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Posts Tagged ‘Lake County Captains’

Nobody Night…Awful Night… Mustache Appreciation…Used Car Giveaways…and even Salute to Indoor Plumbing. These are all promotional nights which have taken place at Minor League Baseball games in the past. Fans and outsiders hear about these events and even attend these events from time to time but does anyone really ever think about what goes into planning one of these nights or how they were developed in the first place? Keep reading and you’ll find out.

First, it’s a safe bet to assume that 95% of teams sit down at the conclusion of every season to discuss what went well during the season and to begin brainstorming ideas for the next season. In these brainstorming sessions many ideas are floated around…some of them great and some of them completely unrealistic. However, sometimes the ideas which may seem unrealistic at first become the well-known promotions we know and love thanks to the creativity of the folks in Minor League Baseball.

I classify Minor League “Theme Nights” into two different categories. First, some teams do these promotions just for fun and in hopes of not only local but national publicity. The Charleston RiverDogs once staged “Nobody Night” where they didn’t let fans into the ballpark until the 5th inning so they could announce an attendance of zero for the night. They very much accomplished their goal of garnering publicity from these event as it’s still talked about today, but this didn’t translate into any type of monetary benefit to the team. While Minor League teams are known for fun, wacky promotions they are also businesses with bills to pay and publicity doesn’t pay my salary as an employee of a Minor League team!

The other category for these promotional nights would be ones in which teams develop in order to try to increase sales – tickets, merchandise and food. I’ll use my own Cleveland Sports History Night with the Captains as an example of this type of promotion. Cleveland Sports History Night began as a theme night idea to re-live some of the infamous moments Cleveland sports teams are known for. Once the idea was dreamed up we brainstormed on what all should be involved in the night and came up with concessions specials, celebrity appearances, group ticket ideas, and merchandise sales opportunities. Our concession special we did was Nickel Beer (Dime Beer in year two) which was an idea to bring in the beer-drinking fans and generate media attention…it worked on both accounts.We did small, discounted beer for one hour and then sold full-price beer for the remainder of the game. We also thought bringing in former Cleveland athletes would help bring in true sports fans looking to meet and greet these athletes and this has worked for four straight seasons. Next, we targeted Browns Backers groups to do a group outing at the ballpark on this night which ended up turning into a large pre-game tailgate party in the parking lot prior to the game. Finally, we wanted to sell merchandise to these die-hard Cleveland sports fans so we bring in baseball cards of the celebrities, footballs, football helmets, photographs and anything else we think may sell and try to make money through incremental merchandise sales as well. The in-game promotions are icing on the cake for the fans who’ve come to the game and we hope that at the end of the night fans enjoyed their experience and will come back for another game in the future.

In a perfect world everything comes together and a team not only gets great publicity from a wacky promotional night but they also find a way to cash in financially. My current team, the Lake County Captains, and I were lucky enough that the stars aligned for us on Cleveland Sports History Night which has been going strong for four seasons and was named Promotion of the Year by ESPN Magazine in 2009. This year’s event came and went this past weekend and now I’m hoping the folks at Minor League Baseball will recognize our event as part of their Golden Bobblehead Awards for Minor League promotions.

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The Lake County Captains will begin their 10th season of baseball in NE Ohio this Thursday, April 12 at 6:30 PM. The front-office staff has been gearing up for this day since last Labor Day and it’s nearly upon us. When explaining the process of getting ready f0r Opening Day for the Captains I tell people it’s like planning a wedding. There are hundreds of things that go into getting ready for another baseball season and, for the most par,t the only people who’ll know what we get done and what we don’t get done are the 14 full-time staff members of the Captains.

The most important thing we do to get ready for the season is sell. If the staff doesn’t sell tickets and advertising then nothing else matters. This week will consist of putting together any last minute touches on sponsorship agreements, finalizing a couple outstanding contracts, and double checking to make sure everything that has been sold will be in place by Thursday. On the ticket side of things we’ll all make sure our season ticket holders have their tickets and parking passes and if anyone needs anything last minute before Thursday we’ll take care of it.

The most important thing fans will see this week is the ballpark itself. In ten years a stadium sees quite a bit of wear and tear and the needs and wants of the fans from year one to year ten change as well. This week the ballpark will get a final deep cleaning (it’s been getting cleaned over the past two to three weeks) from the restrooms to the concession stands to the stadium seats. Also, a couple final touches and improvements for the 2012 season will be finished this week. These include a brand new high-top table seating area located behind home plate, new signage throughout the ballpark and concession stands and even brand new stadium banners commemorating the ten seasons of baseball at Classic Park. Plus, a brand new state-of-the-art camera for the video board will help fans enjoy their ballpark experience even more!

