Tigers’ ‘Welcome Back Fans’ weekend falls flat for families and fans

Bless You Boys

My family was really looking forward to our first trip to Comerica Park last Sunday. Considering the last time we were up at Comerica Park was the summer of 2019, we were excited to finally get back to a feeling of normalcy. We love going to the games so much we gladly make the drive up from Toledo, kids and all, just to take in the sights and let them experience a big-league game and get their love affair with this great sport started early.

I had even received a call a few days prior from a ticket agent in the Tigers ticket office asking if we were planning on going to a game soon and if we had heard that they were back to full capacity with many of the restrictions lifted. They really hyped up the idea that things were basically back to normal, without using those words.

Upon downloading our tickets to the MLB app, I reviewed the notes about restrictions, and it seemed simple. No bags except medical needs and diaper bags, no mask except for inside indoor spaces, try to keep 6 feet apart, etc. They even sent out an email to the parents of kid’s club members reminding us that Sundays are kid’s days. Our expectations were set. We’d get to our seats, grabs some lunch, watch as much as we could until the kids got tired, ride some rides, buy them some new hats, run the bases, and go home. At least that was the plan…

Things started off well. We got to our seats in section 219 and saw them have some lucky kids call out the starting lineup — it seemed like a typical kid’s day. We didn’t even notice that we had walked through the gates empty-handed. No matter, we were there for the experience, not the stuff.

As the second inning concluded, I got up to go find food and drink. Walking down to the Big Cat court I noticed only half the concession stands were open. But more than that I noticed the big carousel was empty and stood motionless. There was a sign hanging by the entrance saying something about closed for fan safety. Welp, that was a bummer. A COVID casualty and a reminder thing weren’t quite back to normal. But such is life in 2021.

I packed my hands with as much drink and snacks as I could carry back to my overheated family. The breeze that blew through the upper level of the concourse was a relief from the sweltering heat, but it was still a hot day. We figured we’d probably only get another inning or two out of the kids at this rate. We ate and they watched the White Sox run around the bases while Carlos Rodon worked on his ultimately failed bid for a no-hitter.

Our youngest was captivated with the action going on the field and was equally enthralled with taking off his hat and tossing it between the railing and down to the concourse so daddy had to go pick it up. We chatted with the couple in front of us, and they laughed at the antics of our kids and were more than happy to share their small row with them so they could see the field better. We made it all the way to the end of the fifth inning in the stands, far longer than I anticipated before the kids were restless enough and we had to go find some entertainment. This is when the disappointment and frustration truly set in.

It’s not that we were lied to or promised something that wasn’t delivered, no there was nothing in the communication between the team and fans that was incorrect, it was just…well… in the world of customer service, the key aspect you’re told to really make people happy is to under-promise and overdeliver. Well, the Tigers overpromised and underdelivered.

None of the side games or interactive stations on the main concourse were open, just barren open concrete. While there was plenty of food options for a crowd of just 14,000 that day, there were no places to eat on the main level, where most of the food was located. All the open tables were scattered in the upper level. Even the big beer garden with the Ferris wheel was completely blocked off. We didn’t find any of this out until walking halfway around the stadium for drinks and more filling food, with kids in hand looking for something to do and a place to just sit and eat. But there was nothing to be found. Fans in the main concourse were taking to the steps by the auxiliary gates to find a place to sit, while dozens of perfectly good and shaded tables were just blocked off.

I can only assume this was for safety/COVID reasons, but there were no signs to indicate either way. Just metal guard rails. We finally circled back to the Big Cat court by the motionless carrousel. The sun beating down on us, the kids complaining it was too hot, I finally took matters into my own hands and dragged a picnic bench across the concrete to under the overhang by the closed concession stands just to get some shaded seating. This drew some impressed nods and a few words of encouragement from other fans nearby, but I had just had enough.

It was the eighth inning by then and we were just holding out to run the bases and go home. That’s all we wanted from the day. As we finished up our food we saw another family with young kids come looking for a place to sit and eat so we motioned for them to come take the table we were leaving. As we made some friendly small talk, they said that they had found out that their kids couldn’t run the bases after all. Apparently, the Tigers were only allowing kids four and older to run and parents were not allowed on the field with them at all. That was the real gut punch. The one thing we were holding out for, we were denied.

