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Minor league teams do more to draw female fans
by Will Lingo
Much as we all think we're enlightened and progressive, baseball is still overwhelmingly a man's world. From the field to the front office to the stands, men dominate.
That's not quite as true in the minor leagues, where the more family-friendly atmosphere draws more women. But men are still the ones who are the hardcore fans, by and large, the ones who have grown up watching and playing the game, the ones who seem to have the nuances of it woven in their bones.
Minor league teams have started to recognize this in the last couple of years, conducting "Baseball 101" seminars for women to introduce them to the whole spectrum of the game, from the basics of keeping score to actually taking batting practice on the field.
The most recent team to hold a baseball seminar for women was the Charleston RiverDogs (South Atlantic), who drew about 35 female fans to a half-day program at their ballpark on a Saturday morning.
"It was a great event," said Dale Stickney, the RiverDogs' director of special events. "We would have liked to get a few more people, but after talking to the people that came they were glad it turned out the way it did because it gave us a more intimate atmosphere."
The women went through classroom sessions in the clubhouses, with instruction ranging from the basics of the game to the path players take through the minor leagues to the majors. Instructors included coaches, trainers and RiverDogs manager Bill Mosiello.
But they also got hands-on experience, taking a few cuts in the indoor batting cage, throwing in the bullpens, and getting on the field to take live batting practice. The day ended with lunch and a goodie bag full of baseball trinkets from sponsors, as well as tickets to that night's game.
"They all came out to the game that night and raved," Stickney said. "People loved it, and we're definitely going to do it again."
Like almost all good ideas in the minor leagues, this one was stolen. The RiverDogs heard about it from one of their sister clubs, the Fort Myers Miracle, a Florida State League team also owned by the Goldklang Group. The Miracle came up with the idea after hearing female fans complain about not being able to keep score and not knowing some of the baseball terminology they heard.
But the Miracle are far from the first, or only minor league team to do it. The Cedar Rapids Kernels (Midwest) are having their third annual Baseball 101 this year, and the Albuquerque Isotopes (Pacific Coast) and Winnipeg Goldeyes (independent Northern) are also among those offering similar programs.
"Last year was our first year, and we did it because our fans were asking for something we didn't already provide," said Terry Simon, manager of sales and marketing for the Miracle. "About 40 percent of the people who came last year were not regular fans because they didn't feel like they knew enough about the game."
After the seminar, many of those women became regulars at the ballpark over the rest of the season, Simon said. That makes clear one of the benefits of the programs for minor league teams: When women find out more about baseball, it generally makes them bigger fans of the game, and thus more likely to come out to the ballpark more often.
Stickney said when she asked the women who came to the Charleston event which element of the program they liked the best, each person had a different answer.
"Some people were really excited that they learned how to keep score," Stickney said, "but some were thrilled about just having the opportunity to get down on the field and see all the parts of the ballpark."
Loving The Game
The RiverDogs found other residual benefits from the program as well. It attracted a great deal of publicity, with coverage from the local newspaper and three television stations. A local radio personality even took part in the event.
The team also found plenty of sponsors for the event because it provided a great opportunity to market to women, a guarantee that minor league teams aren't often able to make.
"It was very easy to find sponsors with it being such a targeted event," Stickney said. "It's not a huge moneymaker, but it's a neat event. It really seemed to touch people, and it was a feel-good event."
A variety of women turned out in Charleston, but it wasn't until the eve of the seminar that Stickney found what she thinks could be their biggest market: Little League mothers who want to know exactly what it is their children are doing out on the field. A friend of Stickney's with a child in youth baseball jumped at the chance to attend, and the RiverDogs will direct more of their promotion at youth baseball next year.
So many minor league promotions have nothing to do with baseball that it's nice to see something take off that's about nothing but baseball. Maybe there's a lesson in there for all minor league marketers. It's not just about fireworks and free t-shirts. The more people understand about the game itself, the more they enjoy it, and the more likely they are to keep coming out to the ballpark.