Business Beat: Aug. 23

After 30 years in the business of baseball, Memphis Redbirds (Pacific Coast) president Dave Chase understands that the game on the field is not always enough to bring fans to the ballpark.

However, like many teams who strive to top themselves annually with creative promotions, Chase has also discovered that the old standby giveaways that teams rely on to bring a few extra hundred fans through the turnstiles no longer do the trick. A Rick Ankiel bobblehead will bring Cardinals junkies to AutoZone Park in droves, but hat and bat nights can have all the appeal of a back to school sale.

“We’re finding the days of the giveaway drawing power is over,” Chase said. “Fan experience is critical.”

So Chase entered this season with a goal for his staff: to draw fans who aren’t passionate about baseball. And to do so, the front office strived to offer promotions more in touch with pop culture. “Something hard to swallow for an old-time baseball guy like me,” he said.

So he had no problems with a couple of recent Memphis promotions that drew local and national attention. The Redbirds teamed up with a Memphis bookstore for Harry Potter Night, which included costume contests, scavenger hunt maps that directed kids to concession stands and a special food menu’"all themed after the best-selling books as the final edition hit the shelves.

“We probably had 1,500 people here that don’t usually participate in Redbirds baseball,” Chase said. “It got us some media coverage beyond the normal sports media.”

Memphis is also part of a deal struck between Marvel Comics and Triple-A Baseball to produce the “Triple-A Baseball Heroes” comic books’"which feature a storyline with many Marvel classic characters and the mascots of all 30 teams. The comic, which was the brainchild of Buffalo sales director Chris Hill, was given away to a select number of spectators at each Triple-A ballpark around the country.

Buffalo, Durham and Memphis took the creative promotion a step further by having original covers painted by artist John Watson (known for the X-Men and the Incredible Hulk) featuring a hometown player or mascot along with several Marvel superheroes.

Buffalo’s cover is a spoof of the famous Norman Rockwell “Three Umpires” painting, but with team mascot Buster and two superheroes in their place. Durham’s cover has the Incredible Hulk rounding third with Wool E. Bull cheering in the background, while Memphis’ cover features Rick Ankiel and Rockey the Redbird alongside the Hulk, Spiderman and Iron Man.

“With the success of superhero movies, it struck a chord with all of us at a Triple-A marketing committee meeting that it was something that could work,” Chase said. “Most of us sitting around the table probably didn’t know when the last time was that we read a comic book.”

State Of Promotions

Memphis is far from the only franchise that’s noticing the changing landscape of promotions and ballpark giveaways.

Plan B Branding’"which over the past few years has become an authority for creating images and telling stories for minor league franchises’"recently released its take on the winners and losers from the 6,900 events, promotions, giveaways and appearances put on by minor league teams in 2006.

Plan B classified promotions and giveaways in categories ranging from most popular, to least effective, and up-and-coming.

It is little surprise that fireworks nights continue to rank as the most popular and most effective promotions. Plan B noted 707 fireworks nights that increased attendance at ballparks by an average of 1,789 fans.

Other effective promotions included “Thirsty Thursdays” (190 times) and mini-bat giveaways, which drew an average of 1,528 additional fans. Least effective promotions’"which Plan B says can actually draw fewer fans than no promotion at all’"were $2 days, guaranteed outcome promotions and dollar hot dogs.

The top up-and-coming promotions included thunder-stick giveaways, salutes to Negro League baseball and poster schedule giveaways.

As important as the results from the study is the big picture.

“The promotions that appear to be the most effective are the ones that clubs put a lot of time and energy and into,” Plan B co-founder Jason Klein said. “The least effective are perhaps, lazy . . .

“The lesson is that clubs will try and throw things at the wall and see what sticks. The great thing about minor league baseball is trying new things. If clubs can get one thing out of this report, it is that not everything in your promotional schedule has to be a risk. Load up on things that you know will be a draw, and once you have those set, try some things that are going to be a little more risky.”

Goldklang Teams Honor Scouts

The Goldklang Group announced the creation of a scout hall of fame that will be displayed at each of the ownership group’s six stadiums in 2008. The group will solicit nominations from major league organizations along with current and former scouts and will likely hold inductions in May and June.

“This campaign is designed to create awareness of the importance of scouting in professional baseball and the major role that these individuals play on a global level,” said Goldklang Group spokesperson Tyler Tumminia, whose father John is a scout with the White Sox. “Our sincere hope is that one day fans will be able to appreciate the historical significance of this profession with proper recognition in Cooperstown.”

Among those on board with the project is longtime executive and champion of scouts Roland Hemond, who also helps run a charity to support out-of-work scouts in need of financial assistance.

“This is a nice project. It lets us sing their praises,” Hemond said. “For scouts, their biggest recognition is when they finally see their names with the players they’ve signed. That’s their reward. To see their names on plaques in a hall of fame will be an incredible recognition.”

Richmond Revitalization?

Atlanta Braves executive vice president of business operations Mike Plant recently expressed his disappointment in the slow pace of securing a new stadium in Richmond and said the organization will sign a one-year lease to play at the antiquated Diamond when the current one expires at the end of the 2007 season.

Earlier this summer, Plant was enthusiastic about a deal for a new ballpark, and he hoped an announcement would come by the end of the season. But the failure to secure a developer and Richmond’s inability to settle on a location in the entertainment district near the team’s current location has frustrated the organization.

“We’ve had a number of discussions and the focus is still on, with the mayor leading the charge with the business community,” Plant said. “We’re still looking at an entertainment district location in and around where we play now . . . I’m a little disappointed with the timing, that we started this process last November and that it has taken a little longer than we thought.”

Plant said he’s confident a deal will get done to keep the R-Braves in Richmond for the time being. But any long-term commitment hinges on a new stadium, and Plant would like to see some movement on that front in the coming months.

“There is going to have to be some action that I have to see in the next couple of months, that is action consistent with the discussions we’ve had with the city leadership,” said Plant, adding that the ballpark would be publicly financed with the Braves making annual contributions.

Plant said the team does have a back-up plan if a new stadium deal falls through but would not elaborate.

“We’re not just sitting around and waiting,” he said.