Kasten: Dodgers' brand improving on, off field
Club president sits down with MLB.com to address the state of the team
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Club president Stan Kasten, who can't seem to stay in any one place, sat down with MLB.com at Camelback Ranch for a few moments of Q&A on the state of the Dodgers.
MLB.com: New ownership has been in place for nearly two years. How do you view the progress made?
Kasten: First off, I'm proud of the support I've had from the ownership and the loyalty of the marketplace. The combination has allowed us to get to where we are. That said, it's all about winning, and that's our goal -- to win a World Series. When we got here, our focus was to bring this franchise back to where it once was. Our plan had three main aspects:
The first, with the team itself on the field, we set out to aggressively make it better on the field, make it a World Series caliber team, without disrupting the revitalization of the scouting and player development. We felt it was important to jump-start the process by acquiring Major League players immediately, while rebuilding the scouting and development, especially in the international arena, so we would have a functional pipeline of future players. That was the plan That doesn't mean it happens. People say it takes five years to rebuild an organization, and I don't disagree.
But we are blessed by being in this marketplace and having the resources to speed the plan up at the Major League level, and that gave us breathing room so we didn't have to rush players up that weren't ready. Because we were able to sign key free agents, we didn't trade away our best prospects. That was a key. That doesn't mean we won't, or that we haven't had discussions that would have netted us players in a trade. But so far we haven't done it. The best prospect we traded was Nathan Eovaldi, and that was for huge returns. (Hanley Ramirez)
The second goal was to enhance the fan experience. By now, we've spent $150 million on Dodger Stadium in the first two offseasons making improvements on every level, expanding concourses on every level. We've completely renovated the home clubhouse, which was woefully inadequate, and now it's what I think is the finest in baseball, and that's based on what I hear from our players and visiting players. This year we are completing the renovation of the visiting clubhouse, which will be spectacular, but one-tenth the size of the home clubhouse. It doesn't need to be as great. If a player wants the full access of the home clubhouse, he can become a Dodger.
We're continuing the enhancements around the park, like the areas behind the bullpens -- and not just by adding the bar, but we've replaced the tents with a full working retail store and improved food concessions. We've created a large plaza, a place to hang out with videos. We've done work on both sides. On one side will be a real BBQ restaurant, the other side will be Lasorda's, with a menu of Tommy-approved Italian fare.
Dodger Stadium is a wonderful place, but when it was built in 1962 it had narrow concourses, and all you could do was sit in the seats. Modern customers expect more. Something I expect, and, yes, I expect to have the largest network of Wi-Fi access in baseball by Opening Day. That's what my engineers tell me that, and I'll take blame if it's not ready. And believe me, I want it more than the customers do. So much in the way of entertainment and commerce relies on Wi-Fi, and the utilization of smart phones and iPads that I need it more. It's going to be in soon.
Finally, our third focus was community relations. The Dodgers have a history we are proud of and intend to continually build upon. Part of my joining the Board of LA84 -- it's our biggest partner of our Dreamfields program. I love what they do, and it's a perfect fit for me to join the Board. In conjunction or as an offshoot of that, we've expanded our Dodger alumni network to 40 former players and coaches. They are our army, spreading the word and goodwill of the Dodgers throughout the community, making hundreds of appearances at clinics, school programs, making speeches. Now we have a formal group doing nothing but that. I'm very proud of them. We have big names, small names. They work at the park signing autographs, and that access for our fans is so important. It's also important when our players, in uniform, greet fans coming into the stadium, and the players have been great about it.
Those 3 areas, generally speaking, we've made progress -- with plenty left to do. I do think the perception of the Dodgers, from where we came in to where we are now, I'm very pleased with what I see, both locally and nationally. We led baseball in road attendance. And throughout the Pacific Rim and Latin America, we are very far from where it was when we came in, and I'm very pleased. And, yes, we have a big payroll. But unlike when the Yankees were buying up players, we don't get a lot of squawk. People don't seem to hate us for that. I had lunch with Peter O'Malley, who has been great to me and very supportive of us. I get the nicest notes from him. To me, that's a signal we're doing things right. It doesn't mean he agrees with everything, but if there's anyone whose opinion I trust with how the Dodgers look, it's Peter.
MLB.com: OK, take a breath, and let me ask you about the new cable network. It was the broadcasting issue that triggered the bankruptcy and led to the sale of the club. What can fans expect?
Kasten: First, we bought the team because we wanted to buy the team. We wanted to restore the Dodgers brand. The TV potential figured into the final price, but it wasn't a so-called TV play or real estate play. We strive to bring the Dodgers to the highest level, and that goes for the network.
We believe SportsNet LA will be on the same top-quality level that the Dodgers should have. It is the first and only 24/7, one-team only, dedicated network. Fans will have access to content 24/7, and they never have before. There will be games, replays, analysis, behind-the-scenes footage, documentaries. I saw the studio the other day, and it is absolutely a network quality studio, as will be the talent for the games and the other programming. It will be something we'll be very proud of. And it's ours. This is what we want it to be.
And we've talked to players that this will allow us and them to put our best foot forward. I often use Magic Johnson as the quintessential example of parlaying success and popularity as a player into success off the field and for the rest of your life, and this is another avenue to achieve that. But [Don Mattingly] and I have also talked and are in complete agreement that the network will always be second to the play on the field. It will never interfere with job one -- contending and winning a World Series.
MLB.com: As the season approaches, there is growing fan concern about distribution. Will anybody be able to watch SportsNet LA?
Kasten: Like every city with a new deal, it will work itself out in due course. Everyone has the same goal. The distributor wants eyeballs on system. The Dodgers and TimeWarner want the most homes watching. We all have the same goal. In city after city, there's a push and pull through the process, but every case gets worked out.
MLB.com: Does Comcast's buyout of Time Warner jeopardize SportsNet LA in any way?
Kasten: Our contract is with TimeWarner, which is being bought by another company, but our contract is in place. We own the station, they distribute for us, and our rights are clearly agreed to for 25 years, plus extensions.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.