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Samson interview MLB.com

Eddie Altamonte

Dec 31, 2005
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Samson: Marlins are more than a game
04/07/2007 2:53 PM ET
By Joe Frisaro / MLB.com

Maximizing the gameday experience is a primary objective of the Marlins organization as the 2007 season gets under way.
In a trendy place like South Florida, the Marlins are making a stronger push to lure fans into Dolphin Stadium by turning the ballpark into an event, not just a place to watch a game.

Team president David Samson points out that Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria encourages the organization to "dare to be different" when it comes to attracting players and developing new promotional ideas.

Thinking outside the box is how the marketing department came up with a new "Super Saturdays Concert Series," where after each Saturday home game, fans will be treated to a live band followed by a fireworks show.

Established bands like Kansas, Joan Jett and Cheap Trick will be performing at Dolphin Stadium during the course of the season.

On the field, the Marlins again are optimistic they can contend for a playoff berth, despite having the second lowest payroll in the league.

The team has certainly shown in recent years that general manager Admin Beinfest, along with assistant general manager Mike Hill, and the rest of the front office can secure talented players.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez and his staff are looking to take this team to a higher level.

A pressing off-field issue yet to be resolved is finalizing a deal for a new stadium. The club is hopeful to have a new home in downtown Miami. A hangup is a number of local politicians prefer the stadium being built next to the Orange Bowl in Miami.

Samson sat down with MLB.com to discuss a number of issues facing the franchise in 2007.

MLB.com: What do fans in South Florida have to look forward to from the Florida Marlins in '07?

Samson: I know there is a lot to look forward to on and off this season. Starting on the field, we're bringing back a team that showed a lot of promise last year, and hopes to not just finishing above .500 this year, but actually making a run for and securing a playoff spot. From the excitement at the top of the lineup with Hanley Ramirez all the way to [Miguel] Olivo and [Alejandro] De Aza at the bottom of the lineup. There is a lot to look at.

Off the field, this is going to be the most spectacular year in our history.

MLB.com: Why is that?

Samson: Super Saturdays is a concept we started where we wanted to make for 13 Saturdays, Dolphin Stadium will be the place to be. From the minute you get into your car on the way to the stadium, to the minute you get back to your house, it will be all about the Marlins and the experience you're having at the stadium. So starting with giveaways from when your car pulls into the parking lot. There will be giveaways for your car. Then when you get into the stadium, the Strike Zone at Gate H, there is going to be a party. There will be celebrity autograph sessions, VIPs will be everywhere. It will be a pregame experience, unlike Florida has never seen. It's almost going to be like an awards show.

MLB.com: Are you guys breaking new ground by making baseball more of an entertainment package rather than just attending a baseball game?

Samson: We are trying to do what we think hasn't been done yet, which is to truly eventize the entire season of baseball. Everyone says 81 games are too much. Well, 81 events are not too much. We're starting with 15 events. The 15 events are Opening Day, 13 Saturdays, and a new concept we came up with which is called Closing Day. The last regular season home game, which is against the Cubs [Sept. 27], is an afternoon game, and it will be Closing Day.

MLB.com: You have an on-field product with some great players like Hanley Ramirez, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis. Now on Saturday night home games, you are bringing in bands as well. How are you coming up with these acts?

Samson: Starting with American Idol Favorites, which are contestants who finished in the Top 10 in previous seasons, to Joan Jett, to Kansas, to Jo Dee Messina, to Disco Night with Gloria Gaynor, we've got bands that will entertain you for an hour after each game. Then we've got fireworks, the likes which have not been seen at Dolphin Stadium before. Every single Saturday night will be an event, and it just hasn't been done before.

MLB.com: With this effort to 'eventize' Saturday nights, what kind of feedback are you getting from Major League Baseball when they hear this concept?

Samson: They are very excited that we are trying this, and we're putting so much money into our marketing budget, and so much money to get these bands to come play. The fireworks are expensive, but it's all included within the price of the regular ticket. That's what is different. It's not an extra ticketed event, it is one ticket, one price. You get three hours of baseball and then an hour to two hours after the game, it's almost a five- to six-hour night at the ballpark.

MLB.com: You think other teams and leagues will have their eye on how this goes?

Samson: We're all keeping our eye on it because it's been a tremendous investment and Sean Flynn [vice president of marketing] who is in charge with this is doing a tremendous job. Both Jeffrey and I are very excited about this.

MLB.com: How has your organization been able to find new on-field talent, and new ideas, and been able to pull them off?

Samson: I think it starts with Jeffrey. He challenges us, on all different levels, to dare to be different. It sounds cheesy, but he gives us the flexibility and the resources, both financially and spiritually to not just think outside the box, but act outside the box. Whether it is Super Saturdays, or whether it is starting De Aza [the only rookie in the everyday lineup] in center field. Other teams may sign a veteran, and just pay him $1 million and hope that he is good. We are willing to put De Aza out there because he earned a job, and we have a chance to hit it big with him. Whether it is making the trades that we make, or whether it is our marketing, he gives us the flexibility. We do some guerilla marketing that frankly other teams may not like, but our fans think are funny and good, and we're willing to push the envelope.

MLB.com: You know as well as I, the product, though, has to be worth watching. What do you think of the product on the field?

Samson: The product is the experience, in our mind. Part of the product, 81 games here, is the baseball game. But our product lasts 12 months a year. We are the Florida Marlins Baseball Team. We play games during the season. We have community events in the offseason. We have road games during the season, and we want to keep our fans engaged, by watching on TV and listening on the radio. We don't view it just as an 81 [home] game season. We view it as a 365-day season.

MLB.com: How excited are you about what this team is capable of doing?

Samson: If everything goes our way, we will be one of eight [in the playoffs]. Not every team can say that each year. Admin, Jeffrey, Mike Hill and our front office puts us in position where every year we can say that we can reasonably except to be one of eight.

MLB.com: What do you say to people who say payroll doesn't translate to that type of optimism?

Samson: I think that we all think about what it would be like to have a higher payroll to cover up our mistakes. But we don't have that luxury, so it forces us into a zero tolerance policy when it comes to mistakes paying players if they don't perform. I would say that anyone who is critical of us being optimistic is only really nervous in the fact it may turn out to be true.

MLB.com: Why do you have this optimism? Is it because of the young pitching?

Samson: It's not just our pitching, it is our players from one to 25, and our coaching staff. It's from Fredi, and his coaches. That's why I'm optimistic.

MLB.com: What is the latest on the stadium situation?

Samson: I am optimistic and hopeful that the city and the county are still discussing a way to deliver the downtown site in a timely fashion that will enable citizens in South Florida to enjoy baseball in South Florida for years to come.

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