At the Ballpark: Detroit Tigers Focus on Fan Engagement, Rely on Scrimmages for In-Venue Strategy
Brief, efficient meetings have improved the final product
Although Major League Baseball is continuing with a 60-game regular season, the pulse of what makes professional baseball exciting will remain at home. In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 30 in-venue departments are forging ahead with operations inside empty stadiums. SVG’s At the Ballpark series takes you behind the control-room door and examines what it’s like to produce a fan-less venue experience in 2020.
The Motor City is known for its storied sports history and passionate fanbases. The Detroit Red Wings did their part with bringing the community together in the early months of the sports shutdown, and now the Tigers are picking up the baton and entertaining the same fans while they remain safe at home.
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“Our campaign going into this year is Detroit Roots, because it fits our city perfectly,” says Stan Fracker, director, broadcasting and in-game entertainment, Detroit Tigers. “It identifies that Tigers fans have long roots with this team, and fans have been a critical part of our games for over a century. The response has been terrific as we’ve reimagined the way fans root for the Detroit Tigers, while doing it from home.”
Roar of the Tigers: At-Home Fans Improve Show’s Quality With Videoboard Reactions
One of the new ballpark staples at in this shortened season is the sight of cardboard cutouts. In Detroit, the franchise is taking a different route. As video-conferencing platforms have become more prevalent and replace in-person meetups, the in-venue team has taken note of the trend.
“One of the things we did prior to this season is conduct Zoom calls with season ticketholders and longtime fans,” says Fracker. “We’ve coached them through reactions that we’ve been playing back in the ballpark. If a big home run is hit, you’ll see various fans from these calls pop up on the videoboard.”
Given the immediacy of how the season is unfolding, it’s a bit tough for Fracker and his entire team to meet on a regular basis. On days when they’re able to carve out time for a brief download on previous shows, they are continuing to improve the fan-engagement strategy to attract as many fans as they can.
“We’ve been talking about taking [the fan experience] to the next level by showing live interactions of those who are watching the game in the moment,” he explains. “Another big part is social engagement, which our team has been very active with on a daily basis. We’re producing a daily feature after every game that identifies a key storyline, interviewing players through Zoom conferences and distributing that out so it’s available early the next day.”
Spring Training 2.0: Dress Rehearsals Enable Consistent, Precise Execution
Along with quick meetings throughout the season, the team leveraged the handful of warmup games played prior to Opening Day. Like hitters needing to see real-time pitching, the team got valuable reps from these scrimmages, getting on the same page and experimenting with ideas.
“Fortunately for us, we had our Summer Camp right at Comerica Park, which involved a series of intrasquad games,” says Fracker. “We used those games as a testing ground for how the crowd would play, how the players would feel about it, and how it would actually sound in the ballpark.”
This Summer Camp sizzle reel is another source of content being played on the videoboard.
Ironing out the run of show was another task on the team’s to-do list, but tinkering with the in-venue sound was a major priority. This guess-and-check procedure took some collaboration with broadcast partner Fox Sports Detroit.
“Ballpark sound systems are designed to provide audio to the fans in the seats, not necessarily to the teams on the field,” he continues. “We had to adjust audio levels to be able to understand that it’s actually reaching the playing field at a level that has an impact. We also had to work with our broadcast partner and make sure it was at an appropriate [broadcast] level as well.”
Sounds of The Show: Tigers Sprinkle Videogame Audio for Authentic Crowd Noise
Despite an undertone of silence, the Tigers are doing what they can to liven up the place with fake crowd noise. Derived from the popular MLB The Show videogame, the audio mix will react appropriately to home runs by Miguel Cabrera or sparkling plays by the opposition.
“A lot of credit goes to Major League Baseball for putting together a uniform system that all teams can access and tap into,” he notes. “We have software that’s already loaded with clips of varying levels of crowd engagement, and it’s up to us to decide how to form the best sound in the ballpark. If you’ve attended a few baseball games, it’s pretty intuitive: you know that there’s a little bit of roar right after the contact is made on the bat, and, if it goes against your way, there’s that little sound of disappointment.”
Supplying a layer of authenticity for fans watching the broadcast is the first responsibility, but players on the field have adapted and begun to enjoy the fabricated sound as well.
“The team has really embraced it, and sometimes, the players will motion for more crowd noise,” says Fracker. “Fans aren’t hearing every single conversation on the field, which makes the players feel more comfortable as well. The response has been great across the board because it does make [the game] feel a little bit more natural and provides a familiar atmosphere.”
After a brief road trip to Chicago and Cleveland, the Tigers’ in-venue staff gets back to work for a six-game homestand that begins against the Chicago Cubs on Monday, Aug. 24 at 7:10 p.m. ET.