Last week MiLB.com released an article stating that over 41 million fans passed through the gates of Minor League ballparks in 2017 for the 13th consecutive season, with overall attendance increasing 1.1 percent from 2016, and average attendance rising 2.4 percent over last season.
The total attendance mark of 41,832,364 is only second to Major League Baseball among all other professional sports industries, edging out industry giants like the NFL, NHL, NBA, PGA, MLS etc. Business leaders and fans alike may not take Minor League Baseball too seriously. With it’s carnival like atmosphere and off the wall promotions, I can understand why. But these numbers are no fluke. Minor League Baseball is at the forefront of business innovation and marketing strategies.
About the same time the article was released, MiLB was gearing up for it’s annual promotional seminar, this year located in Greenville, SC, which I was fortunate enough to attend. It was here where my colleagues and I, were able to learn from some of the industry's top professionals, collaborate with individuals from every minor league team, and also give back to the local Greenville community.
It was here I truly realized why Minor League Baseball has been so successful. By focusing on these 3 categories: Community, Collaboration, and Commitment, you'll understand why the MiLB continues to be a force to reckoned with.
Our first order of business was to get down and dirty on the Reedy River, which flows through the heart of downtown Greenville. Our army of ready and willing volunteers worked alongside the Friends of the Reedy River to clean up the river and plant native ecology along the banks. This helps stabilize the bank to reduce erosion and the plants also filter chemicals and other pollutants from the river.
It made sense to start off our trip with this project because this truly epitomizes what Minor League Baseball is all about. Every team is deeply ingrained within their respective communities, and they all have a huge impact on numerous charities and non-profits throughout the country.The great relationship that the Greenville Drive has with their own community was also very apparent after listening to local community leaders discuss what their team meant to the growth and development of the city.
Collectively, Minor League Baseball teams and leagues donate more than $30 millionannually in cash and gifts-in-kind to local charitable organizations and national charity partners.
Each day the seminar showcased leaders within the sports community. Director of New & Creative Media at Clemson University, Ryan Gnatt, discussed how their communications and marketing operations have positively impacted the university’s fundraising, sponsorships and ticket sales. Senior Director of Ticket Sales for the Atlanta Hawks, Eric Platte discussed topics like "onboarding" and recognition programs and how they have built a winning sales culture in Atlanta.
The seminar also produced a panel, moderated by Sports Business Jounral's Executive Director, Abraham D. Madkour.The panelists (J.W. Cannon - Senior Project Lead of Sponsorships & Events at UPS; Ann Rodriguez - Senior VP of League Operations at the WNBA; Michael Lynch - Head of Consulting at Nielsen). provided a 360-degree look inside the ever-evolving commercial marketplace. The insights they provided were game changing.
To conclude each day, attendees would break down into different segments of the industry (i.e. ticket sales, sponsorships, marketing, promotions) to have an open forum or discussion. It was unique to hear what challenges other teams have and methods they have developed to adapt with the changing landscape and demographics of the everyday fan.
I also want to make special note of the “Around the Horn” session which took place on day 2. For about 3 hours, a representative from every team in the conference room had an opportunity to share a success story that they had the past season, in hopes that it might be able to help out another team in a different market.
Where else do you see this? What other industries/businesses get together to discuss their trade secrets with their competitors? Most companies don’t even have this type of communication within their own ranks. It is a huge benefit to every single team participating, and there is no hesitation to share ideas. One suggestion or different approach can improve a teams' practices dramatically, improving the end user experience for the fan.
You’re probably reading this thinking how awesome it must be to work in Minor League Baseball, and what great jobs these individuals have, they’re so lucky. Well, yes, we do have fun jobs, but before you start to think it’s all fun and games, you should understand that it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. After a week of sharing ideas, and engaging one another in stimulating discussion, we all head straight back to our minor league towns and get right to work. The fall and winter months, we’re busy creating next year’s promotional schedule, selling season tickets and sponsorships, which leads right into the regular season, where it’s not irregular for MiLB representatives to spend 80 hours a week at the ball field.
It’s a grind, but these individuals are committed. Committed to giving back to our communities and to creating the best value ticket in all of sports.
So, business leaders; when you’re trying to decide where to spend your marketing dollars, don’t forget about the ballpark in your backyard. Reach out and see what these teams have to offer. You’ll be working with many of the brightest individuals in the professional sports industry. Their ideas might seem outlandish, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the end result and positive effects they have on your business. You might also learn a thing or two. Fans, the next time you’re debating whether or not to go to a ball game, the movies, a theme park, or a concert… go see your minor league club play. Grab a cap, get a few hot dogs, kick back and enjoy the show from the cheap seats. TRUST ME. You won’t be disappointed.
***Picture credit to MiLB's Promo Seminar Twitter account***
Article by Jim Tunison, Corporate Partnership Executive with the SWB RailRiders