Dan Haar: Yankees' treatment of fans in playoff rain delay inexcusable

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Baseball fans wait out a rain delay for Game 5 of an American League Division baseball series between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Guardians, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Baseball fans wait out a rain delay for Game 5 of an American League Division baseball series between the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Guardians, Monday, Oct. 17, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Here is a story about customer service and communications, with a lesson I thought was obvious, but apparently not.

Rain threatened but was not yet falling in the Bronx before the 7:07 p.m. scheduled first pitch of New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Guardians Game 5 division championship series game Monday night.  

The winner would advance to the league championship series against the Houston Astros. The loser would go home for the winter.

At 6:20 p.m., the Yankees tweeted, “Tonight’s ALDS Game 5 game will begin in a delay. The forecast will be reassessed at 7:00 p.m.(ET) and we will provide updates as available.”  One minute later, Major League Baseball issued the identical tweet.

The next update was more than three hours later, at 9:36 p.m., when the MLB communications office tweeted, and the Yankees retweeted: “Due to the extended inclement weather conditions tonight, tonight’s ALDS Game 5 has been postponed and rescheduled for 4:07 p.m. (ET) tomorrow.”

Seconds later an angry fan commented, "Communications," with two laughing emojis. 

For three-plus hours between the tweets, we had not a whisper, not a press release, not even a statement to the Yankees radio network, where Sweeny Murti, the network’s postgame (and rain delay) host held forth with little to offer listeners. Media outlets I checked did not have updates either. 

Gamely, Murti tried to find out when the next decision point was coming. Everyone watched the weather radar for clues. One online rumor at 8:45 had the game starting at 9:30.

Inexcusable. An insult to us as fans and paying customers.

Neither the Yankees nor MLB offered an apology. Neither responded to my emails seeking an explanation. Obviously, their main focus remains the action on the field. 

Is this any way to run a multibillion-dollar entertainment business? The Yankees alone are worth $6 billion, according to Forbes. Surely some freshly minted sports management intern could take on the task of tweeting, “Dear Fans, Major League Baseball officials are watching weather conditions. We have not reached a decision on postponement but will do so by 9:30 p.m. Thank you for your patience and we apologize for the inconvenience.”

That should have happened every half-hour at least, maybe with a comment on the weather – all within the 280-character Twitter limit. No, it would not have halted the second-guessing and the anger of fans -- especially the ones waiting for house in the stands -- but it would have sent the simple message, "we care."

John DiIorio, a Middlebury resident and every-game Yankee fan, settled in for the elimination contest Monday night, saw the rain delay and flipped over to the Boston Bruins hockey game. Not wanting to miss even a pitch of the far more important baseball playoff, he followed the Yankees and MLB on Twitter – as I did, along with several million of us fans.

“The hockey game ended and there were still no updates,” DiIorio told me Tuesday.

His view, as the former CEO of a mortgage lending firm that had 175 employees and 10,000 customers: “It’s a complete disregard for its fan base and it shows a level of arrogance that is shocking, frankly.”

As he sees it, and I agree, this was an uncommon level of disdain in an age when executives tend to be “laser focused” on customers. I get that there was little new information to pass along, and that there were no good solutions.

Normally, in a regular season, the postponement might happen within an hour or less of the scheduled start time. Putting off a game in the playoffs has huge implications because it alters who can pitch, which can give one team an edge. So, yeah, the delay was justified -- but not the silence. 

Robin Coulter was home in Mansfield, hoping to watch the game with her husband. She's head of the marketing department at the UConn School of Business and compared the confusion to the famous comedy skit, "Who's on First?" 

"Some of these things just boggle our mind," Coulter said. "This is not rocket science here."  Still, she stopped short of calling it disdain for customers because it was not malicious. And she disagreed that it was a rare oversight, across many companies in many industries, "It happens all the time."

The irony is that baseball is struggling to appeal to a new generation of fans, with rules changes designed to speed up the game and, starting in 2023, to boost the offense – just in case Sunday’s 6-hour, 22-minute playoff between the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros didn’t hold millennials’ rapt attention. That game ended in a 1-0 victory for Houston.

Earlier Monday I attended a conference on business transformation in Stamford by the Economist, sponsored by Philip Morris International, the cigarette company that’s remaking itself and moving its corporate headquarters to Stamford from New York next month.

It was clear from the comments by Deepak Mishra, the PMI Americas chief, that the customer still reigns supreme. “We have had to really listen extremely carefully to consumers to understand their behaviors, their patterns, their changing tastes and what would really get them to quit cigarettes,” he said at the conference.

This is no crisis in a world of murders, pandemics, hunger, wars and divided nations. It’s baseball. But the premier team in American sports and the most historically revered league can, should and must do better.

It’s a beautiful day. Play ball!