The Padres have continually brought pain to the city of San Diego.
In the fifty-plus years existence of this franchise, there have only been two truly successful seasons.
Those two years did not bring a World Series title to San Diego, but they did provide a National League Championship. In 1984, the shock of the youthful Padres in the playoffs was remarkable and brought the team to nation’s eyes for the first time. Petco Park and the development of the stadium came directly from the magical season of 1998 in which the voters (fresh off a successful season) agreed to award the Padres a new venue.
The Padres made the playoffs a few times in the early 2000’s and again in 2020, but were quickly ousted. The city has never really seen the Padres enjoy true success.
If you factor in the fire sales and horrible ownership groups which owned the Padres, then you have a franchise in turmoil.
Fast forward to the 2015 season and the excitement it brought to the city and you get a sense that the franchise was trying something new. That team fell flat on it’s face, but the Padres came into relevancy and the true growth of the franchise began to take place.
Below is an outline of how the Padres transitioned into a relevant major league team. It took some time for this happen. There are no quick fixes when it comes to turning around a toiling franchise. Each situation is unique. But there is one common theme. It takes time.
Invest in the farm and player development
Investing in the farm and minor leagues will be key for a successful franchise, eventually. The investment must be done immediately and some luck is required to truly make it work. When a team becomes playoff contenders, you need prospects of value to pick and choose the additions made to your roster. Time and time again, playoff teams pick up veterans who are due for free agency and they usually pay pennies on the dollar. Prospects come with so much uncertainty that there is no given with their value. When you are a successful franchise you want to be the team adding major league veterans, not the team hoping someone else’s prospect will develop under a new regime.
The Padres stockpiled players in 2015 and declined trading two key players at the deadline that season. Justin Upton and Ian Kennedy (Yes, Ian Kennedy) earned the Padres two compensation picks in the 2016 MLB Draft. The Padres owned six draft selections within the first 85 picks. Cal Quantril, Eric Lauer, Hudson Potts, Reggie Lawson, Mason Thompson, and Buddy Reed were selected by the Padres that season. Only Lawson remained with the team and interestingly enough the pitcher retired earlier this week after battling arm issues. The other five men were packaged at some point in upgrades for the major league roster when the time was right.
The international market is something the Padres exploited in 2016 and that had a huge effect in what you see before you in regards to the Padres. With penalties, the Padres spent over $80 million on teenage talent in 2016. The franchise had never done anything like this before at any point in their existence. The international draft has changed its rules now. The Padres were the last team to take advantage of the old system. The Friars were penalized for two seasons, but the rewards of this group of players far exceeded the penalties the team had to pay for two calendar years.
By the end of the 2017 season, the Padres owned the No. 1 minor league system in all of baseball and it really wasn’t close. Preller and his staff revitalized the farm system and players started developing. But the success in the minors was not shown at the major league level. Fans were excited, but there was minimal commitment made by the fan base at this point in terms of season ticket sales. The fans needed more from their ownership group.
Create a new image
If a team is consistently bottom feeding, its fan base is suffering. There will always be die hard fans, but for a franchise to enjoy success, the bandwagon fans and fair weather fans need to come and support the team as well. Their money is needed by the franchise. Re-branding is not easy, though. A losing team rightfully earns the stigma which is attached to them. Changing people’s minds about a franchise is an uphill battle, but a full commitment is needed and it will take time.
For the Padres, their simple image change was going back to the old color scheme. The Padres longed for an identity and their brown uniforms certainly provide that for San Diego. They are unique as very few professional teams utilize brown as their major color. Like it or not, the Padres have an identity now. They aren’t just another blue team with boring font and a traditional color scheme. There are several current franchise’s who have neglected their past. Teams that actually have won a World Series title before.
Wearing a new uniform will not provide wins in the standings, however. It takes a lot more than that. The Padres were able to build one a culture around the team and their venue. Petco Park is easily one of the nicest ballparks in the league. The Padres are still working on the image of the franchise. The only way to shed the loser label is by enjoying success and doing it consistently. In time, San Diego hopes to be regarded as a successful franchise in terms of wins and losses. Drawing fans and spending money is fun, but the ultimate goal is the only thing that really matters. A World Series title.
