Class A Freitas Award: Daytona
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When you go to a Daytona Cubs game, there isn't a whole lot that would feel out of place at any other well-run minor league park. You'll be greeted with a smile and a thanks for coming as you walk through the gates.
|Operated by: Big Game Florida LLC.|
|Principal Owner/President: Andrew Rayburn.|
|General Manager: Bill Papierniak. Assistant General Manager: Matt Provence. Director, Corporate Accounts: Rick Polster. Director, Stadium Operations: J.R. Laub. Director, Merchandising/Media Relations: Derek Ingram. Director, Tickets: Eric Freeman. Director, Groups: Brandon Greene. Director, Food/Beverage: Josh Lawther. Director, Sales: Brady Ballard. Director, Special Events/Merchandise: Arin Vaughan. Office Manager: Tammy Devine.|
Once inside, the stadium is clean, scrubbed and cheery, and when the game begins, there's the same array of between-innings promotions, like dizzy bat races and other on-field competitions to keep the fans entertained.
And when the game is over, you'll get a farewell from a staff member, who will thank you for coming and inform you that he or she hopes you come again.
It's all pretty normal for a well-run minor league club, or as Daytona Cubs general manager Bill Papierniak explains, "It's not rocket science."
But the tiny details are important, which is why the Daytona Cubs emphasize them. And as Papierniak sees it, they are a big reason the club has seen its attendance double in the past five years. A lot of clubs have seen gains like that when they open a new stadium, but the Cubs have done it while playing in 76-year-old Jackie Robinson Stadium. As impressive as that is, it becomes even more amazing when you consider that the Cubs have done it in the Florida State League, which is known throughout the minors as the place where the crowds disappear around the time the big league clubs pack up spring training.
"The one thing we did that started a couple of years ago was we really changed the vision and brought people in from other leagues who didn't know any better," Papierniak said. "People have always said Florida's a tough place--you can't draw here. We asked, why not? If we used the same principles we felt we could be successful."
That's not to say they haven't had to tweak some things to fit the market. The Cubs have marketed aggressively to neighborhoods that have families with expendable income and have tried to contact any and every business in the area. They also have marketed to the hotels, hoping to attract tourists.
"We approach it as if there is no difference. We all know that there is a beach here, but at the same time we approach it as if we were in any other market up and down the East Coast or the Midwest," Papierniak said. "People are still people so we have to have the entertainment value. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but at the same time we don't think we're doing anyone a service by saying it's going to be hard . . . Everyone in this office believes it can be done."
"They have an amazing staff," said Florida State League president Chuck Murphy, who lives in Daytona. "They do a lot of good things during the winter. They beat the bushes. Daytona isn't an easy place to sell. There are so many things going on, but they are doing it."
They are doing it in part by tweaking the promotional schedule. They added fireworks every Saturday night and developed a surprise hit in Belly Buster Mondays. For $10 fans get a ticket to the game and all-you-can eat hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, peanuts and popcorn. When they first rolled it out, Papierniak didn't know if it would be a success or a money loser. It's turned into the team's most successful promotion, as the club now draws as many fans on Monday nights as Friday nights.
The team has also benefited from a renovated entrance to the stadium and a full slate of between-innings promotions. The on-field promotions are usually paired with a competition between sections of the stands for prizes--so fans are active participants instead of just spectators.
"Their game operations are outstanding," Murphy said. "They have something going on all the time. The fans get into it and it's really fun."
It may be tough to sell baseball in the summer in Florida, but the Daytona staff will keep figuring out ways. If they keep it up, 200,000 fans may be on the horizon.
"There's always areas we point to and know we're not where we want to be," Papierniak said. "I'd be lying if I said we could continue at 20-30 percent growth. That will slow down, but hopefully not for a couple of years."