In honor of Presidents Day, MLB.com sat down with Arizona Diamondbacks team president and CEO Derrick Hall to discuss the state of the organization.
MLB.com: How are ticket sales going so far this year? I know you have been creative with the variety of plans that you offer. Are there any new programs this year?
Hall: We have some more options and plans and we have more payment options, which is something we had gotten a lot of feedback about. Fans and prospective buyers had said if there were more payment plans to stretch out their payments, to pay monthly for 12 months, it would help them, so we've made some changes with that. We are pacing well ahead of where we were last year at this time. We are just hoping to hit our projections, which are very similar to last year. We hope to be above it a little bit, and the way we're pacing, it looks like we will be.
MLB.com: You guys always have ranked at or near the top in the affordability indexes that come out with regard to ticket prices. Will that be the case again this year?
Hall: We'll still be the most affordable when it comes to fan cost index, which takes into account hot dogs, soda, beer, programs, tickets, caps. We'll always be the most affordable in baseball.
MLB.com: You are opening the regular season against the Dodgers this year in Sydney, Australia, and it seems like the organization has really made some efforts internationally in recent years. I know you've made several trips to Japan and Latin America as well as signing the first player from Brazil.
Hall: I think there's tremendous opportunity internationally from a talent standpoint. Being able to evaluate and recruit talent is a big opportunity for us as well as spreading goodwill and planting our flag and brand in the sand. So for us over the past couple of years it's been a real focus -- spend more time in Mexico, spend more time in Japan. We're going back to Japan again this year, Kevin Towers and I, in August. I've spent a lot of time naturally in Australia because of our game there. In Brazil we now have a scout full time and we're looking at the possibility of opening up a smaller-type academy there. More time in the Dominican, more time in Venezuela. So it's a focus and a priority and hopefully it will result in more players as well as more interest in baseball and the Diamondbacks.
MLB.com: What kind of feedback have you gotten from people in Australia in your time over there so far?
Hall: Great feedback. I think we've already made quite a statement. Australians like the underdog and they consider us the underdog in these two games, in this series. I've really enjoyed my time there and I think our time there is going to be great. Australia is really a market that is growing for us. The interest in baseball, the participation level in baseball is on the rise. I think from what I've seen firsthand in Australia and New Zealand is residents there are looking for an opportunity for their kids to go to school in the United States and hopefully getting it paid for through athletics. And the best way to do that is not through rugby or cricket, but through baseball and softball. So those sports are on the rise and it's a perfect time for us to go over on behalf of Major League Baseball and more importantly for this organization and this brand.
MLB.com: The organization has recently committed to supplying Arizona Little Leaguers with D-backs uniforms. Where did that idea come from?
Hall: Back in my Dodgers days, I used to dream up the idea and concept and discuss it with our employees and staff, how we could one day have an all-Dodger league -- maybe uniforms that were reversible where they could be blue one week and white the next -- but never really brought it to fruition. This is a takeoff from that, but even bigger. This is a community initiative as well, because we're taking care of the largest expense for them. We interviewed directors of all the leagues and asked them what their biggest need or concern is and they've always said the uniforms, the jerseys and caps. So we thought if we could relieve them of that, free them of that, they could then take that money or savings and direct it wherever they want. Maybe they could use it for field improvement, for concessions, for reducing the fees that kids need to pay. As a result, registration has gone way up, we've saved some leagues $30,000, others $20,000. We want to crawl before we can walk so we've taken about a fourth of the leagues in the state. So we're going to supply over 20,000 jerseys and caps for players and coaches in 33 different leagues. Quite a few of the leagues we saved, because they were going under. So we kept them afloat and it's going to be remarkable to see all the kids wearing D-backs uniforms. We give discounts to the Team Shop to the parents in their welcome kits, so they're able to buy merchandise.
MLB.com: That seems to be what you've tried very hard to do -- have kids grow up rooting for the D-backs.
Hall: Absolutely and the feedback we've been getting has been awesome. There's been full embrace from all the leagues; the kids are ecstatic. I'm getting notes and emails from friends saying my kid is so excited, my kid got the D-backs camouflage jersey. I got a note from someone saying their grandson got a green D-backs jersey, what's with the green? I wrote back that in the lower leagues where there are so many kids and so many different teams we had to use as many different colors as we could, other than blue and orange. He wrote back and said, "Oh, I get it, no Dodgers, no Giants."
MLB.com: With the debt of the deferred salaries now paid off, increased revenue coming in from Major League Baseball's national television deal as well as a new local television deal in the works, it seems like the organization is maybe in the best financial shape it's ever been in. Is that accurate?
Hall: We are as financially stable and healthy as we've ever been. We no longer have any debt; you know being debt-free is tremendous. Our revenues are at an all-time high for a number of reasons. National revenues have gone up and all boats rise there, not just ours. Our advertising and corporate sponsorships are at an all-time high, ticket sales are on the rise -- not our largest ever, but on the rise -- and that's our biggest opportunity. Our local broadcasting rights -- our radio deal is a long-term deal so we don't have to address that for a number of years -- but our television deal that we're in the midst of negotiating right now is going to perhaps bring us our biggest upside in regards to revenue. So I think with all that, our fans will continue to see an investment in the team. That's why our payroll is higher than it's ever been.
MLB.com: Where are things at with your television deal?
Hall: It expires after the 2015 season, but we had a window where we could negotiate now to create our own network if we wanted to. So we've looked at all our possibilities and it opened the door for us also to begin negotiations with our current partner, FOX. Being the current rightsholder, naturally we want to explore that possibility as much as we can just out of loyalty and partnership, but there are some other opportunities that we're very intrigued by. In either case, whichever direction we go, it's going to be a game-changer for the organization.
Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @SteveGilbertMLB.