I’m sorry but this was a restriction that completely baffled me. Why would they not allow young kids to run just because they might need a parent to help them around the bases? I’m sure there was some safety matter or COVID restriction but that made no sense if you’re allowing fans to sit shoulder to shoulder but can’t allow a parent to run with their 2-year-old around the bases. In years past, the only requirement was that the child could walk on their own. This is a massive disappointment, as not only do I think my 4-year-old would not want to run around the bases with a bunch of strangers, but also try explaining to a 2-year-old why he was left out of the fun, while his sister was not.

So, we finished our food, got the kids some souvenir hats, and headed home thoroughly disappointed. This was the worst fan engagement I have seen from the Tigers in my 20 years of going to Comerica Park. It doesn’t need to be this way either. If they had been upfront with the fans and kids club members about what to expect, I would have been much more understanding. But there was no active communication or obvious effort to make families aware of what they were going to experience before they arrived. Information as to which amenities would be open and active during the game is not easy to come by on the website. As weekend games tend to be when families with younger children can make the pilgrimage, it was just baffling that so much of the family-themed parts of the park were closed without notice.

There was an email sent with the digital tickets that explained how to use them and where to get the MLB Ballpark app and it also explained the policies for bags, masks, parking, and game advisories; not even in the links did I find anything to say what to expect for ballpark attractions. It’s not in the Health and Safety Guidelines. It’s not in the kid’s club links. No, that information is buried far in the Tigers website under the information for the park itself and there it lists out that the carousel and Ferris Wheel are closed for the 2021 season and that kids running the bases program is restricted to 4-years-old and up, but no parents allowed to run with the younger ones. It took me about 20 minutes searching all over the Tigers website to find this information.

I understand that that the Tigers want to promote a positive experience to encourage people to come out to the park again and posting all the things you cannot do is not an ideal way to promote fan interest, but to not even readily provide the information to the fans that are coming just feels like a big misstep. The Tigers promoted this past weekend as their “Welcome Back Fans” weekend but upon coming back they only seemed interested in selling them food, booze, and merchandise. There was no welcoming atmosphere. No excitement at the gate. They might as well just have dumpsters by each ticket counter with a sign that said, “deposit money here”. Even basic services such as water fountains and water bottle fill stations were closed with signs stating they were not to be used.

Would it be much more effort to also put up a sign to say where fans can get free water, especially on hot summer days? I’m not trying to be cheap but when your concession stands sell a 20oz bottle of Aquafina for $5.25, I’m not going to keep forking over $20 at a time just to keep the family hydrated. For a young family with an hour drive both to get to the game and return home, the park is an island. You’re going to eat, drink, and try to entertain young children there for four hours, while hopefully taking in as much baseball action as possible. Feeling as though you’re on your own there, with little thought taken for the experience of parents and children, only makes the day feel like a voluntary exercise in exploitation.

I hope this will get better, and I understand their hands are tied by state and local health guidelines in some areas, but open communication with families dropping $200 on in-stadium purchases, on top of tickets, gas, and parking, would have been greatly appreciated. There was a distinct lack of effort and caring towards the fan experience, particularly for families with young children, that came through loud and clear.

I received a survey email from the Tigers asking me to give my feedback on yesterday’s game experience. I let them know my feelings on it but even the way the survey was written, most of the questions dealt with parking and interaction with the workers and staff at the ballpark. The people working their butts off at the park on game day were not a problem. Parking was not a problem. It was the experience itself that fell flat.

It just seems like the Tigers completely missed what being a fan at the park is all about. If you want a place to go hang out with friends and eat expensive food and drink expensive booze and cheer on the Tigers, they have that covered. Beyond that, if you want anything else more, well, they don’t have that for you. Not right now. But it shouldn’t take that much more effort to improve the experience, particularly for children.

Beyond giveaway promotions at the gates, improvements for guest comforts would be welcome. Things like tables in shaded areas, maybe a scavenger hunt around the ballpark for kids, or just a sign saying where to get cold water on a hot day — these would help make up for dashed expectations and communicate a level of caring that would go far and make me want to come back. If not for my sake, do it for the sake of the kids that you want to draw into this beautiful game and make lifelong fans. Do better Tigers, I know you can.

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