On a Sunday night in late August, viewers of Mad Men (whose season finale airs tonight at 10 on AMC) discovered Lane Pryce, British financial maven for ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, had tacked on his office wall a New York Mets pennant, the period-appropriate kind he might have bought at Shea Stadium or maybe a 30 Rock gift shop proximate to SCDP’s Time & Life Building headquarters.
I hold a theory that Lane and account man Kenneth Cosgrove attended a win over the Phillies in early May of ’65; 2-1, Al Jackson striking out eleven. They were, by my calculations, using the Birds Eye seats on Field Level (third base side); Kenny, who’s been going to Mets games since 1962, procured them so he could smooth out the details of his imminent return to the agency/show. Lane and Ken probably sealed the deal over drinks in the Charcoal Room, which, Leonard Koppett wrote in The New York Mets: The Whole Story, was “a nightspot in its own right. After a night game, it became the scene of an impromptu party” for season box holders.
At the center of the high-roller festivities? None other than Shea’s own Queen of Melody, Jane Jarvis. There was an organ “at the end of the long bar,” Koppett recounted, “and Jane would play that for a while after the game. The sing-alongs would echo far into the night sometimes, and why not?”
Yes, why not?
I’m pretty certain the sight of that pennant was the highlight of 2010 for me — I know it took a show set in 1965 to get me to squeal with Met delight by late August.
Kudos to the fictional Lane and the actual Mad Men creator Matt Wiener for deciding that a firm and a show aching to place its finger on the pulse of mid-‘60s Manhattan should have a character whose unformed affinity for baseball would logically flow to the Mets. The Mets were fresh and vivid and all too human. Those Mets were prefect for their times. They were perfect for Lane Pryce. They were perfect for Mad Men.
But could Mad Men — specifically the creative services rendered by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce — be perfect for the Mets?
The 1965 New York Mets needed plenty of help on the field, compiling a record 29 games worse than the benighted 2010 club, but they were plenty popular, all 50-112 things considered. Met attendance 45 years ago totaled 1,768,389, a phenomenal figure considering Shea was no longer brand new and the Mets remained in tenth place. Casey Stengel’s final (and Wes Westrum’s first) club outdrew every other team in the majors except the eventual world champion Los Angeles Dodgers and the novelty-riding Houston Astros, who had the world’s first indoor stadium/Eighth Wonder as a selling point.
The Mets sold themselves in 1965, despite all the losing, and they kept the turnstiles clicking more frequently than almost anybody else in baseball, no matter the staggering regularity of their defeats:
• Second to only the Dodgers in 1966 (66-95; ninth place)
• Fourth only to the Cardinals, Red Sox and Dodgers in 1967 (61-101; tenth place)
• Fourth only to the Tigers, Cardinals and Red Sox in 1968 (73-89; ninth place)
Every one of those teams that outdrew the Mets from ’66 to ’68 was either winning or defending a pennant. The Mets weren’t doing more than reaching ninth place. Yet relative to the rest of the sport, in terms of attracting customers, the Mets qualified as one of the elites.
So, no, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce did not need to be called into pump up Mets attendance as the mid-‘60s became the late ’60s. Then 1969 came along — the Mets led the majors in attendance and world championships. They were now a solid brand and an unsurpassed product…they were their own best advertisement.
Not really the case these days, is it?
As evidenced by the essentially unprecedented dual removal of their general manager and manager and the in-progress search to replace the former (and eventually the latter), the Mets are at an obvious crossroads. The quality of the on-field product spoke sadly for itself in 2010. And the brand couldn’t be sagging much more if Linda de Roulet herself were steering it into the ground.
Attendance isn’t everything, but it’s a pretty decent indicator of how far the Metly have fallen.
