I took my family to a carnival and a baseball game broke out.
At least that’s how it felt Sunday afternoon when the Leventhal family of five went to catch a Durham Bulls game and arrived a couple hours early to check out the Principal Financial Group Family Fun Fest set up on Blackwell Street outside the DBAP.
The touring promotion, operated by Entertainment and Sports International founders Bert Gould and Joe Owens, ended up being the featured attraction for my kids—as my wife and I almost had to drag them into the ballpark after two hours of playing on featured activities like a pair of moon bounces and a giant inflatable slide. The boys each got temporary tattoos, had pictures taken for their own baseball cards, took swings at a T-ball batting cage and even had a try at Rock Star on the giant video game unit.
Perhpas most important, the event kept in tune with the "affordable family friendly entertainment" model that Minor League Baseball brass and team operators have preached will keep fans coming to the ballpark no matter the state of the economy.
After all the price couldn’t be beaten: Everything was free.
"It was important for us to keep it free," said Gould, who like his partner Owens, parlayed expertise developed in the business world with a passion for minor league baseball to launch ESI and the Family Fun Fest six years ago. "The fact that it is free and the things you get to do at the Family Fun Fest, if it was anywhere else in the country, you would have to pay for it. We wanted to do it and make it so it doesn’t cost anything for fans. That is the thing minor league baseball is all about: the affordable family entertainment."
Southern League president Don Mincher has often talked about having to please the mommas at the ballpark. Men are always going to come back, he says, but you need to find ways to keep the mommas happy. The Family Fun Fest was certainly one of them. Just ask my wife Arianna, a mother of three.
"It was definitely a fun afternoon, for both Josh and me, and the kids," she said. "Everything was free. It was the perfect afternoon."
Durham was one of 47 stops the Family Fun Fest will make along its minor league baseball circuit this year. And just as important as keeping the event free for fans is the group’s mission to make it profitable and worthwhile to teams.
ESI makes its money on the tour through sponsorships—the Principal Financial Group is completing its second three-year contract as the title sponsor while companies like Best Buy, Days Inn, Sports Illustrated for Kids and Fox sponsor various attractions at the carnival. Such a deal allows ESI to bring the Family Fun Fest to town at no expense to teams, while providing incentives like matching marketing dollars and paying for a page in the gameday program. Thus teams can bring in an attraction without the hassle of finding sponsorships to offset its cost.
"Instead of something a team would have to pay three-to-five thousand dollars for, like fireworks, and have to find a sponsor to pay for, we bring the entertainment for them," Gould said.
The tour is also a way for sponsors to get in front of a wide swath of audiences without having to work out deals with individual minor league clubs; Gould said the Family Fun Fest attracts between 200,000 and 250,000 fans a summer. The draw is further proof why minor league baseball is still the best marketing option in the sports industry, he said.
"We both realized that minor league baseball is this gem of the marketing world that is a huge secret to a lot of folk, unless you are a local and have a local minor league team," Gould said in explaining how the tour was formed. "A lot of marketing guys don’t appreciate the reach of minor league baseball. If you can tap into that you can generate hundreds of millions of exposures for your brand. Because of the independent leagues and the affiliated leagues and the fact that there are 20 different leagues and each is its own marketing machine, there was no single touchpoint to get across a national minor league program. That is what we wanted to do.
"And since we are huge minor league baseball fans, we wanted to bring something to teams that would add value in its experience."
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