I talked about this very interview about a month ago when we did our chat - for those who missed it I gave the readers a chance to submit a question for a not so distant interview with the Rays' Vice President of Branding and Fan Experience. Well, here it is, I'd like to thank Darcy for giving us a bit of his time, and after the jump we discuss Tampa Bay on the road uniforms, ice cream, and the NHL.
R.J. Darcy, your official title is "Vice President of Branding and Fan Experience", can you explain to the readers what your daily responsibilities are?
Darcy - The Rays Fan Experience Department leads Tropicana Field Customer Service and Stadium Entertainment.
R.J. How would you describe the amount of difficulty you found in trying and turn a very unfriendly atmosphere and organization into one that seemingly cares and welcomes folks to have fun while supporting their team?
Darcy - Our Fan Hosts love People and Baseball. R.A.Y.S. University helped our Fan Hosts re-connect with Fans to celebrate the magic of Baseball.
R.J. What are some of the steps you take in making decisions on pending events / items? Are there any new items we'll be seeing next year at the Trop that you can discuss with us now?
Darcy - We listen to Rays Fans. We encourage Fan ideas through focus groups and surveys. We implement Rays Fans most popular ideas. We will celebrate Tampa Bay Culture and Baseball History in our 2008 Theme Nights and Promotions.
R.J. Any specific events or items that you brought to the stadium, I've heard the Rays' touch tank was actually derived from an employee suggestion box, any anecdotal tales like that floating around the Trop?
Darcy - Rays Touch Tank was Brian Auld's (SVP Business Operations) creation. Outstanding activity for Parents and Kids. Most of Tropicana Field's stadium activities were derived from the imaginations of Rich Herrera, Shannon Poole and Vitale Bros.. Ideas generated from their own experiences and conversations with Rays Fans.
R.J. I'm sure you've heard a question similar to this one before, but I'm obligated to ask it none the less: why the lack of "Tampa Bay" on the road uniforms, and is there any plan to add that significant script back on the unis anytime soon?
Darcy - We felt it was important this year to reinforce the fact that we are now the Rays. Tampa Bay might well return on our road uniforms in the not-too-distant future.
R.J. Some fans have expressed concern over the team selling not just rival teams' gear, but presenting fans with the choice of buying ice cream with a Rays themed holder or one of those two Northeastern teams. Is the organization aware of the rather disheartening scenario of a fan in all Rays' gear being asked if he wants his chocolate in a Yankees' hat
Darcy - Centerplate, our Concessions Operator, stopped this practice in early 2007. We are very proud to serve our Fans with only Rays-branded ice cream cups.
R.J. I understand you grew up in Montreal, are you a fan of the game played on ice? You've done some marketing work in the past, with that in mind what would you advise the NHL to do in order to grow a presence in the U.S.?
Darcy - Overall, the NHL has done an outstanding job satisfying current Fans. Much improved product after rule changes. All Teams are competitive. Incredible live experience. Fans are spoiled with up close access to Players and Game (TV and on-line). The NHL now needs to drive more education and trial of the game amongst new Fans. Partner with a larger TV Network for broader market reach. Develop amateur hockey associations in NHL markets. Expansion to Las Vegas!
R.J. Assuming you had something to do with the Straub Park celebrations, I must ask how the idea of Kevin Costner arose, and was he first on the list because of his résumé full of baseball movies, or were some bigger acts unavailable for the event?
Darcy - Tom Hoof (VP Marketing) and Mark Fernandez (SVP Corporate Partnerships) led all planning for Straub Park. Kevin Costner was the preferred choice given his love and contributions to Baseball. Modern West is a band we thought Rays Fans would appreciate.
R.J. What would you say to longtime - in terms of the franchise's life, not actual years - fans who feel like the changes are stripping the organization of its identity?
Darcy - The Rays identity continues its evolution. We are improving on the field and deepening our relationship with Rays Fans in Tampa Bay.
R.J. Being a Harvard Business School graduate do you feel at home in an organization that features quite a bit of a Wall Street presence to it?
Darcy - I feel completely at home as a member of the Rays Organization. We have so many talented Executives with incredible backgrounds. We are always learning from each other.
R.J.The Canadian dollar is worth more than the American counterpart, I'm curious to know how you feel about this, overcome with national pride or peeved that your salary is actually worth less if you go to visit relatives?
Darcy - I am encouraged by the strength of the Canadian dollar. Likely the result of Government fiscal responsibility and strong performance in the Canadian Private Sector. Hopefully, this will help Canadian Sports franchises stay competitive with their U.S. counterparts.
Again a huge thanks to Darcy, and I think we all can agree the Trop experience is vastly superior now than it was a few years ago.