Our panel picked the Dayton Dragons as the Best of 2003 Team Operations. Their operations have been often talked about since the team debuted in 2000. The team is owned by Mandalay Sports entertainment which owns several minor league teams including the Roughriders and the Las Vegas 51’s.
Note: Original article from 2004 has been updated with photos and reposted in 2021
All the Mandalay teams focus attention on their game operations. In a the 2003 August Gameops.com interview, President Jon Spoelstra explained that, “My feeling is that when a fan walks into the area or ballpark its the teams job to entertain them,” so the attention starts at the top and has been impressed through-out the organization.
Shari Sharkins is the Director of Entertainment for the Dragons, a position she has held since their second season. Sheri’s background in entertainment includes work as a dancer for Royal Caribbean Cruises and as an instructor, choreographer, and atmosphere manager for various professional entertainment shows. She has a Bachelors Degree in Performing Arts from Point Park College in Pittsburgh.
During her 4 seasons in Dayton, the Dragons have sold out every game, and each year every ticket is sold before Opening Day. Their entertainment has proven to be a hallmark of the team and the fan base has shown its loyalty by maintaining the sellouts during winning and losing seasons.
This report is from their June 15, 2004 game. Three aspects of the show also stood out, which clearly helped the Dragons go from a good show to a great show. We look at those aspects and why they help make Dayton show so special.
- The injection of the Game Director’s Personality
- Multi-layered elements
- Preparation for each element
These elements ran through the Game Production. Each played a role in not only making the entire show entertaining and fresh, but each helped to make each inning break more engaging and memorable. We will examine those themes based on the visit to Dayton and hopefully will provide insight on how every teams operations can be improved. In addition to the review of those 3 elements, this months feature will include a brief review of a few of the Dragon game elements, some related comments from others, and the usual array of links to related content on the web.
The Injection of the Game Director’s Personality
Shari Sharkins has been entertaining for many years and her experience is obvious not only by how her show comes together, but in the style it is built. Shari’s background in dance is clearly evident, her personality and background shine though like the rhythmic quality of a well choreographed dance number. In fact, many of the routines and inning breaks are built around dancing elements.
Live elements that featured dance included a Soul Man routine with Mini Dugout Dancers and a mascot, a mascot dance featuring all three mascots, a routine with the Dugout Dancers, and a hysterical routine called the Retirement Village People Dancers. Another number featured two contestants in a season long talent show contest who performed a swing dance routine.
Shari’s dance background was evident in that the show was clearly created by someone with a history of entertainment on stage. The show was tied together by similar elements. I often sense a pattern of disjointed elements in many sports shows, with a patchwork combination of comedy, dance, and motivational elements. While the Dragons show had all of those elements, they felt a part of a more overall package due to the fact they all were joined under the overall personality of one person.
Shari explained how many of the routines came about and who she enlisted to help. In many cases she approached routines like a dance number, both in how she planned the number, but also in how the performers would be costumed and begin and end the number. For example, we can consider the Retirement Village People YMCA number.
The Retirement Village People is a group of older gentlemen who come out to the dug out and perform the YMCA during a late inning break. Aside from the clever name and hysterical visual, the presentation had the appearance of a choreographed dance number than a thrown together comedy piece. The performers came out in a structured way, and were clearly performing to a number they had been taught together. The result was more than the sum of the parts, and the loud crowd reaction was a testament not only to the performers, but to the careful preparation of the routine.
While it may not be possible to have any show feel as connected as the Dragons, the Dragons clearly benefited from having the show shaped and designed by one person and as a reflection of her background and interests in dance.
Any customer wants to feel like they are being rewarded for their patronage. Whether its the level of effort from a player on your hometown team to friendly service at a restaurant, you want to feel like the service provider is not only trying, but going beyond the call and presenting you a final package that is multi-layered and well-planned.Game entertainment is no different. Fans want to see effort beyond the basics. Any team can have a dance team, but fans will naturally enjoy one that is professionally trained, has put in the rehearsal time, and is dressed to reflect their image and routine. The more layers of thought and preparation that go into each element, the greater appreciation fans can have. A carefully considered mascot, whose name and back story reflect a natural and clever connection to the team and or community will certainly benefit the team more than a character selected based on a discounted costume price.
In the July 2000 Gameops.com interview with Atlanta Thrashers entertainment guru, Peter Sorckoff, he details the importance of finding as many ways to connect your promotion to everything you do. This multi-layered approach was evident in Dayton and was the second way that the Dragons presentation really stood out.
Perhaps my favorite element of the night was a quasi-Superhero character called Roofman.
Roofman is a good example of taking a funny concept and thoughtfully adding layers to take it from a one-note gimmick to a multi-dimensional inning break that fans look forward to. Shari and the Dragons clearly excelled at this layering.
Shari described how Roofman came about. The idea originated with their PA announcer who thought it would be funny if someone would come out between innings and throw back all the balls that had been hit foul and landed up on the roof. They joked that they had named him “Roofman” and wondered what she thought. Shari could have presented Roofman exactly as described, but instead she ran with the concept.
Shari decided that he would be a Superhero, but without the superhuman traits of a Spiderman, Aquaman or Superman. Roofman’s lone super power would be his ability to magically transform errant roof-bound baseballs into soft pillow balls (with his photo on them). To add to the mystique of the character he would wear a superhero-style outfit. She likened the character to Damon Wayans character in Blankman (which is actually one of my favorite movies)….a superhero with no real powers and in fact a superhero who is a bit of a clumsy dork. So the Roofman concept went from an idea to toss back balls to fans, into a character with a defined personality, a mission, an outfit, and style.
