Minors bank on entertainment options Unlike the big leagues, good times in downtimes
may be difference between profits and losses

By Bob Andelman
Street and Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal April 23-2007
Anybody can sell the ticket buying public on a night at the ballpark with Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees. That’s easy.

But promoting a game with no-name players who might be up or down the food chain next week is a much tougher assignment. That’s the challenge for minor league baseball and hockey teams who must sell far more than a pastime to hear the turnstiles click.

For them, 90 seconds of brilliant entertainment between innings – or 20 minutes between periods – is often the difference between success and failure, profit and red ink.

“Those 90 seconds present a wonderful opportunity to get a reaction out of our fans,” according to Tom Whaley, executive vice president of business affairs for the St. Paul Saints in Minnesota. “Used right, it adds to the overall enjoyment of the game. It’s important to create peaks and valleys in the game. The key is to vary the visual, vary the audio. You are, in some respects, trying to take your fans on a ride through the game.”

Like their big league cousins, the minors do all the usual giveaway nights, from bats and balls to pucks and sticks. Most have fluffy, colorful, lovable mascots and energetic PA announcers. Video boards are commonplace. But the real point of differentiation is tailoring the time between play to their individual market, whether it’s “Redneck Night” in Charlotte or a “Michael Jackson Sleepover Night” (Free surgical masks and gloves, with a “well-lit” petting zoo) in Lake Elsinore, California.

“We put in-game entertainment up there as almost as important as the game itself,” says Dave Oster, president of the Lake Elsinore Storm, a San Diego Padres affiliate, “especially being located halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. You’ve got everything here – three Major League Baseball teams, the mountains, the ocean. We need to distinguish ourselves. People are more active here than in the Midwest or on the East Coast. You don’t find the fanatics as much here as in other parts of the US.”