the Miami Marlins as Executive Assistant to the President of Baseball Operations and Tampa Bay Rays as Assistant to the Scouting Director. Two Major League general managers recommended her to the team.

“Season ticket holders are important investors in any sports operations,” said Studer. “We wanted to match their loyalty and commitment to the Blue Wahoos with world class service beyond the norm. We feel providing them with a concierge is one way to do so.”

He added, “Just like when you’re on a ship, or you’re in a hotel, we’re going to have a full-time concierge this year to just make sure that everybody is well taken care of. I think we’re probably one of the only minor league teams that do that.”

Before the interview concluded, he wanted to remind season ticket holders of the Blue Wahoos’ ticket sharing program, the only minor league team that offers such a program.

He said, “If you have season tickets, and you call us, we’ll put them on the line, and there’s about an 80-90 percent chance they’ll sell, and you get the money, and that way when you renew, it hardly costs you anything. This year if you sold 50 of your tickets out of 70, you ended up renewing your season ticket package for three dollars a ticket, which is quite remarkable.”

The key of the Blue Wahoos is never to be complacent.

Studer said, “When you lead the whole minor league in fan experience, you have to do a whole bunch of things that even make it better.”

BLUE WAHOOS OPENING DAY 2017
WHAT: Blue Wahoos vs. Smokies
WHEN: 6:35 p.m. Thursday, April 6
WHERE: Blue Wahoos Stadium, 351 W. Cedar St.
DETAILS: bluewahoos.com

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Day By Day
Baseball games aren’t just about baseball. They are also about free swag and snacks. Thankfully for us fans, the Wahoos totally get that. Here’s a basic rundown of this year’s season-long promotions:
Give Back Monday—Help various non-profits raise funds by partaking in the 50/50 raffle on Monday nights.
Fat Tuesday—Every Tuesday, tickets on the Winn-Dixie Party Deck will be sold to individuals as part of an “all you can eat” offer for $21. Restaurants will provide sample size food items for 200 people, while the Blue Wahoos will provide hamburgers, hot dogs, and popcorn during a 90-minute buffet. (Excludes the All-Star Game on Tuesday, June 20.)
Wahoo Wednesday—This season Wednesdays will be all about different special events and theme nights. May 31 will be “Wahooloween” for example, complete with spooky goblins, ghosts, and candy.
Thirsty Thursday—Seville Quarter is hosting Thirsty Thursday this season, so you know it’s going to be fun. For starters, you can park for free at Seville, enjoy drink specials and $5 appetizers, and then ride the free Wahoo Choo Choo tram to the stadium. Once at the game, continue to enjoy the drink specials in the park.
FANtastic Friday Giveaway—If you’re coming to a Friday night game, make sure you get there early because the first 2,000 fans will get special promotional items—like a dog bowl presented by Hill-Kelly Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram, which will be the giveaway item during the first Friday night game of the season—Friday, April 7.
Saturday Fireworks—Win or lose, the Wahoos celebrate Saturday night home games with a fireworks display.
McDonalds Family Sunday—Presented by McDonald’s, kids can run the bases and play catch on the field after the game on Sunday afternoons.
*All giveaways, promotions and event dates are subject to change

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Bark in the Park
What’s better than going to a ball game? Going to a ball game with your dog, of course.
The Wahoos are hosting two of their super popular Bark in the Park nights this season, so mark your calendars and make sure your pup is available for a night out: Monday, May 22 and Sunday, August 27.