Castellini's vision: Fun, wins
Entering first season as Reds CEO, Castellini already leaving his mark
BY JOHN FAY | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
SARASOTA, Fla. - Bob Castellini, the Reds' new chief executive officer, was everywhere at the team's Ed Smith Stadium complex during spring training.
He sat in on meetings with coaches and scouts.
He walked the concourse, chatting up fans.
He strolled the backfields, watching minor-leaguers, meeting players and staff.
"It's been a lot of fun," he said.
And Castellini wants fans to have fun, too. To make that happen, there will be some changes this season at Great American Ball Park.
The park will feature two new party areas and a new concert series.
The Reds also will open the gates earlier - two hours before game time, as opposed to 11/2 hours - so fans can watch batting practice.
But Castellini also is a pragmatist, and he knows if the Reds aren't competitive, nothing else will matter.
He thinks the Reds will exceed expectations this season. We'll start to find out whether that's true Monday, when the team plays its Opening Day game at Great American Ball Park against the Chicago Cubs.
Castellini's life has changed dramatically since he assumed control of the club from former CEO Carl Lindner in January.
Despite his prominence in the business community, Castellini didn't deal much with the media.
But once he took over the Reds, he jumped in with both feet, wowing local reporters with his candid and outgoing style.
As spring training was winding down, Castellini took time to answer questions about his new job and the season ahead.
Question: How's it been so far? Are you having fun?
Answer: Yes - how can you not have fun? Spring training is the best of all baseball. We've got a lot of hard-working people on and off the field, dedicated people. It's more of a relaxed atmosphere here. But there's more of an intensity to win. Everyone knows we're here to win.
Q: How would you rate the job new Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky has done so far?
A: Ten would be perfection. So let's say 9, 9.5. He's done 30 years of this stuff. ... He worked in a small market where he had to be right. He's got confidence in himself. That's why I've got confidence in him. He doesn't say, "All you guys are wrong; we're doing it my way." There's no agenda with Wayne Krivsky. I don't mean to deify him, but he's doing a great job.
Q: Phil, your son and the club's senior director of business operations, said the goal is to draw 2 million fans. Can you break even at that figure? If attendance eventually went to 3 million, what kind of payroll would we be talking about?
A: We budget to break even at that amount. Revenues go to cash flow. Whatever is left over after expenses goes to payroll. It's all budgeted. It's complicated. It's not that easily arrived at. ... But we're good at budgeting and feel like we're on track. In terms of payroll, if we feel like we have a real good shot at midseason, we know we're going to get more people in the ballpark, so we'll go out on a limb and spend the money that has to be spent within reason to continue to have us in the swim.
Q: Cincinnati and St. Louis used to be neck-and-neck in attendance and they would vie for the unofficial title of "Best Baseball City in America." The only significant difference in the two markets seems to be the size of the metro area; St. Louis is considerably bigger than Cincinnati. The Reds have a farther-flung fan base upon which they must rely to drive to games. How do you deal with that?
A: We're doing a lot. I have it written out. We have a lot in the pipeline. We've hired a lot of new people. We've got these young kids - young, relatively. They're full of (energy). They're going after it. ... One of the lively things we're going to do is MDX promotion, Pepsi's energy drink. We're sparking things up. We're going to have a bar that's open up to two hours after the game. We've got several concerts. We've got a party room we're putting together above the owner's box for groups. We're going to have people - our interns - in the stands talking to fans, asking if they've been treated right. ... We're going to open two hours ahead of time instead of an hour and half, so people can take in batting practice. We've got some neat things.
Q: Can you get another couple million in revenue out of the stadium in sponsorships?
A: Absolutely. Can we do 3 million in attendance? I don't know. But why not aspire to it? The most we've ever done is 2.6 (million). You have to set your goal high. Once you get up there, everything goes up. Your signage increases; you sell all the other things out. Demand exceeds supply and you get more for everything.
Q: Why haven't the Reds had good pitching? Is it scouting or development?
A: I had the guys in here yesterday to answer that question. I think you're better off hearing it from Wayne. It's not one or the other. It's a combination of a lot of things.
Q: You know the honeymoon is probably going to be short. Beginning on Opening Day, reality sets in. In what ways have you girded yourself for the criticism that is inevitable if you don't win? Will you avoid listening to sports talk radio? Might you take out another full-page ad (in the paper)? Write an op-ed piece? Go on sports talk radio? In other words, what specifically will you do to show the fans you are engaged?
A: Those are very poignant questions. No one puts more pressure on us than we do. My biggest disappointment is going to be any game we lose. That's going to be worse than any criticism. We don't want to lose. We're not op-ed people. We're not going to do that stuff. Am I going to do a lot of talk shows? No. I did one the other night, because it's necessary. But I'll do very, very few talk shows. This is not about ownership. This is about the people who have been empowered to make this the great franchise it can be.
