We already love Felix Hernandez as if he's our own son here in Seattle. We've watched him grow, becoming a Cy Young award-winning pitcher along the way while becoming on of the city's most beloved figures. But this year it's different: The Felix Hernandez brand is the focus of the Mariners' marketing efforts, a fact that's been evident from the beginning of the season.
Hernandez already has fire and personality. Watch him work on the mound and it's easy to see he wears his emotion on his sleeve. And while many of us gobble-up anything Felix we can get our hands on, the Mariners have made a concerted effort to show his human side to the masses.
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So the Mariners set about marketing Felix Hernandez the person, not just the pitcher. His Larry Bernandez commercial has been wildly popular, spawning it's own sub-culture and t-shirt line. The fans love Felix and, in turn, have embraced his alter ego, Larry. The commercial, though simplistic, allowed his personality to shine through.
As the season progressed, the Mariners marketing staff came up with an even better idea. Every Hernandez start at Safeco Field is now accompanied by a King's Court section -- a place for his fans to sing, dance and cheer while donning custom-made shirts. It was clear from the start that the section had potential, but needed a little kick-start, which the Mariners and fans happily provided.
The King's Court is both a personal rooting section for Hernandez and trend-setter for Safeco Field. The team encouraged fans to dress like Larry Bernandez or show up in wacky costumes, rewarding the best with a ceremonial turkey leg. It's both an odd and hilarious gimmick, adding to the sheer spectacle of the King's Court.
Fans in the section lead chants, from the rudimentary "K" chant with two strikes to spur-of-the-moment creations for other players, like the "Oh-liv-o Ohhhh" chant from Friday. Olivo, by the way, homered while the King's Court was at full-throat, and said it was the first time in his career the fans have chanted his name. Safeco Field needed the King's Court, or anything to jump-start an environment that's been lacking for years.
The difference between Safeco Field and its neighbor to the north, Qwest Field, is striking, especially on days the Mariners and Sounders play a double-header. On one side of the street, fans sing, dance and spend 90 minutes supporting their team in the most vocal way possible. Sounders games are a flood of noise, a party atmosphere, of sorts. Seahawks games are the same: The 12th Man is one of the most, if not the most, vocal fanbases in the country.
If Qwest Field is a rock concert complete with a mosh pit, Safeco Field is an opera, with random outbursts of polite clapping. Sports are better with a buzzing environment, as we've seen first-hand at Sounders and Seahawks games. A raucous environment is better for the fans, better for the players and better for the bottom line. Create an environment that encourages fun and fan interaction, and the Mariners will reap the benefits in ticket sales.
With the rise of the King's Court, the environment at Safeco Field has changed, at least on days the court is in session. The crowd buzzes, the King's Court sets the tone and the game is more enjoyable because of it. Fans want to sit in the King's Court, and want to embrace the changing culture it's created. The section has slowly expanded, growing with each game it's offered. One section became two and, perhaps, it will continue to take-over the left field area.
The King's Court is an excellent starting point and if it can envelop the stadium while creating and environment that resembles Qwest Field on a more regular basis, it's all the more better. Safeco Field needs to find its buzz and what better person to spark it than Felix Hernandez, who has inspired a merry band of court jesters.
Mariners, Marlins play Calvinball, or something like that
This is the world the Florida Marlins live in. Thanks to a U2 concert*, the Marlins were booted from their own stadium and forced to play a "home" series at Safeco Field this past weekend. Florida wore its home jerseys, National League rules were in effect and we were all treated to a one-of-a-kind series. It was weird, to put it mildly.
Turning on the television in the top of the first and seeing the Mariners at the plate was a surreal sight on Friday night, as was seeing Felix Hernandez bat in his home park. But at the same time, it was kind of cool. How many times are you going to have the chance to see King Felix take hacks at Safeco in a game situation?
Of course, the series ended exactly how it should have -- with a wild pitch on an intentional walk that scored the game-winning run. Of course, it wasn't a walk-off wild pitch, thanks to the home-away swap. Confused? So was everyone else. At least the Mariners didn't have to give up their own dugout.
*Yes, this is all Bono's fault.
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