Standing on the shoulders of Giants

It’s not a stretch to suggest that sports marketing absorbs much of what makes sport so intriguing.

Those little moments of industry that inspire soccer players to push themselves into space for a return pass, jockeys to manoeuvre their horses in off the rail on the final bend or long-distance runners to take the outside lane as the finish line approaches.

Control what you can control, take the odd risk and hope the rest falls into place.

Pat Gallagher was the first director of marketing at the San Francisco Giants, the baseball club which still retains the colours of the New York team that chose to reinvent itself on the west coast. He arrived in 1976 when it was, as he describes it, a “mom-and-pop” outfit barely getting 700,000 fans through the gates a year.

By the time he left in 2009, three million Bay Area residents were enjoying a beautiful new stadium every season and they were watching a team that was destined for World Series glory just over a year later, the first ever in the city and the first in the Giants franchise since 1954.

Although it’s only entering its second decade, that stadium, AT&T Park, is iconic and maybe you know why. When Barry Bonds was hurtling towards the home run record in 2007, the abiding image was of ticketless fans hanging out in boats waiting for the dropping ball as the now discredited slugger launched another missile into the Bay.

A marketing man’s dream, admits San Diego-born second generation Irishman Gallagher, who will be the keynote speaker at Friday’s Irish Sports Summit in the Oriel House Hotel, Ballincollig.

There was more than enough luck involved too. Initially the stadium was supposed to face the other way, towards the city. It’s a saga that stretches all the way back to Game Three of the 1989 World Series as the Giants prepared to host the Oakland A’s in a Bay Area derby.

As game time approached, the city was rocked by an earthquake which destroyed outdated infrastructure and delayed the Giants’ 4-0 series defeat. If any comfort can be taken from a natural disaster that took lives (none of which were there for the game) it is the regeneration of the waterfront on which one of the most iconic of ballparks now sits.

Adding to the strangeness of that gestation period was the loss of a public vote in the early 1990s which saw to it that city taxes be poured into hospitals and roads rather than a new home for the baseball team.

“Timing is everything,” Gallagher told the Irish Examiner last week.

“We organised for further studies to be made on the original design and it was discovered that if we turned the ballpark in the opposite direction, away from the city, it would be benefited by the winds. As it transpired, that little twist of fate helped the greatest left-handed hitter of all time to send his home runs into the water.

“When you build a new stadium, all that you have left from the old place are memories so the aim is to infuse the new building with the past. So yes, that earthquake is an intrinsic part of our legacy and our folklore.”

Gallagher may have moved on from his role at the Giants but he is still heavily involved in sport. He has a share in three minor league clubs in the states of Washington, Maryland and California while he also offers strategies in sports management, hence his trip to Cork.

“I’m not arriving with pre-conceived ideas about the Irish sporting environment. I want to talk about what we do well in the US and what we don’t do so well.”

Gallagher has also started up an intriguing enterprise called the Alternative Golf Association which is seeking to relax the rules of golf for less serious players in order to reverse the downward trend of membership.

“We’re not trying to conquer the world but we’re exploring ways of making the game more attractive to newcomers,” he explains.

“Twenty-five million people a year play golf but only five million play it over 25 times. That’s an alarming fall-off. There’s all this expensive new equipment but the average score is 100.

“I often make comparisons to the ski industry, even though it’s not the best analogy. For years that was something that could be described as elitist.

“The other big winter sport developing was snowboarding, which skiers looked down on. But they relaxed their attitudes and accommodated snowboarding and now it’s a thriving industry.”

It’s an uphill battle which he’s ready and willing to embrace.

“Working with the Giants, I developed a thick skin. But it’s got much thicker from working on this endeavour.”

That’s the sort of bravado he is hoping to inspire when he speaks in Ballincollig.

Proof positive of the Field of Dreams cliche: “If you build it, they will come.”


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