Shari then even auditioned various staffers to fill the role. Once she found her Clark Kent of the roof, she rehearsed the bit with him until it met her vision. Roofman now appears with no introduction about every fourth game, to throw back the balls he finds. I had heard the legend that people actually ask on the way through the turnstiles if Roofman is there tonight, which is believable when you see the entire crowd stand, turn around and look to the roof when his music plays.
Roofman is a fantastic example of taking an ordinary idea and making it extraordinary. The layers of the character make it interesting, the costuming makes it engaging, and the performance makes it truly funny. The layers make it memorable.
This layered approach isn’t unique to Roofman, it can be seen across the show. When asked, Shari responded with a paraphrase from the movie “Shrek”….that the show was like an Ogre, which is like an onion….Not in that it stinks, rather that it has layers.
And in the case of the Dayton Dragons, those layers lift the show into something really worth seeing.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery. Here is some flattery from the Sacramento River Cats.
High Level Preparation
Every game operations director plans and rehearses and the practice usually helps build and enhance the show. It was clear that Dayton goes beyond typical meeting discussion to fine tune their show.
Before the game, Shari meets with everyone involved in the show. She also splits the presentation groups up so that the bulk of the meetings are relevant to the people in the room. Production and television meet separately from the field entertainers, dancers and Emcees, the crossover is handled directly by Shari. Clearly earlier meetings were held and complete shows rehearsed, but at this point in the season the two groups are handled independently of another.
What was also clear was the responsibility of each element to have their portion of the show planned and rehearsed. The dancers had practiced their numbers and the studio choreographer reported to Shari on the progress and readiness of the team….and so on across all levels of performers. It was striking the level of understanding all groups had with each element of the Dragon’s show
This preparation was a testament not just Shari’s attention to detail, but to each member of the teams attention to making their portion of the show as good as it can be.
With the many layers of the Dragons show, each member has a great number of small parts that make each inning break run smoothly and maximizes the entertainment value.
An example of the attention to detail and high level of preparation was their baby race. This repeating element of Dayton’s show included the live component on the field with baby’s racing. A large custom track was unrolled on the field as the hosts greeted the fans and introduced the contest. At that time the fans saw custom graphics on the scoreboard. These graphics not only showed a graphic for the Baby Race, but had individual shots of each baby that were taken during the pre-game run through.
The entertainment and operations of the Dragons are simply outstanding. This clearly starts from the top, as entertainment and fan-enjoyment are stressed from ownership to every game-night staffer. From there, the three aspects outlined here touch all across the operations and create the atmosphere for excellence: Preparation, the multi-layered approach to every element, and the presentation of the game as a natural extension of the Directors background and personality.
Awards are likely to keep rolling in for the Dayton Dragons as the many layers of their entertainment continue to impress other teams, journalists, and most importantly…the Dayton Dragon loyal fan base.
The Notebook from Dayton
Interesting tidbits from the Dragons game night experience
- Anthem Singers get a tape of their performance before they leave the stadium.
- Game packages reviewed and entertainment rotated based on the ticket holders who will be there. Shari reviews the game packages and plugs in entertainment accordingly.
- The game staff was remarkable and it was clear they had the trust of everyone involved and were allowed to perform their roles.
- Each year considerable effort is put into Opening Night and the presentation. Shari talked about the wild plans that in the past have involved helicopters, circus-style parades, a line of 30 Harley’s and monster trucks. Clearly it was something that she and the fans looked forward to each season, and sounded like a fitting start to their season.
- The team has 3 mascots now: Heater (left) who is the original, Gem (right) who was added as a secondary character, and a new giant one-eyed inflatable character Wink (center). Each has a distinct personality and is used in signature bits each night. i.e. Gem has a knack for Magic and performs magic tricks through-out the season.
- New this season is the addition of the Pro Fence, which is a gorgeous outfield wall scoreboard from Daktronics. Shari was excited about the addition and the Dragons are still introducing new ways to use the feature through out the game. As you can see the sign is bright and colorful, allowing the Dragons to promote sponsors, add to the atmosphere, or motivate fans with the new tool.
- The Dragons also feature a very nice and customized scoreboard. The Dragons on either side are active during introductions and Dragon home runs, as the eyes light up and smoke billows from the mouths.
Shari made it clear what her job is: “Make sure everyone has fun” and from all accounts, it’s a job she does well. We spoke to David Raymond who toured for many seasons as the Philly Phanatic, Sport and Reggy. David had the chance to work with Shari many times over the years.
“I think Shari Sharkins is the type of talented person that baseball needs. She has done such a great job with the Dayton Dragons. I know that they would hate to lose her. She comes from an entertainment background. That is the influence that is so valuable for baseball. We need people like Shari because they don’t let the game negatively effect the fans experience. If the Dayton Dragons lose their fans don’t go away unhappy and that is the true litmus test for any entertainment director.”
–David Raymond, Raymond Entertainment Group
Special thanks to Shari Sharkins and the Dayton Dragons for their hospitality. Thanks also to Robert Murphy for taking the time to visit with Gameops.com during the game. Final thanks also to Gameops.com summer intern Courtney Spellacy for her contributions to the story and photos.
This content was from a 2004 visit to the Dayton Dragons. Reposted in 2021 with updated/improved photos.