PHOENIX — Fans discover different things when passing through the turnstiles and finding their seats at Chase Field.
For some, it’s the smell of fresh-cut grass. For others, the diamond that reminds them of glory days playing America’s pastime. Sometimes it’s even a first glimpse of their favorite player.
For many fans that attend Arizona Diamondbacks games, it’s the swimming pool. And that’s just the way Tricia Dunfield wants it to be.
Dunfield, a marketing manager for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), runs the company’s sponsorship of Chase Field’s Ram Trucks pool. The 8,500-gallon tank, which sits just beyond the park’s right-centerfield fence, has been a staple of Arizona baseball since the building opened as Bank One Ballpark in 1998.
This is Ram’s sixth season with naming rights to the pool, but Dunfield says it’s only one piece of a well-integrated partnership between the team and the brand, which also includes a display vehicle in right field and a media deal with Fox Sports Arizona.
“The pool was the one place that we felt that had a little more of a unique opportunity to really integrate into the stadium and interact with the fans,” Dunfield said. “It’s expanded over the years with the display. We just want to make sure that it’s unique and it’s not a stand-alone execution.”
When it opened, the pool at Chase Field was the first of its kind at any MLB stadium. Now, the Diamondbacks are aquatic acquaintances with the Miami Marlins, who feature both a pool and aquarium at Marlins Park. The NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars also have poolside cabanas available for rent at Everbank Field.
The Ram Trucks pool may not be one of a kind anymore, but that hasn’t kept it from selling out. Nor has its price tag.
Based on which game one chooses to attend, $4,750-7,000 will buy you 35 tickets with access to the pool, hot tub and private patio, five parking passes, a basic complimentary food and beverage package (no alcohol) and a few additional amenities.
Ganell Dunn, an avid Diamondbacks fan who has attended three games at the pool, says that if fans ever have the opportunity to take in a game from Arizona’s right-field paradise, they absolutely should take advantage of it.
“The Diamondbacks do a really good job of hosting the fans who are there,” Dunn said of the experience. “You get to set up the level of amenities that you pick so that’s good. It’s not just one size fits all.”
Dunn, who goes to 20-25 Diamondbacks games each year, says she typically prefers sitting by the infield so she can watch the pitchers, but appreciated the change of viewpoint.
“It offers some unique perspective on the game that I’m glad I got to see,” Dunn said. “Being that close to the outfield, you really get to appreciate the speed and the quickness of the outfielders because they’re running to catch balls right in front of you.”
Dunn’s biggest regret was that she never had the opportunity to catch a home run ball or see one splash into the pool.
First baseman Mark Grace was the first player to hit a home run into the pool, doing so as a member of the Chicago Cubs in 1998. Earlier this summer, Diamondbacks outfielder Chris Herrmann carried on that tradition with a lead-off one that landed in a pool full of Phillies fans, one of whom responded by retrieving the ball and throwing it back onto the field.
Dunfield believes that these big splashes help to build the allure around the pool and with it, brand recognition for the company.
“It gives us not only exposure to the folks that are at the game, but exposure on TV as well,” Dunfield said. “A lot of home runs do get hit either into the pool directly or near the pool, so (there is) an extended reach from a TV persona as well.”
Baseballs aren’t the only thing that have been hit into the pool this season. In June, Diamondbacks players Archie Bradley, Andrew Chafin, Jeremy Hazelbaker and T.J. McFarland brought out their golf bags and took aim at the 460-square-foot structure from the stadium’s upper deck.
“It was fun,” Bradley said of the impromptu golf outing. “I think that every baseball player that plays golf imagines hitting golf balls inside the field.”
The pool isn’t there just for fun though. Bradley says that injured Diamondbacks occasionally use it to do leg swings and other exercises as part of treatment programs.
“I’ve done some rehab activities in the pool but never swam,” Bradley said. “It’s on my bucket list though. I’m going to do do it, (just) lay out in the Chase Field pool sometime.”
That’s exactly what the Los Angeles Dodgers did after winning the National League West at Chase Field in September 2013. The team celebrated its accomplishment by climbing the right-centerfield wall and taking a dip, much to the displeasure of Diamondbacks management.
“I could call it disrespectful and classless,” President and CEO Derrick Hall told MLB.com after the incident in an email. “But they don’t have a beautiful pool at their old ballpark and probably wanted to see what one was like.”
America’s attraction to the pool at Chase Field isn’t limited to fans and players but sponsorship executives as well.
“It obviously caught my attention,” said Gene Ponti, former head of marketing for RideNow Powersports. “It was the whole involvement, the demographics, it was a perfect match.”
In November 2008, Ponti successfully negotiated a three-year sponsorship agreement with the Diamondbacks, which lasted through the 2011 season. He says that partnership helped the Arizona-based company, which focuses on clients with enough disposable income to afford boats, motorcycles and other accessories, gain ground on its competition shortly after the financial crisis.
“RideNow Powersports was able to increase 11 percent market share in approximately eight months time by putting the exposure out there and being aggressive in what we did in marketing,” Ponti said.
“To gain even one percent market share, usually you’re spending several million dollars just to gain that,” Ponti said. “Whereas we managed to do it at even a fraction of the exposure rate at what it would have cost maybe at other times.”
Dunfield wouldn’t discuss specific financials when it came to Ram’s current partnership with the Diamondbacks, but said her company wouldn’t continue to work with the team if it didn’t see success.
“I think it’s one of the few sponsorships that has that kind of longevity in the market,” Dunfield said. “I think that really speaks to its success.”