Feature Article - March 2002
Find a printable version here

Not So Minor Attractions

The major success of minor-league baseball

By Kelli Anderson


The young and the restless

Unlike major-league games where it might be a challenge for children to sit for long uninterrupted periods of time, minor league is designed to allow little wigglers to move around and enjoy the ballpark's many kid-friendly distractions. And what could be kid-friendlier than a giant walking, talking furry mascot inviting the kids to come out to the field or to play with them in the stands?

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DURHAM BULLS ATHLETIC PARK
Fans of all ages find extra fun at the Durham
Bulls Athletic Park in Durham, N.C.

With the popularization of mascots, now an essential ingredient at any minor-league ballpark, have come a variety of marketing successes: mascot fan-clubs, mascot appearances in the community or for hire at private functions, and mascot-inspired educational programs.

The latter—baseball coming into the schools and promoting education—has been a recent big winner both for the schools and for the ballparks. Many ballparks now sponsor reading programs that reward the children at completion with free games and the chance to be recognized on the field in a special presentation all their own. Kids love it, and ballparks love the good PR

Even more exciting are entire curriculums being created around baseball in the off-season to teach math, science, history, art—you name it—in which little junior's interest in baseball (or at least the mascot!) is used as the vehicle to teach.

"We have education days," says Mike Birling, now in his ninth year as assistant general manager of the Durham Bulls. "We take all the schools in North Carolina and get a lesson plan. Teachers come on each day and talk about math, stats, history—and tie in a baseball lesson plan. They do this for five days in Akron and sell out every time. It's very successful. Then there's field trips—we want to do more stuff like that."

In the last 15 years minor-league baseball has turned itself into a family entertaining and marketing success.

"We're trying to get the major leagues to look at what we've done," Birling says. "They could learn a lot."

Major Programming in the Minors

Without question, the resounding No. 1 attraction at the minor leagues is—sorry, players!—not the whiz, bang, flash of the ball, bat and players, but the post-game fireworks shows. Hands down, fireworks are the top crowd pleaser, but after that, it's pretty much up for grabs. Among wild and crazy mascots, traveling acts like the Zooperstars "Sharky McGuire" or "Harry Canary" belting out the seventh-inning stretch of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," having fans wrestle it out in sumo suits or kids frenetically running the bases between innings, it's not easy narrowing it all down to just 10 favorites for the attractions Hall of Fame, but we'll take a swing at it.

  1. Post-game fireworks shows
  2. Mascots
  3. Concessions
  4. Games within the games: sumo wrestling, races, birthday recognitions and more
  5. Picnic areas
  6. Play areas: playgrounds, carousels and more
  7. Water-related activities: pools, hot tubs, water cannons
  8. Group areas: bars, decks, areas for large groups to gather
  9. Giveaways
  10. Traveling acts: concerts, comedy, magic acts, to name a few