By Chris Kline
December 7, 2005
The Lakewood Blue Claws have been the class of the South Atlantic League since their inaugural season in 2001. They have led the league in attendance every year since, topping out at 444,607 in 2005 and becoming the fastest team in league history to reach the 2 million mark.
The Blue Claws have averaged more than 400,000 fans in each of their five seasons and are flourishing in a market that includes major summer attractions–namely the Jersey shore–just a few miles away.
"Our fan base is mainly the local population," general manager Geoff Brown said. "When the tourists come in every summer, they basically say, "There's the boardwalk, there's the beach–you can have that–we're going to the ballpark."
But there is still a largely untapped fan base within the tourism industry that hits the New Jersey beaches every summer, and the club has been slowly hammering away at those potential visitors by targeting shore spots to promote the club.
"We're starting to get them," Brown said. "We're four miles away from the shore, so our hope is that if people are spending a week down here, they spend four nights at the boardwalk and a night at the ballpark."
Since Lakewood is a Phillies affiliate, they are likely to get those families–the majority from the Philadelphia area–to take the time to come see the next wave of players headed to Citizen's Bank Park.
Reading Phillies owner Craig Stein owns an interest in the club, so it's no accident why the club markets and promotes itself so well given Stein's track record in Southeastern Pennsylvania. But the Blue Claws also have ties to Double-A Trenton, where Brown and assistant GM John Clark worked together before coming to Lakewood.
"We work extremely close with both of those clubs geographically," Brown said. "They are great franchises and I think we tend to borrow little things both are doing, but we're innovative in our own right also. We're influenced by them because they've done so many things the right way for so long–especially Reading and their relationship with the Phillies. That's something to model your organization after."
Brown's philosophy for the franchise is to be as involved in the community as possible. The Blue Claws are represented on 20 different chambers of commerce throughout the area, and are a constant in fundraisers and helping the community grow.
"One thing that I think is a testament to what we are doing is whenever I talk to anyone out in the community, people say it seems like we're everywhere, involved in everything that is going on in the area," Brown said. "And that's the way it should be. We should be visible and we should be part of what makes the community what it is."