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Matwick: Fan experience must be 'championship-level'

VP of business ops sits down with to address the state of the organization

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Nolan Ryan departed from the Rangers after last season, they were left without a club president overseeing all aspects of the organization.

While Jon Daniels carries the official title of president of baseball operations, Rob Matwick has assumed responsibility of the opposite side as executive vice president for business operations. Previously, Matwick was in charge of ballpark operations at Globe Life Park in Arlington, a job Ryan hired him for in 2008.

Matwick is in his 29th year in baseball, having previously worked in both media relations and ballpark operations for the Astros. He was instrumental in many aspects of the construction and operation of Minute Maid Park. He also spent a year as vice president of communications with the Tigers before Ryan brought him back to Texas.

For Presidents Day, the Rangers vice president for business operations answered a few questions about what's going on with the organization off the field. From a business side, it appears the Rangers are in good shape going into the season. What are your feelings on that?

Matwick: I do feel good about where we are, heading into the season. However, I also know there is still plenty of work to be done before Opening Day and then hopefully the seven months that follow. Like every organization, we're working hard on renewing our season ticket base and building that total.

Our partnership sales team did a great job in securing a naming rights agreement with Globe Life, which has provided a huge lift for the organization. We're looking forward to growing our relationship with Globe Life. Supporting our community initiatives is a big part of the naming rights agreement, and we believe the relationship has tremendous potential.

For the fourth year in a row, our ownership has given us the ability to make improvements around the ballpark. We're busy finishing that work, while also working on marketing, promotions and getting our ballpark staff in place and ready for training. It's non-stop, but it's the second-best time of the year, next to October. How has your job changed since assuming oversight of the business side of the franchise?

Matwick: With a background in media relations and ballpark operations, I'm used to being engaged with a wide range of people inside and outside the organization, from the top to bottom. I believe that experience has served me well. I'm working with a larger circle of people inside the building, and increasing my involvement in the community. I also have a great opportunity to be more engaged with our ownership group, and I appreciate that very much. Who are you relying on most to keep the franchise running smoothly?

Matwick: It takes every person in the organization pulling in the same direction. We have a great staff, and I appreciate the effort that each person brings to the ballpark every day. I don't believe there are any shortcuts to success in our business. It's positive attitude, a commitment to serving our customers, making a difference in the community and a lot of hard work. The demands of our season require us to support each other, and I believe we do that very well. Our internal communication is critical. When we're all on the same page, we convey a strong, positive message to our fans.

After Nolan departed in October, our co-chairman, Ray Davis, stepped in and has become very involved in our day-to-day operation. His presence and business acumen has kept the organization moving forward. Ray, Mr. [Bob] Simpson and Neil Leibman provide the global direction for our franchise. Our executive staff works together under their leadership to carry out the mission.

Among that team, I work very closely with Kellie Fischer, our CFO. Her institutional knowledge and command of our finances is invaluable to everyone in the organization. John Blake has been a friend and professional colleague for the 29 years I've been in Major League Baseball. He is the hardest working and most knowledgeable media relations professional I've ever known. His counsel and understanding of media, broadcasting and community issues is second to none. Paige Farragut [of ticket sales], Joe Januszewski [of business partnerships] and Jay Miller [of enterprises] lead the groups that drive our revenues.

Under their leadership, we're consistently taking this organization to levels we might not have thought possible just six years ago when I arrived. Jim Sundberg leads the Texas Rangers Foundation, our Alumni Legacy program, and all of the activities at our Youth Ballpark, which touch so many lives each year. Then there's Chuck Morgan and his group, creating the atmosphere on game days. When I hear his voice reminding me that it's "Baseball time in Texas," all is right with our world.

My first month in baseball, in October of 1985, Dick Wagner sat me down and explained that the field is our stage, and while we can't control the outcome of the game, we can control everything that takes place outside the lines. We're fortunate to have Jon Daniels and Thad Levine building our baseball operation and providing us their insights as part of our executive staff. On the business side, we need to strive for excellence in everything that we do and deliver championship caliber service to every person or group we're in contact with. Globe Life Park in Arlington turns 20 this year. What shape do you think the facility is in, and what more would you like to do with it?

Matwick: As we complete our round of renovations this year, we're looking at the restaurant space at the top of the Upper Home Run Porch as a possible target for work next offseason. It's a credit to our ownership and our partners at Delaware North-Sportservice for what we've accomplished over the past three years.

The building in general is in very good shape. We've greatly improved our food and beverage, and retail operations with the upgrades. However, I also think we've done some very practical things for fans. The Batter's Eye Club, Captain Morgan Club and Kids Zone gave us three new spaces, which are all conditioned for year-round use. The decked areas on either side of the Batter's Eye Club provide shade or protection from the rain.

By reconfiguring the visiting bullpen, we resolved what had been a terrible choke point for fans trying to get to our team store, or simply moving around the concourse. The improvement and expansion of the Capital One Club, addition of the Pro Shop and two new free-standing concession stands last winter allows us to better serve our customers in the home plate area.

As we wind down this year's projects, we'll evaluate what's left to be done. Our goal would be to prepare a recommendation for ownership review at some point, most likely in June. What is your main focus otherwise in enhancing the fan experience?

Matwick: We're in the business of making memories and doing as much as we can to enhance the gameday experience. By its nature, baseball is a very social sport. We have natural pauses between pitches, between batters and between innings. These breaks allow families and friends to talk to each other, but they also give us the opportunity to connect with our fans.

When we installed our new video board and control room after 2010, we gave Chuck a whole new set of tools to work with, and he has delivered. Sherry Flow, who works closely with Chuck on our promotions and gameday experience, has done a great job of creating opportunities for fans to get involved in our pregame and between-innings spots.

Their creativity never ceases to amaze me. Becky Kimbro (Marketing) and Kaylan Eastepp (Social Media) play the key roles in our messaging and integration with MLBAM on emerging technologies in the ballpark. BAM has the I-Beacon implementation underway this year, and I'm looking forward to seeing how that will allow us to influence consumer behavior.

Additionally, Karin Morris (Foundation/Community Outreach) does a great job in the community. However, what really makes a difference is when we can bring those community groups to the ballpark. There is no substitute for experiencing Rangers baseball in person. Taunee Taylor (Player Relations) then works with our players to create opportunities for them to engage with our fans. You have drawn 3 million fans in each of the last two seasons. Do you think that has become the norm for the franchise?

Matwick: Drawing three million fans has certainly become our expectation. We appreciate the support from our fans in North Texas and in our five-state territory, but it's important that we always look for opportunities to expand our brand presence beyond that area. We've seen the impact internationally with the arrival of Yu Darvish. The additions of Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo this winter have created great buzz about our team, and we're seeing those positive results in our ticket, sponsorship and retail sales heading into the season.

Part of my role is to listen and pay careful attention to what our fans, staff, ownership and the community is telling us about how we're running our organization. There's nothing better than success on the field, but our performance outside the lines is how the business side of the operation is judged. Our goal is to deliver at a championship level every day.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger.
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