“The All-Star Game requires a tremendous amount of planning and coordination,” Barren said from his office at Progressive Field, the team’s home turf. “We began working closely with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and Greater Cleveland Partnership back in 2015, when we submitted the bid to host the game. This summer, we’ll use over 9,000 volunteers to help with all the festivities.”
Barren’s job is to manage “anything that happens off the field,” he said, including creating the team’s promotional calendar — fireworks nights and giveaways such as towels, caps, and bobbleheads (he doesn’t get to pick which athletes are immortalized on those fan-favorite souvenirs).
Of the 20 Major League Baseball cities that have the “big three” pro sports franchises — MLB, NFL, and NBA — Cleveland is the smallest market in terms of population; it drew 1.92 million fans last season, ranking it 21st out of 30 teams. Barren said his biggest challenges are maximizing the team’s earning potential while trying to stay competitive with teams like the New York Yankees (ranked 2nd) and the Boston Red Sox (9th).
“We run our business to break even, and that’s exceptionally difficult to do,” Barren said. “The goal is to generate as much local revenue as we can, and then reinvest it into fielding the most competitive baseball team possible.” So, rather than trying to sign big-name free agents to big-number contracts, the organization tends to focus on developing players in its minor league system. “If we can do that effectively, we have a competitive team that will motivate fans to get into their cars and drives to the ballpark,” Barren said.
The All-Star Game is also helping the team phase out its use of Chief Wahoo, a symbol that some Clevelanders (and fans outside the city) saw as a racist depiction of a Native American. This season will see Cleveland players wear an All-Star patch on their uniforms in place of the Chief Wahoo logo, and in 2020 the patch will be a stylized red letter “C.”
When making this decision, Cleveland consulted with executives from the Atlanta Braves, who also moved away from their Native American logo to a stylized “A.”
“It was an ownership decision to phase out the Chief Wahoo logo, something we have been in the process of doing over the past few years,” Barren said. “We look for ways to unify our fan base and bring people together. Some fans have emotional ties to Chief Wahoo, some don’t. However, the logo is part of the team’s history. So memorabilia items with the logo will still be available, but only in the team shop at the stadium during baseball games.”