By Nicholas Burmeister AKA @padreshaiku
Dee is a mess and people want him fired. I understand that; I too would like someone else as CEO. I do, however, think he’s in an incredibly difficult position: he’s trying to squeeze every thin dime out of a bad baseball team. And fans hate him for that.
Fans don’t like that the cost of a ticket has jumped so much. Fans don’t like the cost of a beer going up, or a hot dog, or pork belly nachos. Fans didn’t like the field looking like garbage after a concert. And fans really didn’t like a portion of their stadium getting renamed after a former commissioner in order to thank him for an All-Star game. Fans don’t like that everything in their ballpark is getting branded, sponsored, chopped up, renamed, or moved in order to make every nook and cranny more profitable, more exclusive, and more expensive. But Dee doesn’t care about your opinion. He cares about money. Those unpopular moves all make money, at least theoretically. So Dee doesn’t care if the retired numbers get taken down; it’s about the money. He doesn’t care if you like brown; it’s about the money. He doesn’t care if a family of four can’t afford seats on the field level; it’s about the money. I could name more, but you get the idea. Dee’s bottom line is the bottom line, and if it sounds like he’s putting profits before fans.
Here’s your hot take if you think Dee should stay: I don’t blame Dee for trying to maximize profits, even if it pisses off some fans. If making a formerly open bar/seating area exclusive to platinum season ticket holders means the team can make more money, then so be it.
What I do fault Dee for is making mistakes that can’t be explained by a profit motive. There was nothing to be gained financially by replacing the Petco announcer a few years ago. And the team didn’t profit from his kneejerk decision to fire DJ Artform. Instead, he made the organization look foolish by switching his position multiple times — first claiming the incident was a simple mistake and not a homophobic act, then firing the DJ anyway, and then eventually reinstating him.
I suspect that Dee’s profit-based decisions have had some success. I haven’t seen the books, of course, but Forbes puts team revenue at $244MM in 2016, that’s up from a projected $224 MM last year. Sadly, if there has been a bump in revenue over the past couple years, it can easily be attributed to the unbridled off-season optimism of 2015 and the All-Star game, both of which are temporary cash injections without long term security. Forbes also puts the value of the team at $890MM, which is no change from last year. Zero growth is troubling.
That isn’t entirely Dee’s fault, though. The real problem is that the best way to make money is to have a good team, and this team just isn’t good. Dee has tried to hide this, doing his best to sell the idea of a scrappy, over-performing, competitive team. I get it – he can’t sell tickets by admitting he has a shitty team. He can’t talk about contending or brag about his players’ stats. (And he can’t go on record saying that the team is tanking for draft position, even if that’s what they’re doing.) But Dee’s attempts to put on a cheery face aren’t fooling anybody, and he likely knows it.
That’s why he has focused so much on improving ballpark experience. It’s really his only move. Dee is wants fans to divorce the notion of having a good time at the ball game from having a winning team. If we can’t make the playoffs, we can at least have a giant HD video board. But although many of the improvements are nice, how much do they really increase attendance? How many more people are buying tickets in order to see the giant Dave Winfield mural on the wall? In the end, all this is just a top hat on a turd. We don’t need fancy digs; we need a winning squad. Padre fans would pack a dilapidated pile of rubble – or, worse yet, the Oakland Coliseum — if the team was in contention.
But here’s my biggest issue with him: in order to get a better team, Dee has tried to involve himself in player acquisition. And that’s a huge misstep. He’s not an on-field guy; he’s an off-field guy. He has no business meddling with the roster. It’s like the manager of Qualcomm Stadium trying to write Beyonce’s set list or choreograph her routines. Dee needs to let go of that pronto. Let the baseball people handle the baseball stuff and stay in your lane, Mike.
Despite all this, Dee is not going to get fired this year, at least not before the All-Star game. It’s his baby and booting him before the mid-summer classic would be a bigger mistake than hiring him in the first place. But, god willing, he won’t last beyond this season.
Still, even with all his flaws, his termination will be frustrating because what the organization needs is stability. Ownership and coaching fluctuations have had a toll on the team, the fans, and the relationship between the two. A few years of consistent voices from the front office, clubhouse and ownership box will go a long way to fix that relationship. Hopefully, we can start that consistency next year, with Dee’s replacement.
Follow Nicholas Burmeister on Twitter @padreshaiku