Winning Gets the Turnstiles Moving and TV’s Tuning

More confirmation that new stadiums are not the end all to generating the revenue franchise’s need to compete in baseball, the surprising Tampa Rays, a top the ultra-competitive AL East have seen a 10% jump in attendance through the first half of the season. And attendance numbers show it typically takes fans until later in the season, if not the next season, to catch on to a team’s new found success. Basically, expect attendance at the Trop to keep rising.

Did the Rays get a new stadium? No, in fact, they delayed pursuing financing for that new waterfront ballpark. Tampa made no blockbuster acquistions in the off-season, fielding a team with nary an All-Star. Ownership’s biggest off-seas change was dropping “Devil” off the team’s moniker and changing the logo – perhaps good karma.

Recent series with the Red Sox and Cubs traveling road shows helped boost attendance, but Rays fans also tuned in, making the Red Sox games the most watched in Rays history. Fox is now considering Tampa for a pair of national television appearances later this season, exposure never before seen in Northern Florida after Spring Training.

The Rays did it by rebuilding the brand, appealing to the fans, and building a winner by making smart moves. Perhaps no team had more bad equity to overcome, so if Tampa can do it any team can do it.

The attendance theorm works both ways. In San Francisco, subtract Barry Bonds, subtract a pennant race, subtract 10% from attendance, even with arguably the best ballpark in baseball. Losing in San Diego has led to a double-digit percentage attendance decrease. Despite a big off-season acquisition, baseball’s biggest disappointment, Seattle, another team with a new, beautiful stadium, has seen attendance plummet to its lowest levels.

Winning makes everything easy, the hard part are putting fans in the seats when the team is not winning. Teams continue to try all sorts of creative ways to draw crowds. Loaded tickets (tickets that include free food) have been modestly successful, promotions and giveaways help bring kids to the stadium, however they lose their luster if you have promotions every night. Teams have reverted to showing movies on the jumbotron after the game, fireworks displays, and more.

Teams need to develop a few events that draw well, and occur annually, and I’m not talking about the old-fashioned bat day and cap day. Is it time for entertainment in baseball? Basketball has pyrotechnics before games, football has outlandish halftime shows, maybe baseball teams could trot out a music act on tour in the local area to perform one song before the game. The game becomes secondary, but fans will come.

Improving interactivity at the stadium through new technology is a more effective way to draw fans, then make sure they enjoy the experience and come back. Start with wireless access, add in a few creative text-message contests and promotions. Next comes mobile video, allow fans in the stadiums to watch replays (if MLBAM rights allow it), and provide access to view the stadium from various cameras, for example, a fan can check out the camera in the bullpen to see what’s going on. Control it by limiting access to the wireless network in the ballpark, so users have to be at the stadium to enjoy it. Open a forum for fan interaction, so they can argue about a bad call, or tell everyone to check out that guy in Section 41 who caught two home run balls.

Give fans the option to opt-in for special concession and merchandise promotions. At various times during the game, send a text alert for a discount or special at a particular concessionaire. It could say the first 10 fans to the food stand outside Section 8 get a free hotdog and soda, or the shop in the lower level in left field will sell all caps for 10% off during the 7th inning. Better yet, make users place the orders through the phone, then go pick it up. Teams can collect more valuable information, demographic data.

The key is to keep the fans that do come, coming back, and build buzz. Winning does it for some teams, others need to give incentives off the field.


One Response

  1. Winning is the number one factor to bringing in the fans.

    who would of thought the 1990 A’s were third in MLB Attendance.

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