The Mets sell more tickets as a rule than they did in the 1960s — everybody does — but they pale in comparison to other ballclubs, which was never the case when the Mets were still fully establishing themselves. In 2010, the second year of Citi Field, another losing year when, à la 1965 at Shea, sheer novelty could no longer be depended upon to get folks through the door, the Mets were twelfth in the major leagues in paid attendance. The 1965 Mets actually improved on their attendance by 2.1% over 1964. The 2010 Mets sold 2,559,738 tickets, which sounds great compared to 1965, but let’s remember a couple of things:
1) Tickets sold wasn’t the National League attendance metric until 1993. A paid attendance of 20,000 in 1965 meant 20,000 people showed up, made noise, bought hot dogs and (in a few cases) partook of the hospitality of the Charcoal Room. Anybody who showed up at Citi in September amid gatherings that were listed in the neighborhood of 24,000 or 27,000 or 30,000 knows that neighborhood was as authentic as Don Draper’s identity…which, for the uninitiated, was snatched from a dead army officer in Korea.
2) Single-admission doubleheaders were a staple for every team in the 1960s. They were scheduled regularly and nobody around here was day-nighting makeup doubleheaders. The 2010 Mets actually hosted 79 dates at Citi Field. The 1965 Mets hosted 68.
The average per-date attendance at Shea Stadium in its second year for a 50-win, last-place team coming off a 53-win, last-place season was 26,006.
The average per-date tickets sold figure (hard to call it attendance when so many weren’t attending) at Citi Field in its second year for a 79-win, next-to-last place team coming off a 70-win, next-to-last place season was 32,402.
The 2010 Mets weren’t really competing with the 1965 Mets, but given that we’re in an era when (despite the economy of the past two years) attendance routinely dwarfs what was reported throughout the majors four-and-a-half decades ago, it seems the spread should be better than approximately 6,400 a game.
Those Mets of yore may have been held to a lower competitive standard, but that was because they had no on-field equity of which to speak. They didn’t have a Johan Santana or a David Wright, which the modern-day Mets do; they didn’t maintain a winning record as late as the 147th game of the season, which the most recent Mets did; they weren’t reasonably considered legitimate contenders in midseason, which the 2010 Mets certainly were — they were tied for first in the National League Wild Card race as late as July 8.
Those Mets of 1965 merely had to pull up the gates at Shea Stadium, and people would stream through convinced there was something worth being a part of. The Mets of 2010 could not do that. They weren’t nearly as depressing as the Mets of 2009 (at least until August kicked in), yet they could only retain four of every five ticket buyers from Citi Field’s inaugural year. The Mets’ 2010 paid attendance was 80.8% of what it had been in 2009.
They pulled up the gates at Citi Field, and even the crickets couldn’t be bothered after a while…not even the crickets holding tickets.
Too many seat bottoms lacked fan bottoms: that was the “bottoms” line these past two seasons. It doesn’t describe every malady that ails the Mets’ brand as we make the turn toward 2011 and the naming of a new chief miracle worker, but it’s a leading indicator, every bit as much as 79-83 and anecdotal observations like that which John Coppinger filed at Metstradamus in September. John visited an Old Navy store in Queens and found no Mets t-shirts amid shelves chock full of Yankee, Giant, Jet, Cowboy, Red Sock, Cub, Phillie and Marlin apparel.
The Mets want casual fans. Well, people who shop at Old Navy are as casual as they get. And they’re not going to wear Mets shirts because they’re not here to be sold. They’re not here to be sold probably because Old Navy forgot that there’s another team in New York. They forgot there was another team in New York because that other team in New York has run itself into the ground with meticulous and well-crafted stupidity.
I reiterate: Queens, NY.
More proof that the Mets are losing this city one t-shirt at a time.
John revisited the store six days later and did find a small pile of Mets shirts were now available “on a fairly prominent shelf,” though all were small or extra-small.
So much for cultivating big fans.
The Mets do seem fully aware, at last, that the brand isn’t doing great, not at Old Navy, not at new Citi. The careful hunt for the right GM is great news for us. Put that guy in place and go after the right manager. When the Mets start winning, there’ll be no better embellishment for their faded image. There is no greater advertisement in baseball than winning consistently.
But that will probably take a little while. The diehards among us will be patient to a point if we are convinced a plan is coming together and steps are being taken to implement it in earnest. It takes a lot to kill off the diehard Mets fan.
The casual fan is a different story. The casual fan, or, more pressingly, the lapsed diehard will need convincing. He or she will need attracting. That drifting soul will have to be given a reason to come back to the Mets in 2011 and to keep coming back to Citi Field. Somebody will have to make a truly compelling case to that person.
This is where we need Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. This is where we need Don Draper.
Don is creative director for SCDP, one of the most admired minds in all of advertising. His agency has been going through some tough sledding — Lucky Strike bolted for BBDO, you may have heard — but he’s still the man who won the Clio for his innovative work on Glo-Coat. He’s still the man who lured Honda away from Cutler, Gleason & Chaough.
He’s still The Man.
I don’t know who should be the next general manager of the New York Mets, but I do know who should handle their advertising. Never mind that he exists only on AMC. Judging by actual attendance at Citi Field, most Mets fans have come to believe the Mets exist only on SNY. Never mind that he’s from 1965. If the Mets can be seriously considering a GM candidate who hasn’t run a team since 1997, what does that matter? Never mind that he’s really Dick Whitman and has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal the way he morphed into Don Draper. If ever a team need to think about transforming its identity, it’s these Mets.
The powers that be at 120-01 Roosevelt Avenue are quite busy these days, so I thought I’d do them a favor. I arranged a meeting with Don Draper to discuss how he might fix the Mets’ image in 2011. Though I told Don up front that I’m just a fan and a chronicler of the team, I suggested for the purpose of our chat, he consider me as representing the Mets’ interests. Whatever he might say to Met brass, he could say to me.
We set the meeting, I took care to fully stock my office wet bar and I welcomed Don Draper to what could be the most important hypothetical interview the Mets ever conduct.
Hello Don, good to see you. I was expecting you a little earlier, actually.
Maybe I’m late because I was spending time with my family reading the Bible.
That’s fine, Don. We believe in “faith” here, but we’re also filled these days with a little too much “fear”.
It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna be but you know it’s got a bad ending.
See, that’s exactly the kind of honest assessment I was hoping to get regarding the New York Mets organization from an objective outside source.
You have to move forward. As soon as you can figure out what that is.
That’s what this meeting is about. We definitely want to put this current troubled era of Mets baseball behind us.
This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.
Well, we sure do want our fans to forget 2010, though we felt we had made genuine progress in certain areas.
When you try to forget something, you have to forget everything.
So you’re counseling more of an overhaul, perhaps, than we anticipated.
If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.
To be honest, we didn’t see the situation as completely dire. We’re pretty satisfied with certain aspects of our operation.
No one thinks you’re happy. They think you’re foolish.
We do all right here.
You need to decide what kind of company you want to be. Comfortable and dead, or risky and possibly rich.
Laying it on the line for us, I see. Fair enough. Still, it’s not like we’ve been a total disaster since moving into Citi Field.
Maybe I’m not as comfortable being powerless as you are.
Listen, we don’t feel that way at all. We understand we have an image problem…
This is the greatest advertising opportunity since the invention of cereal.
That’s why we called you in, but you should keep in mind that we do know a few things. We did sell 2,559,738 tickets last year.
The unpleasant truth is, you don’t have anything. Your customers cannot be depended on anymore.
That seems a little harsh, Don, but we asked you here to be the truth-teller. So tell us: how would you describe the New York Mets as a product when it comes to the customers we can depend on?
A product for which good work is irrelevant, because people can’t stop themselves from buying it. A product that never improves, that causes illness, and makes people unhappy.
If our hardcore fan base isn’t the issue, what about the people who used to come to Mets games but now want no part of us?
There are people out there who buy things, people like you and me. And something happened. Something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that.
Don, I’m not sure I follow. The Mets have been around a long time and just two years ago we drew more than 4 million fans.
You can’t tell how people are going to behave based on how they have behaved.
But we’re the scrappy underdog. People have always loved the scrappy underdog.
Is that what you want, or is that what people expect of you?
What we mostly want is whatever will work. Whatever identity you can help us come up with has to make a statement. Doesn’t it?
It’s a label on a can. And it will be true because it will promise the quality of the product that’s inside.
So you’re saying it’s all about communications? We sent out an e-mail the other day telling our fans about how our search for a new head of baseball operations is going. How do you suppose we should follow up on that when we make the actual decision?
Everything’s going to be okay. We have a new president, and we’re all going to be sad for a little bit.
Not raising expectations too high the first year, huh? Sounds reasonable in theory, though I don’t know if even a great Madison Avenue mind like yours is going to be able to sell that.
