The Dodgers' New Hollywood Player: Will Peter Guber Bring the Glitz?

5:09 PM PST 03/29/2012 by Alex Ben Block
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The former head of Sony Pictures Entertainment and the driving force behind the Mandalay Entertainment Group, Guber could provide the L.A. franchise with the same cutting-edge marketing plan he's brought to Mandalay’s minor-league Dayton Dragons.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' new minority investor Peter Guber is well known in Hollywood as a producer (Rainman, Batman), as the former head of Sony Pictures Entertainment, as a professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and, since 1994, as the CEO and driving force behind the Mandalay Entertainment Group. But in recent years, Guber, 70, has increasingly turned his energy toward sports, with ownership interests in minor-league baseball teams and, since 2010, as an owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors.

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Guber can’t talk about what his role will be with the Dodgers until after the new ownership group led by Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim Partners gets approval for its record-breaking $2.1 billion deal to buy the storied franchise. But a look at how he has impacted his sports interests provides some insight into how much Hollywood glitz Guber will likely bring to the Dodgers. Guber and Mandalay are partners in Mandalay Sports Entertainment, which was formed in 1995, with Seaport Capital of New York.

If nothing else, Guber can be expected to be a force in marketing the team, not only in traditional ways but also using cutting-edge new media tools. Most of all, Guber is likely to bring a new level of personal service that should please team fans who have suffered in recent years under the unpredictable McCourt regime. Employees of Mandalay’s Class A Dayton Dragons must take a comprehensive course at “Dragons University” before they are allowed to interact with paying customers, and after every game they stand at the gate shaking hands and thanking people for coming.

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If that sounds like it's too bush league for L.A., don’t bet against it. Despite an uneven performance on the field, the Dragons of the Midwest League have set a U.S. pro sport records for the most consecutive home-game sellouts, despite playing in one of the most economically depressed parts of the country during the recession.

An eight-person staff constantly checks on ticket holders for customer satisfaction, even during the off-season. In some cases, they talk ticket buyers into taking less than a full-season package if they don’t attend games regularly. This not only makes ticket buyers happier, it leaves fewer unfilled seats.

Partial-season packages are a luxury the team can afford because it not only has more than 5,000 season ticket buyers (for a 7,500-seat facility), it also has a waiting list of thousands more who want the tickets, which are mailed in custom-designed boxes meant to be a keepsake. The annual renewal rate for season tickets is about 95 percent. In 2010, the Dragons ranked fifth in attendance among all minor-league teams, with those above them in ticket sales all in larger communities and playing in higher-level leagues.

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The game program is unlike any you have seen. The Dragons print a new 32-page book for every game and give it away. That may be hard to believe until you understand that the book is a part of what they sell corporate sponsors, who are treated with even more care than fans.

Unlike many ballparks, the stadium, built in 2000, isn’t covered with commercial signage. There are 240 feet of electronic signage around the outfield, but the scoreboard area is limited to eight core sponsors, and the number of billboard-type signs is limited. Mandalay sold naming rights to the ballpark to a local bank in a 20-year deal worth $4.3 million, and the team has more than 50 corporate sponsors.

Whether the team is a hit on the field or not, Dayton fans are entertained when they come to the ballpark. They have a “Green Team” made up of employees and interns who act as one of several mascots. One of the mascots is a “superhero” who chases down foul balls that land on the roof of the ballpark and then turns them into Softee Balls he gives to children. There is even a dance troupe made up of senior citizens who entertain between innings.  

Whenever there is a charitable event in the Dayton area, it is likely the Dragons will be involved and offering tickets, merchandise or prizes.

After Mandalay became involved with the Golden State Warriors, the team still had its problems on the court, but its marketing has moved into the 21st century. For instance, the Warriors use a sophisticated mobile service to reach out to season ticket holders and engaged a firm that provides personalized online video messages. At the end of the video, fans can click on a link to renew their season tickets.

So what can jaded Dodgers fans expect? More personal service, more contact through social media, more fan appreciation and a more entertaining experience in Chavez Ravine.

Whether the team wins more games is another question entirely.

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