Q: You said in answer to a question at your press conference that there is a place for Sabermetrics in the Reds. (Sabermetrics involves using deep statistical analysis to make on-field decisions and evaluate trades.) What is that place? Have you addressed it? Are you going to hire somebody? Have you looked into hiring somebody?
A: We've got an outside consulting firm that when we go to make big trades or a deal, we call on them. We've got two guys here who run our numbers constantly. ...
Sabermetrics is absolutely essential. But it can't be the tail wagging the dog. There are so many things that are as important, if not more important. So you just can't have a rotisserie type of selection of players in your draft, your free-agent signing, or your trades. (Character) makeup is extremely important, how that person fits in the team chemistry. The closer to the major leagues, the more important stats are.
Q: What exactly are your hopes for diversity in the seats at Reds games, and how are you going to accomplish this? Specifically, in what ways can you leverage a wonderful idea - minority investors having a share in the Reds - into more diversity in the stands?
A: That's a good question. Win. Win. I think the message is out there that Cincinnati is a diverse city and the Reds are probably as integral a part of the fabric of the city than any other sports endeavor. I think people understand we care about all Cincinnatians. We want all Cincinnatians to be represented at our ballpark.
Q: What has been the most difficult aspect of your job since you took over, and why?
A: I'd say two things. One would be the Sean Casey trade. When you have to trade a fellow of that caliber, it's very difficult. He's the type of ballplayer we want here.
The second thing has been the constant criticism of previous ownership. ... The fact that communication wasn't there is correct. But this rap that previous ownership did not want to win is just totally inaccurate. They wanted to win. They spent money to win. And maybe we stubbed our toe on some things. But the desire to win was there. ...
Anybody who tries to say Carl Lindner - one of the most important things in his life is Greater Cincinnati - anyone who says Carl Lindner didn't want to win is off base. Mistakes were made along the way. But to give him a personal rap that he didn't want to win is wrong.
Q: You have made it fun to be a part-owner in the Reds again. Witness your inviting owners to Sarasota for a dinner and on-field activities. Why was it important for you to do this?
A: The people we brought in - and demand exceeded supply; a lot of people wanted a piece of the Reds, it hadn't been sold for 40 years and might not be sold for 40 more - the people I chose to join me were people who cared about the Reds, not just people who wanted to own a piece of a baseball team. Everybody in our group has Cincinnati Reds ties, and all our partners are successful in their own endeavors and professions. They are types who know what it takes to build an organization and a winning team. And, other than myself, they will be my strongest critics.
Q: How important is it for that space next to Great American Ball Park to develop into something?
A: It's extremely important. It's going to happen. It's important for a city that the living room gets developed and decorated, which is our riverfront. It's important to the sports side of things. ...
We're going to make sure we coincide what we do in the ballpark with what's going outside it. Say you're a guy from Ashland, Ky. You've got three kids. You want to take them for a holiday. You bring them up to Cincinnati on a Friday. That night you go to a Reds game. Saturday morning, you go to the (Newport) Aquarium. You go to another Reds game Saturday night or afternoon. If you have the afternoon game, you go to the zoo or the (National Underground Railroad) Freedom Center, the Reds Hall of Fame. What a great way to be a great dad. Cincinnati provides an incredible outlet within 150 miles. Our market, when you extend it another 50 miles, is a hell of a lot larger. We've got to take advantage that.
As we speak, we're analyzing our fan base. We've always had that capability, but we haven't done it. Fifteen percent of tickets come out of Hamilton, Ohio. What are we doing there to keep those fans happy? We used to have 10 or 15 percent out of Columbus, now we have 5 or 6 percent because the Indians had a streak where they were doing well. What are we doing about getting back those fans?
Q: What if your baseball people came to you and said: "We can get this bona fide No. 1 starter for Adam Dunn, and we want to do the deal." What questions would you ask them?
A: I don't like that example. At the present time, we're in the direction to build our franchise around people like Adam Dunn.
Let's look at it generically. The first thing I ask is, what does everybody else think? What do Wayne's top people think? What does Jerry Narron think? Then you go into the stats - the ERAs, the age, the makeup. You bend over backward to make sure that there isn't one stat here or there that throws the deal off.
Our pitching is the biggest mountain we have to climb. What it comes down to after the economics are examined is a gut feeling. We've seen stats, the economics; we've heard from everybody, including the coaches. We don't willy-nilly do things. But it comes down to getting a feel. Business decisions - all decisions - come down to gut feel. That's not to say we fly by the seat of our pants. But when it's all said and done, at the end you've got to go with your gut.