The Frisco RoughRiders debuted in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth in 2003, and they've dominated the attendance standings not only in the Texas League but in all of Double-A from the first time the gates opened.
It doesn't matter how good or bad the team is. The fans just keep coming out to Dr Pepper Ballpark. For the third straight year, the RoughRiders averaged better than 8,000 fans a game, and average attendance was actually better two years ago, when the team was worse. In 2005, Frisco finished last in the eight-team Texas League with a record of 58-82, but 581,074 fans filed through the gates, an average of 8,421 each night.
While it's true the RoughRiders play in a market much bigger than the average minor league team, their attendance is even more impressive when you take into account that they're competing with Dallas teams in each of the four major sports. The NBA's Mavericks, the NHL's Stars and the NFL's Cowboys, not to mention the parent Rangers, all are within 30 miles of Frisco's ballpark.
"There is a lot of competition in this market for the entertainment dollar," Frisco general manager Scott Sonju said. "There are two sides to that coin. There is a lot of competition, but because we're in that large market we have so many more potential customers."
Aside from a beautiful facility, the RoughRiders attract fans by focusing on providing a premium family atmosphere, quality control and quirky, innovative ideas. Frisco particularly takes pride in a couple of ideas they brought to the minor league baseball scene.
"We can't control how the team plays," Sonju said, "but we can control our customer service. That starts with parking the car. We have friendly parking attendants, a balloon or piece of candy for the kids. And when they get to the ballpark we have a free game program. We want everyone to have something in their hand."
Unlike Any Other
One attraction is so popular it has its own heading on the RoughRiders Website. The front office hired a professional interior decorator to design the women's bathrooms in its ballpark. The usual line is worth the wait as these bathrooms have benches, plants and other decorations.
"The first time you come to the ballpark you get a great parking experience, you get your program, autograph and by third or fourth inning mom goes to the bathroom and comes back bragging," Sonju said.
While Frisco can't take credit for the pool pavilion'"the Diamondbacks opened their ballpark in 1998 with what's believed to be the first swimming pool'"the RoughRiders have a distinct advantage. Their pool is about $5,000 cheaper in nightly rent and is the ideal solution to the brutal Texas summer weather. While Arizona has the option of being indoors, Frisco counters the cool April weather with a heater and the summer heat with a cooler in the pool. The pavilion holds up to 25 people and as you might expect, the package includes food and beverage.
Keeping Up Appearances
Only the most diehard fans start a countdown for spring training and Opening Day at the conclusion of the World Series, but Sonju and the RoughRiders find ways to keep up the fan excitement throughout the offseason. When season ticket reminders are send out, the RoughRiders include season reviews and also present them in unique ways.
"Last year we sent out what looked like a classic, leather-bound book," Sonju said. "When you opened it up there were the tickets, but it was also a pop-up book."
Frisco also has a distinct advantage in operation capabilities and personnel. The team is owned and operated by Mandalay Sports Entertainment, a part of the same Mandalay corporate giant that has been behind the production of several Hollywood hits like "The Fan", "I Know What You Did Last Summer" and "Enemy at the Gates". The large corporate base allows for a large staff that Frisco uses to the fullest.
"Because we have great crowds and good economics we're able to support a big staff," Sonju said.
Mandalay now operates seven teams in the minor leagues, including the Dayton Dragons (Midwest), Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees (International) and the RoughRiders. Jon Spoelstra, the president of Mandalay's sports entertainment group, takes his marketing philosophies and spreads them among all the teams Mandalay operates.
"Each market is, indeed, different," Spoelstra said. "I go around to each of the teams and install a system."
Spoelstra said Frisco was the first to provide a ticket plan that includes all-you-can-eat perks. And the franchise emphasizes those packages rather than season tickets because it's difficult for a typical family to find the money for full season tickets and the time to make it to the games.
"It's a lot easier if you just sell everything on a season ticket basis," Spoelstra said, "but it doesn't serve your core audience if your core audience is families."