Feature Article - March 2002
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Not So Minor Attractions

The major success of minor-league baseball

By Kelli Anderson

Cheering for the cheap seats
Crowded stands at the Tennessee Smokies
Stadium in Kodak, Tenn.

"Minor league has worked hard to keep very affordable," says Ferguson, who notes that for many families wanting to go to a major-league game, the price is often prohibitive and doesn't even offer discounts for children—a seat is one price, no matter who sits in it. A survey of 160 teams in June 2000 conducted by Minor League Baseball showed that for a family of four, the total price of a trip to a minor-league ball game including four hot dogs, two sodas, two beers and parking was less than $40. Add to that the frequently free promotional hats and T-shirts, and most would agree that you've got a pretty amazing cost-for-value. Comparison wise, a similar outing to a major-league game might cost the family budget a ballpark figure of $100 or more. Quite a big-league difference.

Here's the pitch

But what really makes the difference is entertainment.

"We consider ourselves to be G-rated, family-fun entertainment," says Curtis Haug, assistant general manager of the Kane County Cougars, class A affiliates of the Florida Marlins, in Geneva, Ill. "Baseball is secondary; entertainment is number one. Our most popular thing is post-game fireworks, and we also do between-inning games and promotions. It's big. At pre-game we allow families on the field. They get autographs from the players, and kids can run the bases. We've even had nuns and people in wheelchairs out there."

Ozzie races a young fan
at a Cougar's game.

Minor-league baseball has spared no expense or creative energy to keep the audiences coming. And those in the industry are not shy about sharing what works.

"We use each other a lot—we talk to each other," says Brian Cox, assistant general manager of the Tennessee Smokies in Kodak, Tenn., the season 2000 winners of Minor League Baseball's coveted programming award, the Larry MacPhail Trophy. "We see it and don't mind copying it. That's the best and nicest form of flattery to use what others are doing."

Whether it's fireworks displays, themed playgrounds, crazy between-innings antics, lovable mascots, kiddie-sized concessions, speed-pitch zones, inflatables or swimming pools, toddlers to teens find plenty to do and enjoy during a typical game at any one of the minor-league ballparks around the country.

And the entertainment appeal is broad—there is something for everyone: Comfortable picnic areas, mouth-watering concessions, specialty beers, deck-lounges and fantastic seating venues attract the attention of the more mature audience.

And let's not forget the baseball. Although minor-league teams can't win spectators based on the names of their ever-changing rosters, they can market the baseball experience.

"A baseball fan would come here anyway, so we don't target them—we market to those who may have no interest in the game and hope they have such a great time that they'll become baseball fans," reasons Scott Hunsicker, assistant general manager of the Reading Phillies in Reading, Pa. "We market to families and especially to the mother—if its a good place for kids, the dad will be more likely to come, and mothers want that."

Parents can enjoy the game; kids can enjoy everything else.