When Darcy Raymond walked the halls of the Tropicana Field, home of
Major League Baseball’s Tampa Devil Rays, for the first time, the atmosphere was stifling. Green paint on the bottom of the walls; white on top.
The team had one of the worst records in the history of baseball and the mood at the ball field seemed to match it.
“There was just no life,” says Raymond. “You would walk through it and it was just very bare bones.”
He was hired to change that. Fresh out of Harvard Business School he was named vice president of Branding and Fan Experience. His task? To re-brand the team as winners and create a place where fans would want to come and be part of the action.
Raymond’s mother was born in Sunny Brae and, while he grew up in Montreal, he says the family would often come back in the summers to visit his relatives including Gerald and Clyde Macdonald of New Glasgow. Raymond was back in town this week to visit those relatives and shared a little about his work with the Rays.
The first major change he helped was to rename the team from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to just the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008.
While part of it was to show that the team was under new ownership and communicating change, a lot of the reasoning had to do with the team’s poor record.
“It’s one of the worst in the history of baseball,” said Raymond. “We wanted to erase that.”
The name devil also had negative connotations for some.
Working with a combination of other factors the rebranding seemed to have had an impact.
“Since we rebranded in ’08 we’ve been to the post season three out of four years,” he said.
The work he’s done to make it an exciting place to be for fans has been just as dramatic if not more.
He filled the bare halls with entertainment and exhibits. The building now houses a museum, baseball-themed carnival and a tank with live sting rays that people can pet. They’ve also introduced the “centerfield shuffle” where fans can exit on the field with disco music playing, lights flashing and cameras showing them on the big screens.
“One thing is for sure is we’re committed to making Tropicana Field the best possible experience it can be with what it is and I think we’ve done that,” says Raymond. “We’ve continued every year to add something new to make it really fun.”
That said, the team has struggled along with other sports teams in Florida as a result of a slow economy. They had ranked 29 out of 30 for attendance last season and there was even talk of moving the team.
Whether that will happen down the road, Raymond can’t say.
“I think we’ve really pulled every lever we can,” he said. “It is what it is. The economy is really hurting down here.”
For him he takes pleasure in seeing what they have accomplished and the changes that have happened for the underdog team.
A man with roots in rural Pictou County, he’s happy to say he’s found a home in a ballfield in Florida. No more is it a building of a last-place team with unenthusiastic fans. For him it is a place where he can walk through and wave to fans and friends.
“A home game for me is like walking in my neighbourhood. It’s more than just a job,” he says. “It’s a lifestyle. I’m very blessed.”