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Minor League Baseball Insights On Stadiums, Promotions And Social Media

Paresh Dave |
September 27, 2011 | 12:50 a.m. PDT

Editor-In-Chief

Creative Commons image of a Grizzlies pitcher warming up in the bullpen.
Creative Commons image of a Grizzlies pitcher warming up in the bullpen.

Representatives from the Bakersfield Blaze and the Fresno Grizzlies shared last month on KXSC Radio the strategies their ballclubs used to earn attendance increases in 2011 amid worsening unemployment in California's Central Valley.

Across all of Minor League Baseball, the average attendance went up 0.9 percent in 2011 compared to 2010. The Blaze are the high-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. The Grizzlies are the AAA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

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1. Bringing back fireworks once a month, holding a promotion once a month and removing every broken table and chair helped the Bakersfield Blaze up their annual attendance figures by 2 percent to 3 percent in 2011.

“People might buy six tickets together and there might four with a gap of two seats and then two more,” said Elizabeth Martin, the general manager of the Bakersfield Blaze, referring to what the experience might have been like for fans in the past.

2. Without people coming through the door, it’s hard to spend money on promotions.

“We took a very calculated risk, and we did things on a limited scale,” Martin said. “Most people do fireworks every Friday. We did them the first Friday of every month just so that our financial outlay wouldn’t be as large and so we could gauge if we could this for every Friday next season.”

Martin said the key to promotions such as fireworks or bobble-head giveaways is securing a sponsor during the off-season to cover the costs.

“You have to look at what you’re giving the sponsor,” she said. “Are you going to give up some of your tickets, which means a decrease in potential revenues, or are you to give radio time for their ads? There’s also the incurred cost in the advertising the sponsor gets for that event. Even if you get your fireworks paid for...you’re really hoping to get more people through the turnstiles...You can take a loss if you’re not careful.”

3. The control that Blaze management has ends at the playing field.

“We have no control over players, the product on the field, over wins and losses, over managers,” Martin said. “We have control over ticket sales, advertising, food, merchandise, promotion and the fan experience.”

4. In Bakersfield, Martin said it would be politically unpopular for politicians to say its a priority to replace the Blaze’s 70-year-old Sam Lynn Ballpark.

“The answer for us is going to be private funding if we can raise that,” Martin said. “But again in an economy where people are looking for a safe investment...even people who could have afforded it to fund a $25 million to $30 million stadium are holding onto that money.”

You will never recoup your investment in a stadium through rent.

“There’s really no return on your investment,” Martin said. “It’s not that you are going to lose money, but there’s not a real big opportunity to make money unless you own the team.”

5. Holding off-season events is not something the Blaze prioritize. Instead, the ballpark hosts maybe a couple of events that bring in a few thousand dollars.

“We are very protective of our field and clubhouse...because those are the two things we have to offer to the reds -- a safe playing surface and a moderately functioning clubhouse,” Martin said. “That also hamstrings us in doing other events because we don’t have the amenities.”

6.   Fresno Grizzlies spokesman Noah Frank said the team saw an increase in attendance this year to near the half-million mark despite poor weather on both opening day and bobblehead giveaway night. The team drew about 494,000 fans, the highest total since 527,000 in 2008 -- a year in which MiLB set a league-wide attendance record.

“The economy around us didn’t improve that much but we were able to get our numbers back up,” Frank said. “The biggest thing for us that was successful for us this season was outreach into the community.”

Frank mentioned a literacy program that rewards children with free tickets for reading and holding a Taco Truck throw-down.

“We used our local media and social media to really rile people about it,” Frank said. “A ballpark is community gathering point...so find something that would bring your community together and hold it at your ballpark.”

7. As far as the future, Frank said the team plans to explore adding QR codes to at least club-level menus, so fans can order food from their seats through their smartphones.

Many teams also send photographers around the ballpark to capture shots of fans throughout the stadium. They post them online for fans to preview and purchase. Next season, Frank said the team would likely post the pictures on Facebook and use them to hold contests and vote-offs.

“That’s the biggest thing about social media," Frank said. "You don’t want it to be a reiteration of your website. You want to have interactivity. You want to have connectedness with your fans or else it’s just another media outlet throwing information at them. It’s important to have back-and-forth.”

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