ARTICLE OF THE DAY

Minor League Entertainment
by Coach Gary Overton
5/17/05

Gone are the days when all minor league teams take the same name as the parent club. Unlike major league baseball, the minors can’t sell tickets chiefly using on-the-field talent as players are too transient. Instead they sell the pizazz and sizzle, which includes community spirit and the fun of a minor league night out without high ticket prices.

For decades, minor league teams relied on Major League Baseball for much of their funding. Each minor-league team was associated with a parent club, such as the Boston Red Sox, and provided a home for its young prospects. In return, the big league clubs paid for bats, balls, uniforms and other expenses.

That changed in the early 1990’s. Under an agreement between the majors and the minors, the minor-league clubs had to share more of their costs and had to start paying a ticket tax to Major League Baseball. Partially in response to this change, the minor leagues turned to merchandising.

Many got rid of team names that were the same as those of their parent club. In their place cartoonish characters were brought in. There are two dolphins named Splish and Splash in Myrtle Beach, a menacing beaver in Portland, Ore. and in Hickory, NC , a big red crawdad by the name of Conrad.

Some nicknames are easy to figure out, as you don’t have to be a golf fan to understand why the Augusta (GA) team is the GreenJackets or a racing fan to know the Kannapolis (NC) team partly owned by the estate of the late Dale Earnhardt is named the Intimidators. The Knoxville, Tennessee team in the Southern League is called the Smokies and Cal Ripken Jr.’s team in Aberdeen, Md. is appropriately referred to as the Ironbirds. Other names are just catchy phrases like the Durham Bulls, Carolina Mudcats or the Tidewater Tides.  Meanwhile, others hold onto their parent names like the Richmond Braves or the Kinston Indians.

Logos and team names play a huge role in a sport that has a gross revenue approaching $500 million and draws 39 million fans per year. Introducing a nickname and a logo means this is major business, and along with business comes entertainment for the customer.

Whether it’s fireworks displays, themed playgrounds, crazy between-innings antics, lovable mascots, kiddie-sized concessions, speed-pitch zones, inflatables or swimming pools, toddlers to teens find plenty to do and enjoy during a typical game at any one of the minor-league ballparks nearby. For the more mature audience the entertainment appeal is broad too as there is something for everyone. This includes comfortable picnic areas, modern concessions, deck-lounges and fantastic seating venues.

Unlike major-league games where it might be a challenge for children to sit for long uninterrupted periods of time, minor league baseball is designed to allow little spectators to move around and enjoy the ballpark’s many kid-friendly distractions. And what could be more kid friendly than a giant walking, talking furry mascot inviting the kids to come out to the field or to play in the stands. With mascots becoming very popular as an essential ingredient to any minor league game there have evolved mascot fan clubs, mascot appearances in the community and mascot-inspired educational programs

And let's not forget baseball itself, as minor league teams may not win spectators based on the names of their ever-changing rosters but they can still market the baseball experience. With that being said, you may be seeing one of ECU’s baseball alumni or possibly someone who played against the Pirates at Clark-Leclair Stadium.

In the last 10 years minor-league baseball has turned itself into a family entertaining and marketing success.  So, if you haven’t visited a park lately, please do so and you’ll be glad you did. After all, you’ll be “seeing tomorrow’s stars today” and enjoying every minute of it.

Coach Gary Overton