Business of Baseball Reportby Brian Borawski
August 24, 2006
Minor Leagues Thrive on Promotions to Get Fans in the Seats
I’m sad to say this, but I’ve never been to a minor league game, unless you count the several Detroit Tiger games I went to in 2003. All joking aside, with the Tigers so close, I’ve never really made the trip to see the Toledo Mudhens or the Lansing Lugnuts. I was disappointed because, as a Michigan State graduate, Lansing got a team but it wasn’t until after I finished school.
What I always hear about minor league games is how they’re so much more fan friendly. You have more access to players and promotions abound. Some border on the bizarre while some are more contemporary. For example, yesterday’s Trenton Thunder game included a bobblehead giveaway. Only it’s not one of the players, it’s a bobblehead of head groundskeeper, Nicole Sherry. The Oklahoma Redhawks will give you a chance to see a Chupacabra this week and fans who see the Altoona Curve play next week will get a chance to meet Arnold Horshack. Horshack starred in the 1970s show “Welcome Back, Kotter” which starred John Travolta in his first big role.
None of this compares to what some of the independent leagues are doing to promote their teams. Jose Canseco has pitched in an independent league game and 94-year-old Buck O’Neil, who was snubbed this year at a chance to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame in the special Negro League voting, was given an at-bat. The most bizarre promotion is coming out of Schaumburg, Illnois, where the owner of the Schaumburg Flyers is allowing the fans to vote via the internet on who's in the team’s lineup. They’re combining this with a plethora of television cameras and turning the experience into a reality television like look inside the team. The managers and players don’t seem to like it, but the owner of the team, Rich Ehrenreich, seems convinced that it’s a way to grow the business.
Arkansas City Wins Minor League Team
It’s amazing what money will do for you. This summer, voters in Springdale, Arkansas approved the construction of a $50 million stadium. They say if you build it, they will come and just this week it was announced that the Wichita Wranglers, the Kansas City Royals Double-A affiliate, will be moving to Springsdale in 2008. The team signed a lease with the city and they’d pay $325,000 a year to start. If attendance exceeds 300,000, the Wranglers would then be on the hook for 50 cents for each ticket sold.
It’s funny how these numbers appear so small when you compare them to the major league stadium deals we've encountered recently. The Washington Nationals new stadium will cost 10 times the amount of the stadium set to be built in Springdale. The $50 million being spent won’t even cover the demolition costs for Yankee Stadium.
What will the Royals Do With Their $250 million?
Last spring, voters approved $250 million in order to renovate Kauffman Stadium, the home of the hapless Kansas City Royals. With this large influx of money, they’re now trying to decide which renovations to make. One idea has been to improve the current scoreboard and turn it into an HD video score board. There’s talk of building an amphitheater beyond the outfield so fans have more restaurant and entertainment options while they’re at the game. And there’s also the idea of improving the Royals Hall of Fame which currently consists of a row of pictures with plaques.
The renovations are set to happen over the next few years with the renovations being completed for opening day 2010.
Miami or Hialeah?
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball identified a site in downtown Miami that they feel would be a nice place to build the next home of the Florida Marlins. The only problem is, nobody has quite figured out how this is all going to be paid for. The Marlins still say they’re $100 million short for a new stadium, and there’s some hope that a big meeting next week will resolve things. Officials from Miami-Dade County, Hialeah and the Marlins are scheduled to meet with MLB to try to hammer out a resolution. The only problem has been that it’s the state that’s shot down the last couple of sales tax proposals that have put the Marlins stadium plans on ice.
In the meantime, Hialeah is still saying they’re in the mix to land the Marlins. They’re saying the downtown Miami location is a backup plan in the event things fall through in Hialeah. As with most stadium discussions, this one is definitely one where you can say “to be continued.”
Brian Borawski is a member of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee and writes about the Detroit Tigers at his own website, TigerBlog. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail.