Fan-friendly focus no coincidence at Tampa Bay Rays stadium

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) John Bailey, a longtime Fan Host, enjoys his work as a customer service rep for the Tampa Bay Rays.  Timothy Cox/Special
Timothy Cox/Special
) John Bailey, a longtime Fan Host, enjoys his work as a customer service rep for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Editor's note: Local musician Timothy Cox sends this review of a recent visit to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla..

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA -- My recent experience at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. was an unexpected and exceptional treat.

With all intentions set on witnessing one of the all-time great teams of Major League Baseball history, the 2012 version of the New York Yankees, I along with countless others made the special trip South to see the vaunted and hard-swinging, Bronx Bombers do what they do best - bang the hardball.

During the July 4 holiday series involving the Tampa Bay Rays and the Yankees, most hotels in the Tampa-St. Pete vicinty were filled to capacity -- with many fans hailing from the New York area. Many of those fans are ones who often find it difficult to secure seats at the new Yankee Stadium, where home games are very often sold-out.

Therefore, devoted Yankees fans pack their bags and travel to cities such as Tampa-St. Pete, to witness their very own Boys of Summer.

Although the July 2 contest was an exciting one that ended with high drama in the bottom of the ninth - the Rays holding onto a 4-3 victory - this columnist not only witnessed a rare shut down of the powerful Yankee hitters, but in the process I recognized the overwhelmingly noticeable focus on customer service inside the domed Tropicana Field.

It was very obvious that Tropicana Field workers go out of their way to ensure that all aspects of your customer experience is a positive one.

For me, it all started as I pulled up to Gate No. 1 and encountered a parking attendant.

Unexpectedly, the attendant offered me options to either drive another five minutes to my actual parking place at Gate 4, or simply pull into Gate 1 where there were several empty spaces. The attendant suggested that I simply "park anywhere you'd like."

In following his comforting and friendly gesture, I parked within walking distance of one of the many stadium entrances.

I later encountered a genteman usher or Fan Host, named John Bailey. The veteran employee provided me with a birds-eye view for taking photos and kept a friendly conversation flowing - as he efficiently and professionally tended to his role of escorting fans to their assigned seats.

Upon informing Bailey that I was at the stadium to write a special column, he responded, "It really doesn't matter who you are around here. We're trained to treat people the same, no matter what they do or who they are. It's our intention for you to enjoy the game and make a return visit. We want you to tell your friends about us and make your way back here again," Bailey emphasized.

Rick Vaughn, Tampa Bay Rays' Vice President of Communications, confirmed Bailey's sentiment by adding that Fan Hosts (ushers) are committed to attend training sessions during the off-season where customer service standards of the ball club are annually reinforced to be practiced during the upcoming season.

"We want our Fan Hosts to have fun while they're working. They establish camaraderie with each other and we empower them to make decisions (in the stands) while working. We treat them with respect and that works well for everyone," said Vaughn. "It's a matter of doing the right thing.

He added that becoming a Fan Host has become a competitive job position in his region. Currently, the Rays have 65 Fan Hosts on staff. "There's lots of pride in being a Fan Host," said Vaughn.

"First of all, we want to treat people with respect. We want repeat customers and it's just the right thing to do," said Vaughn.

Vaughn said Fan Hosts are trained at what's called Rays University, where training courses present various scenarios and drills to provide Fan Hosts with options to professionally resolve problems and situations that may unfold – especially when some fans have consumed alcoholic beverages and could be unruly.

Vaughn said customer service became a team focus when current owner Stewart Sternberg, assumed team ownership in October 2005. Since the start of the 2006 season, a fan-friendly environment has been purposely perpetuated at the stadium which is nicknamed, "The Trop," said Vaughn. Although the field is located in St. Petersburg, the team is named for neighboring Tampa.

Vaughn added that although the team does not keep official feedback-data to gauge fan feedback, "It's not uncommon for us to receive positive feedback," in the form of phone calls, letters or emails – testament that Tampa Bay Ray's fan-friendly-focus is a successful venture.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We would be remiss not to credit Tampa-St. Pete powers-that-be who chose to construct a dome over the 1990-built facility which maintains a 72-degree environment, while withstanding all weather conditions, including torrential rains, hurricanes and 100-plus temperatures that permeated the East Coast and the Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg locale during the entire July 4 holiday period and beyond.

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