Who the hell is in charge, a bunch of accountants trying to make a dollar into a dollar ten?
Please, Don, let’s leave ticket prices out of this for the time being. We still have to be seen as a viable contender entering 2011, not some kind of also-ran.
A man is shamed by being openly ridiculed and rejected. It requires an audience.
So you’re saying we shouldn’t worry about attendance too much until we have a team that people will want to pay to see?
Limit your exposure.
That’s easy to say now, but the whole idea is to fill Citi Field as soon as possible, isn’t it?
There will be fat years, and there will be lean years. But it is going to rain.
The weather in April does present a problem. So maybe you’re telling us if we’re going to lose some games, we should get it out of the way early in the season, and then when it gets warmer, we put a better product on the field and people will be more likely to come.
I told you to stop talking.
Technically, Don, you didn’t, but I don’t want to get in the way of your creative thought process. Would it help if you jotted down some ideas on an iPad and I came around later to look at them?
My mind is a jumble. I can’t organize my thoughts. And typing feels like work.
Let’s keep this nice and casual then. Let me freshen your drink and maybe go over some of our personnel with you. I have to start with our poster boy, David Wright. What do you see when you look at him?
I think he’s a winner. Square jaw, false modesty, it’s like he just took off his letterman jacket.
We’re agreed there. You might have heard the press conference where a reporter asked if we’d ever consider trading him. I think the question was baiting us. We had to say everything’s an option, but we didn’t mean we’d trade our biggest star. We put a lot on that young man’s shoulders.
I think I’m glad I’m not that kid.
What about some other names on the roster. Any thoughts on Jenrry Mejia? We used him as a reliever. Then we sent him down. Then he got hurt. Then he pitched well. Then we called him back up and started him. He got hurt again.
He’s only a baby, and we don’t know who he is yet, or who he’s going to be. And that is a wonderful thing.
So maybe we don’t include him in our 2011 marketing. Let’s see who else we’re thinking about… What are your impressions of Hisanori Takahashi?
People tell you who they are but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be.
We definitely see him as a reliever, but he wants to try starting again. He’s a free agent, you know.
Negotiating is a bore.
I know what you mean, but we do have some decisions to make in that area. Pedro Feliciano will be on the open market this winter. We’ve sure used him a lot the last few years.
Get out of here and move forward.
We do have our concerns about his arm being ready to fall off. Just curious, as long as we’re talking about Felicianos, what about the other one — the outfielder?
Listen, I’m not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus. Either he lives in your heart or he doesn’t.
Yeah, I agree. If you’re not committed to a guy off the bench, you should be prepared to cut bait.
I’ll say whatever you think I should say, but I’m not going to fight with you.
We’ve really strayed from the whole point of our meeting, which is advertising. It’s just that I’m so interested in your opinions of every facet of what the Mets do.
Does it make you feel better to think that I’m like you?
Humor me, just for a sec. Let me ask you about a potential double-steal attempt. The other team has runners on first and third with less than two out. You see the runner from first breaking for second. If you’re pitching, do you try to pick him off and risk the runner breaking from third?
I will always come home.
I’ll get word passed through to the new pitching coach, if we have one.
Believe me, I will ruin him.
You’re too modest. I’d really like your input, informally of course, on the GM thing. We really don’t know who we’re hiring. Any ideas about how we might bring in the best possible person for the job?
You need to charm him. I need you to be shiny and bright.
I wonder if we need a really strong presence whom everybody in the industry recognizes, somebody like Sandy Alderson.
You want some respect, go out there and get it for yourself.
Geez, you don’t sound that enthusiastic about the guy. Everybody speaks so highly about him.
He hated me and I hated him: That’s the memory.
Well, if we give your agency our account, I’ll see to it you don’t have to deal directly with Alderson.
I’d like that in writing.
Isn’t that a little premature, considering we’re just talking at this stage of the game?
I can’t make any mistakes right now.
That makes two of us — you and the Mets. Maybe we should have you on the search committee to help us choose the new general manager.
I’m usually part of the meeting before the meeting.
