Go ahead and poke fun at minor league teams. Most of them will embrace it. Call them silly, over the top, nontraditional.
Just don’t say that they aren’t entertaining.
That is the insult NCAA president Mark Emmert leveled on minor league sports while testifying in the landmark antitrust lawsuit being led by former UCLA basketball star Ed O’Bannon. And it is one that minor league baseball teams, which drew more than 41 million fans to their 140 ballparks last year, didn’t take lightly.
“To convert college sports into professional sports would be tantamount to converting it into minor league sports,” Emmert said while defending the NCAA’s amateur standards and why college athletes should not be paid. “And we know that in the U.S. minor league sports aren’t very successful either for fan support or for the fan experience.”
Not surprisingly, the people who put on minor league games each night disagree with Emmert. Fan experience is the top priority for minor league executives who live by the “affordable, family-friendly entertainment” mantra. Creating a winning ballpark atmosphere is more important than a winning record to minor league teams, which without a stable roster to promote rely on off-the-field entertainment and reasonable ticket prices to attract fans to games.
And teams took to Twitter to defend their sport. Armed with the #ReallyMark hashtag, they blasted Emmert while showing off pictures of packed ballparks, smiling children, and mascot antics.
— Eugene Emeralds (@EugeneEmeralds) June 21, 2014
Perhaps Emmert had no idea minor league baseball has grown since the Bull Durham days. But he hardly has an excuse. After all, the NCAA’s headquarters are located just down the road from the Indianapolis Indians, which topped the sport last year in overall attendance by drawing 637,579 fans in 71 games.
“Minor League Baseball is Americana,” MiLB president Pat O’Conner wrote in an open letter to Emmert. “In small towns and metropolitan cities from coast to coast, you can find Minor League Baseball. It’s as much about the emotions it evokes, as it is about the game itself. It’s military appreciation nights, fireworks, families gathering together on a warm summer night to see the stars of tomorrow, mascots entertaining kids and adults from ages 1 to 101 and most of all, it’s about fun.”
As they do with many foot-in-the-mouth public figures, teams are honoring Emmert with a promotion of his own, while taking a shot at some of the dysfunctional rules of college sports.
The Lake County Captains (Midwest) are hosting Mark Emmert Fan Appreciation Night on July 2, in which fans who stay past the third inning will get free tickets to another game and four lucky college students will receive all-you-can-eat passes. Fans can change seats during the game, but only after a one-inning waiting period. At the end of the game, the team will crowns a BCS (Big Captains Superstar) Champion “via a subjective vote taken by members of the media and a computerized scoring algorithm.”
The Hickory Crawdads will put on an Unsuccessful Night tonight, during which fans wearing NCAA apparel will be given free admission and allowed to help run the evening’s promotions. In its press release, Hickory jokes that players “will also be given the opportunity to play the game for free, since the NCAA’s amateur model produces such obviously better results.” (Of course, minor league pay isn’t so much better than the NCAA’s.)
And the always-creative independent St. Paul Saints offered its own mocking response to Emmert by announcing The Worst Fan Experience Promotion. On Aug. 18, the Saints say they will raise ticket prices from their normal affordable rates to ones that top out at $70. However, scholarships will be available to die-hard fans for free admission to the game, but those scholarships can be revoked if fans aren’t cheering loud enough after each inning.
Here is how teams responded to Emmert on Twitter:
— Martie J. Cordaro (@ChasersGM) June 21, 2014
— Chuck Greenberg (@chuckgreenberg) June 20, 2014
— Parney (@tweetparney) June 20, 2014
Minor league baseball: giveaways, promotions, fireworks and Cowboy Monkey Rodeo. NCAA: corruption all over the place #ReallyMark
— Terry Bradford (@Terry_2426) June 21, 2014
— MV Scrappers (@mvscrappers) June 20, 2014
— Round Rock Express (@RRExpress) June 21, 2014
Pretty sure I will attend full capacity Minor League Baseball games in 3 different states all in the same week. MD, DE, and SC. #ReallyMark
— Amy Venuto (@amyvenuto) June 20, 2014
— Jordan Childress (@JChildress276) June 20, 2014
Amazing comments by Mark Emmert on MiLB, given that NCAA schools and related entities hiring Minor League people for key roles #reallymark
— Mike deMaine (@DriveGM) June 20, 2014