Buck Rogers knew he had a successful promotion on his hands three years ago when the Brevard County Manatees’ first Treasure Hunt came to an end. After two weeks of hunting, local fan Ron Brown successfully deciphered a series of clues hidden in team newsletters that led him to the winning coin—at 3 in the morning.
The Florida State League franchise has since held three more hunts—the most recent ending in early January when a local family braved near-freezing temperatures to find the hidden treasure well after dark—with each victor receiving lifetime passes to Brevard County home games. Yet the veteran general manager Rogers feels like it’s the Manatees who have found gold by running Treasure Hunts while most clubs are planning for the upcoming season. After all, it’s not every team that manages to capture the attention of its fan base deep in the offseason.
“It’s a marketing tool at the cost of a ticket,” Rogers said. “It keeps baseball on peoples’ minds during the offseason.”
The impact of the Manatees’ Treasure Hunts at the gate is difficult to measure. Rogers said that more people have signed up for the e-mail newsletters, and they are certainly reading them closely to pick out the clues hidden within the text. Equally important, the promotion accomplishes one of Rogers’ mantras as a GM: create inexpensive, word-of-mouth exposure.
Rogers held a similar promotion several years ago as GM at Daytona, when he gave 17 fans lifetime passes for getting tattoos of the team name.
The genesis of the Treasure Hunt came a few years ago when Rogers decided to take a promotion by Minor League Baseball a step further. As part of “Pirates of the Caribbean” craze, MiLB was sponsoring the sale of collectible coins at ballparks. Each coin had a serial number on the back, which could lead to even bigger prizes.
To pique even more interest, Rogers turned the promotion into his own by hiding one of the coins and leading Manatees fans on a treasure hunt. The catch: The clues were hidden in the weekly e-mail newsletters sent to subscribers and required readers to comb over nearly every word.
“It’s a marketing tool to get people to sign up for our newsletter,” Rogers said.
The clues hardly jump off the computer screen, and the Manatees have become increasingly creative in how they hide the information.
One clue was written in white font and could only be seen when the entire screen was highlighted. In another e-mail, the first letter of the first six paragraphs spelled “The Coin Is Now Hidden.”
“We know they are going to go back and read that thing, again and again and again,” Rogers said. “The more they read it, the more they know about us. A lot of people sign up for newsletters, glance at them and throw them out. We wanted to avoid that.”
River Bandits Return
Quad Cities hopes it ushered in a new era of baseball over a busy two days in December, roughly a month after the sale of the Midwest League club to the Main Street Baseball ownership group—headed by Dave Heller—was completed.
The announcement that Quad Cities had worked out a ballpark naming rights deal with an insurance company was followed a day later by the news that new ownership was ditching the nickname Swing and going back to their previous moniker of River Bandits.
Second-year GM Ben Burke said the name change was the result of a name-the-team contest in which River Bandits was the overwhelming winner.
“When I first got hired and David (Heller) first signed the papers to buy the team, we worked the town a little and asked people about the team, what they liked and what they didn’t like,” Burke said. “It was pretty unanimous that everybody wondered why we changed the name of the team (from River Bandits to Swing). The town really seemed to embrace that name (River Bandits).”
Burke said the changes are just the beginning and that significant ballpark renovations are in the works for the 2008 season.
Largely as a result of the 10-year, $2 million naming rights deal with Davenport, Iowa, based Modern Woodmen, the team will lower prices for season tickets, walk-up and group sales.
The River Bandits will unveil a new video board next season, more than two times larger than the current one that should help boost in-stadium promotions. The team will also host movie nights at the ballpark when the team is on the road, and plans to host concerts on Saturday nights, efforts that should help increase revenue through concession sales.
Quad Cities is initiating a program to help spur luxury suite sales by helping local companies find partners to share suites. The team has plans to build a hot tub and tiki bar down the right-field line, will cover its upper-deck River Pavilion and will expand the children’s play area beyond the right-field fence.
“I think there is a lot of potential here,” Burke said. “We have a beautiful ballpark, one of the best settings in minor league baseball right on the Mississippi River and underneath the glowing lights of the Centennial Bridge.
“It’s a completely different organization now: new people, new ideas. We want to make it clear that it is going to be different here. The only thing that is going to be the same is the address of the ballpark and that we’re going to be a Cardinals affiliate.”
• The independent South Coast League has added an affiliate in Jackson, Miss. The team will play at Smith-Wills Stadium and significantly expands the league’s base, with the league’s nearest affiliate roughly seven hours away in Albany, Ga. The Jackson team replaces the travel team on the schedule that had originally started in Bradenton, Fla.
• The Lancaster JetHawks (California) are working with California Speedway in Fontana, Calif., to offer a package that includes tickets to a NASCAR race and a JetHawks game.