Make your home venue the place to be
Location is key to this, as it is difficult to create an atmosphere without the assistance of outside businesses and establishments. However, once a fan enters a stadium they are under the mercy of the ownership group. You can price gouge fans for $10 dollar water bottles with the only entertainment being the game, or you can make the experience much, much, more. Let’s face it, the modern fan has attention span problems. The distractions of the world are everywhere and its up to the franchise to create an atmosphere at home. By turning the stadium into the hip place to be, fans will line up at the door just to get a taste of it.
Petco Park revitalized the Gaslamp/East Village area of downtown San Diego. For decades, most people had hardly no reason to go to the east side of the downtown area. Now, it is easily one of the busiest areas in all of San Diego with numerous flourishing businesses. Petco Park is a giant food concession stand/bar with a Major League Baseball game going on directly in the middle. There are bars and restaurants everywhere that can satisfy any craving you have. These aren’t just hotdog stands either. The eateries at Petco Park represent the best food choices in the county.
San Diegans are a hip bunch. They like trendy things and the Padres have turned from a boring team, to an exciting franchise with star power. When a fan walks into Petco Park, they know they are getting a show. Whether it be on the field, or in the stands, the Padres production team does well to create a grand experience.
Embrace history and try new things
Whether it’s old timer’s games or bringing in alumni of the franchise for special events, the history of all organizations much be embraced. Fans are nostalgic and they enjoy remembering players from the past. Old uniforms and logos are always a great thing to periodically introduce back to the fan base. Multiple uniforms are the world we live in now when it comes to MLB. In fact, advertising on uniforms will start next year and that in itself will broaden the horizons of baseball and what the future holds. If you have a franchise, it is also wise to try new things and be creative with the marketing of the team and stadium.
It took some time, but the Padres made the change back to brown and they also brought back the swinging friar logo. Fans were asking for these things and the ownership group finally caved in to their demands. There will always be those who do not care for the colors, but in general the new uniforms are well received. The latest edition to the Padres uniform ensemble is the bright city connect uniforms. The pink and teal uniforms are a hit and selling out just as fast as retailers put them out. The Padres benefit from this as fans stand in line just to own a piece of this new look.
Petco Park, in recent years, has hosted multiple events that have nothing to do with baseball. Concerts, monster truck rallies, golf courses, and even the Holiday Bowl is hosted at Petco Park. This all benefits the San Diego Padres. The layout of Petco being right in the middle of a busy area makes it a perfect place to host major events. Unlike the Mission Valley site where the Padres used to play, Petco is the heartbeat of a boisterous neighborhood in America’s Finest City.
Spend on the open market and convince fans your objective is winning
Making a run at a free-agent and signing him is great. Bringing in a player who enjoyed success with a different franchise is a suitable way to energize a fan base, but it cannot just be a one year thing. As an organization, the best way to get your fans enthused is by sending a message that you want to win now. If a fan gets that feeling, then they will live and die for the team. They will go the extra mile and show support. Let’s face it, sports are release for most people. Every day life can be maddening and there is great comfort in rooting for your favorite team knowing they are attempting to be the best in the sport.
The Padres spent money on James Shields first in 2015. The pitcher signed the wealthiest contract in the history of the team only to be eclipsed by Eric Hosmer a few years later. Then, the Padres signed Manny Machado to the richest contract ($300 million) in the history of North American sports. The fan base was amazed at this showing by the ownership group. Factor in extensions to Wil Myers, Fernando Tatis Jr., and Joe Musgrove over the years and you create an expectation to win ball games.
There is no doubt that fans of the San Diego Padres expect the team to win. The ownership group, front office, and coaching staff know what this team is capable of showing. The fans feel it. The Padres went from spending $71.6 million in 2017 which was 28th out of 30 teams in terms of payroll, to currently owning the fifth highest payroll at $208.7 million. To say that the ownership group is investing is a gross understatement. Peter Seidler and his ownership group are clearly going above and beyond in investing in the Padres. With an average attendance of 36,875 people, the Padres are fifth in the league. Plenty of fans are going to Petco Park and they are bringing their wallets. This winning philosophy of investing in your roster is paying dividends for the Padres. Enjoy it, San Diego. For the rest of the perennial bottom feeders — it doesn’t have to be that way. Invest, develop, and reap the benefits.