When the Chargers fled for Los Angeles, the team left behind a mountain of ill will and created a huge void in the professional sporting landscape. San Diego now has only one major league professional team, the Padres. Two NBA teams (the San Diego Rockets and San Diego Clippers) left the city. As did the Bolts, last year, after more than 55 years in the city. The remaining pro team has a narrow window of time to heal the latest wound, to build on to its existing fan base, and to fully become San Diego’s team.
Yes, the city does play host to other teams like the San Diego Gulls (hockey), San Diego Seals (lacrosse), San Diego 1904 FC (soccer), as well as a number of collegiate teams. But the fact remains that the Padres are the only team left in town capable of filling the stands with tens of thousands of people and capturing the passion of local sports fans as the Friars did in 1984 and 1998.
During those playoff runs, fans came out in droves, proudly wearing their Cub Buster t-shirts in ’84 and filling Mission Valley with the deafening roars of over 65,00 fans in ’98. Petco Park may hold 20,000 fewer fans than Qualcomm Stadium, but if the Padres actually build a winning organization, the Friar faithful will make up in volume what they lack in numbers.
In the meantime, the Padres have to take a number of steps to win back those Friar faithful (who have experienced far more disappointment than exultation in the history of this franchise) and to build on that existing fan base. The organization must begin by communicating honestly with fans, rather than ignoring them as if they didn’t matter and/or tossing around platitudes.
The promotional schedule has been ridiculed in the recent years, but has vastly improved this year, which will help put fannies in the seats. The team should also celebrate the young players on the team now, like Manuel Margot and Austin Hedges, and those (like infielder Luis Urias) who may make it to the big club by the end of the year.
And the organization must address the uniform issue. Even Forbes Magazine has weighed in on the subject in an article by Demetrius Bell in which he called the present uniforms uninteresting and unexciting. “With that being said, the Padres are sitting on an ace in the hole when it comes to the history of colors,” he continued. That ace in the hole, according to Bell, is the brown and yellow alternate jerseys.
A very vocal group of Padres’ fans has pushed for a change of uniforms, but why not involve a larger group of fans? The team should actually poll every fan it can reach through the usual channels, including social media, to reach a consensus on a unique look for the home team. Padres Executive Chairman Ron Fowler has announced that any change in uniform must wait until 2020, allowing the team plenty of time to solicit input and keep fans involved.
Of course, playing competitive baseball remains the surest way to engage fans. Carrying three Rule-5 draft picks on the team last year certainly didn’t help, but one hopes the Padres won’t repeat that experiment anytime soon. No one expects the Padres to end up in the playoffs this year, so the front office must be creative and not lose this “golden chance”, as Jerry Coleman would call it, to become the team embraced by San Diego sports fans.