No, you’re right. It wouldn’t be fair to drag you into this mess when the process is this far along. Besides, your bailiwick is advertising. If we agree to work together, we’ll want you to think about not just making the team look better, but all of Citi Field. For example, we want to burnish the reputation of our clubs: the Delta 360, the Acela, the Caesars…you’ve been in all of them. What was your experience?
Fancy people would go there, they’d get loud, they’d get drunk.
Well, we did have a slightly more upscale demographic in mind when we opened the clubs. It may not have worked out as we hoped. I guess we have to admit 2009 and 2010 didn’t live up to all the expectations we set.
You manage people’s expectations.
We try, but after 2006, we thought we had a dynasty in the making. We came so close that year. It still hurts.
Mourning is just extended self-pity. In New Guinea, pygmies grind up their ancestors and drink the powder in a beer.
Hmmm…imagine how much we could get for that at the Beers of the World stand.
Bringing in business is the key to your salary, your status, and your self-worth.
We do get bonuses based on producing the most unique ideas.
Just think about it. Deeply. Then forget it. And an idea will jump up in your face.
That’s good advice, Don. Let me freshen your drink…say, can I order in lunch or anything for you? We’ve had a few since we sat down and I thought maybe some food would help clear our heads.
I eat a lot of apples.
That’s good to know — we have a couple of really big ones around here.
You know what? There’s a way out of this room we don’t know about.
Sorry, bad joke. I know your time is valuable.
I just want to see the city disappearing behind me.
I hear that. Let’s wrap this up so we can knock off already. But I’ve gotta ask some big questions before we’re done here. Let’s say you’re in charge of the whole ball of wax. What do you do with the Mets?
We don’t know what’s really going on. You know that.
The Madoff issue? I think we have to take ownership’s word on that. By the same token, we’re probably not looking at the payroll getting any bigger.
You have a great fortune, and that’s not just money, it’s the future.
You mean like our minor leaguers? ’Cause I gotta tell ya, having already brought up Davis and Mejia and Thole and Tejada last year, I don’t know how much we have left down there.
There is no system.
So what’s so great about our future?
There is the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.
Yeah, but how much is that worth after these past few years? How can we use that kind of pull to draw in fans who’ve lost their zeal for the Mets? How do we get that customer from, say, Astoria back to Flushing?
In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone.
So our future is our past?
This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. Goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we ache to go again.
We’ve only won the two championships, Don. Sometimes it feels like the Mets brand is hollow, like we don’t have all that much to offer our potential public.
You are the product. You, feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them.
So we shouldn’t be afraid to be the Mets? The Mets haven’t exactly been synonymous with success lately. We were talking upstairs about maybe taking out a full-page ad in all the papers saying we’re sorry for screwing up as badly as we have.
It’s not about apologies for what happened.
Then is it about just capturing people’s imaginations with something clever? You can come up with something like that, right? Something better than “Your Season Has Come”?
There has to be advertising for people who don’t have a sense of humor.
“We Believe In Home Field Advantage” wasn’t particularly amusing, but we did win a lot of games at home in 2010. Not that we drew a lot of fans…
I keep going places and ending up somewhere I’ve already been.
I know, Don, I know. It’s like going in circles dealing with the Mets. You said we should avoid apologies, but the whole thing…
Goes backwards, forwards, and takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called “The Wheel,” it’s called “The Carousel.” It lets us travel the way a child travels, round and around and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.
So we find a way to improve, but at the same time we remind people why they loved Mets baseball in the first place? That’s brilliant, Don! Brilliant! But what about changing the conversation and the label on the can and all that other stuff you were saying?
And let’s also say that change is neither good or bad, it simply is. It can be greeted with terror or joy. A tantrum that says “I want it the way it was,” or a dance that says “Look, something new.”
Don, this has been a fantastic meeting. You brought so much to the table today, and I feel like this could be the beginning of an incredible partnership between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and the New York Mets. It’s like we’ve had some kind of breakthrough. I hope you feel the same way toward our organization. You do agree we’ve reached some kind of tipping point here, don’t you?
Now that I can finally understand you, I am less impressed with what you have to say.
Each of Don’s answers is actually an excerpt of dialogue from Mad Men’s first four seasons, and for the accurate transcription of such, a sincere tip of the fedora to Basket of Kisses, THE blog for Mad Men obsessives.
Not that I would know what one of those is like.