Pirates' Exec Admits They're Running a Business First, Ballclub Second

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Rob Biertempfel had an interview with Pittsburgh Pirates President, Travis Williams, yesterday for the Athletic.  I'm going to link the whole interview here as Biertempfel was able to get a lot of great information out of Williams in the sit down.  

One of the questions that stood out to me, or Williams' answer rather, was when Bitertempfel asked about the back-to-back 100 loss seasons, and how do you sell that to Pirate fans.  This is where Williams said what all of us have been thinking was the team's goal since Bob Nutting became owner. 

Williams first started off saying the right thing.  He said we want to build a championship-caliber product on the field.  However, then he gets into the fan experience.  The Too Long Didn't Read version of that is that while the Pittsburgh Pirates are in the sports business, they are also in the entertainment business.

Furthermore, they want fans to have a great time at the ballpark.  Williams goes on to talk about hot dogs and beer, hot pretzels and mustard, ice cream, etc.  He speaks on making a trip around the ballpark and getting Instagram moments.  This stuff is not so bad.

But then Williams delivers the daggers.  He cites how he wants fans to go home and say, "I'm gonna go back, because that was one hell of time even if the team lost."  Williams also says, "You can overcome a bad outcome on the field with a great fan experience.  You cannot overcome a good outcome on the field with a bad experience."

There it is.  The defining quote of the entire Bob Nutting ownership regime.  "You can overcome a bad outcome on the field with a great fan experience."  They truly believe this.  They are running a baseball team, and they believe that if the fan experience is good enough, losing just comes with the territory.  

For lack of a better term, that is loser talk.  They are saying, 'I am a loser so I'm going to at least try and make you laugh.  I just want you to have a good time with us, as losers.'  It's stunning.

And it's cheaper, right?  I mean the amount of money the Pirates will boast about putting into facility improvements and the scoreboard is less than 1% of the top 20 or so player contracts in the league.  If we can put less money into the fan experience than into players and people still come back, we are happy.  That's the message.  It is absolutely Williams' job to make money for the franchise.  You just don't say this out loud!

And guess what?  You can have overcome a bad experience with a good outcome.  Wrigley Field before their upgrades was a bad experience.  Fenway is not a great experience minus the nostalgia.  Yankee Stadium, unless you can afford the premium seats, is not a great experience.  Going out to the Bronx is not fun. But these teams have overcome that with recent World Series titles or, in the Yankees case, a lot of success. 

That's the new slogan of the Pittsburgh Pirates. "That was one hell of a time even if the team lost."

They do not care about the outcome as long as you come back.  We all knew this to be true.  It just really sucks when the team president says it.  The Pirates are in the entertainment. business.  First and foremost.