Marcos Breton

PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

AT&T Park erupts Wednesday as Pablo Sandoval's first-inning homer clears the fence. Twitter and Facebook keep fans connected and buzzing away from the game.

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Marcos Breton: Fans feel like part of the team

Published: Thursday, Oct. 25, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 6C
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Win or lose the 2012 World Series, the Giants have conquered the enemy of every for-profit business – apathy.

A franchise that nearly relocated 20 years ago amid years of red ink and empty seats, the Giants are a standing-room-only phenomenon today by winning big and – just miles from Silicon Valley – by being among the first professional teams to embrace social media to connect with fans.

The communal experience is passionate on most days at AT&T Park. On Wednesday, as the Giants beat the Detroit Tigers 8-3 in Game 1 of the World Series, it reached decibel levels that hurt the ears. Fans hung on every pitch, went wild with every Pablo Sandoval home run and collectively willed starter Barry Zito to another storybook effort.

It seemed less like a big-league baseball game and more like a European soccer match, a revival meeting or some combination of the two.

There is no denying that reaching the World Series twice in three seasons is a major factor in the Giants' organizational success – the franchise won the 2010 World Series to huge acclaim. But there is so much more than runs and strikes going on in the gorgeous stadium framed by the Bay Bridge and San Francisco Bay.

"People feel they are a part of the Giants' story," said Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction, an award-winning interactive advertising agency in San Francisco. "It's the entire brand experience. … They have created something unique but part of the fabric of San Francisco."

For the past two seasons, the Giants have sold out AT&T Park – averaging more than 41,000 fans for all 81 home games each season.

In most other ballparks, player nicknames went the way of electric typewriters. But here, the old tradition is alive – but the monikers are attached to very modern players.

Sandoval, the corpulent third basemen who hit home runs in his first three at-bats Wednesday night, is called "Kung Fu Panda" for his resemblance to the roly-poly cartoon character.

There is "The Freak," pitcher Tim Lincecum; "The Beard," injured closer Brian Wilson; "The Baby Giraffe," for Brandon Belt, the gangly first baseman.

In these men and many others, the Giants have hit the marketing mother lode – players who win and are beloved enough by fans to be known by their nicknames.

A Giants front office that has barely changed in 20 years is responsible for collecting players who play well and play well together. But the marketing aspect of these men is a lucrative bonus.

Consequently, the Giants – more than many other teams – use Facebook and Twitter to connect fans to the personalities they love.

"At the end of the day, it's about selling tickets," said Bryan Srabian, the Giants' Sacramento-based director of social media. "But there is an emotional connection between the fans and the players."

To tap into that fan yearning to connect with the players winning the games, the Giants' ads always place the team's players in the community – or among fans.

It wasn't always this way. In 1992, the A's were dominant in the Bay Area and the Giants appeared to be relocating to Florida until a group that was led by Peter Magowan, who ran Safeway at the time, purchased them.

The Giants opened AT&T Park in 2000, largely with private funds, with the idea that it would be more than a ballpark.

It is. The stadium has turned the once-dreary China Basin area into a hotbed for restaurants, clubs and boundless energy.

According to Forbes magazine, the Giants generated more than $200 million in revenue in their 2010 World Series season – a mark the team is expected to eclipse this season.

It's a for-profit success story because the Giants created an atmosphere where winning baseball is a love affair.

"I have a friend who jogs around AT&T Park, and on his run he touches the feet of all (the monuments to Hall of Fame) Giants players outside the stadium," said Kleinberg, the advertising executive. "He's positive that the Giants wouldn't win without that."

That type of love is priceless.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Marcos Breton



Marcos Breton, news columnist

Marcos Breton

Hello, my name is Marcos Breton and I'm the news columnist with The Sacramento Bee. What's a columnist supposed to do? I'm supposed to make you think, make you laugh, make you mad or make you see an issue in a different way. I'm supposed to connect the dots on issues, people and relationships that cause things to happen or prevent them from happening in our region. I also write a weekly baseball column during the baseball season. I am a voter in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Yes, I have voted for Barry Bonds - twice. I am a native of Northern California. I am the son of Mexican immigrants. I've been at The Bee for more than 20 years, and I love Sacramento.

Email: mbreton@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1096
Twitter: @MarcosBreton
Facebook: facebook.com/marcosbretonmartinez

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