Lastly, the front office and part-time staff members need to mentally prepare for the season as well. This may not sound like a big deal, especially for those of us who’ve been around for a few seasons, but there are new things every season that we need to be reminded of so we can speak intelligently when fans ask us questions. From the new Moby Dick fish sandwich to the new seating area to a new location for the plaques commemorating Captains who have made the Majors there are plenty of things new at Classic Park in 2012.

Hopefully baseball fans, families and folks just looking for a good night out will all come to the ballpark to see what’s going on with the Captains this season. There’s something for everyone at the ballpark and we hope people will enjoy the changes we’ve made for the upcoming season. See you at the ballpark!

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For most young athletes their dream is to play professionally when they grow up. As a kid you always think you’re going to be that 0.1% that’s going to beat the odds and make it to college and then on to the pros. I was that kid. Many of you were that kid too. For nearly all of us, that dream never happens and we realize we’ll need to find another career path. For me I couldn’t, and never will, get sports out of my system so I ended up working in the front office of professional sports teams. Little did I know when I got into this career that it would end up being a lot more complicated and involved than just selling tickets or advertising for a baseball game and hopefully watching the game.

When you go to a sporting event you always want the best seats you can get closest to the field or court right? I know I do, but a majority of fans don’t actually think that way. They want aisle seats. They might want seats in the middle of the row so they don’t have to stand up when people walk past them. They want to sit on the home side of the field. The want handicapped row seats for more leg room. A fan wants the seats with the best view of the video board. They want seats on the side of the field with the most shade. Someone else wants seats in the sun. Fans want seats under an overhang in case it rains. HUH? Really? Yep, that’s why I chuckle when someone tells me to give them the best seats available.

Getting into this field I didn’t think I’d need to know the difference between Dibond, Max-Metal, Alumilite, Coroplast, Sintra and Polystyrene. What the hell are those you ask? Types of materials used to make outdoor signs. Want more? Too bad…vinyl, mesh banner, adhesive vinyl, backlit vinyl, and 3M reusable sticker material. More sign materials with different purposes.

Also, I could probably work for a printing company now too. Do you know the difference between a 80# uncoated text, 80# gloss text, 80# matte text or #80 cover when it comes to types of paper? I do. How does it help me sell more sponsorships, it doesn’t, but I know what kind of paper to use for different projects we do during the season.

There are a ton of examples of stuff like this that no class at Baldwin-Wallace College (soon to be Baldwin Wallace University) would have ever taught me or would have even thought about teaching when it comes to working in sports. Again, do these things make me a better salesman? No. But once I make a sale and need to make sure everything involved in that sale happens and turns out correctly it helps tremendously to be able to speak these second, third and fourth languages.

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In an effort to shed some light on what goes on during a cold, wintry, Ohio day in February leading up to a Lake County Captains baseball season I’ll share my experiences from one day this past week.

I begin my day around 8:15 and, much like anyone else in the business world, the day begins by checking voice mails and e-mails. After deleting a pre-recorded voice mail message left at 9:30 PM the night before, I turn my attention to my computer and delete spam messages promising me huge fortunes from my friends overseas in exchange for my social security and credit card numbers. There are a couple legitimate e-mails, but they can wait for the time being. Then, I check my legal pad of to-do items and get to work.

First item on my list today – come up with weekly sales incentive for our ticketing staff. Depending on the week these range from making “X” number of phone calls, to renewing a certain number of season ticket accounts to planning theme events during the season. Since it’s closer to the beginning of the season and we’re spending a lot of time with season ticket holders I decide to tie our goal for the week into selling parking passes. We control a lot around our ballpark which has about 250 spots. Some of these are for staff and players, but the others are sold on a game-by-game basis. So I decide the goal for the week is for each ticket sales member of the staff to sell parking passes to at least three of their 2012 Season Ticket Holders who did NOT have parking the previous season. If they reach the goal they each get a $25 bonus.

Next up is finalizing the finishing touches on the advertising and vending agreement with our hard-serve ice cream supplier, Velvet Ice Cream. This partnership includes our “Ice Cream Batter of the Game” promotion where we give out free ice cream to one row of fans if a pre-selected player on our team gets a hit, signage in and around one of our concession stands, and one “Velvet Ice Cream Night” during the season where fans will get free ice cream samples and prizes from Velvet. Once it’s completed it’s e-mailed to my marketing contact and the waiting game to receive the signed copy of the agreement begins.

I have a meeting scheduled for 10 AM which is pushed back until 11 AM because my contact is running late. In the meantime I respond to e-mails and make some phone calls to companies who are renewal accounts or are on my list of new advertising prospects for 2012.

At 11:15 my contact from one of our food vendors arrives and I meet with him and our Director of Concessions to discuss their marketing plans for the season as well as discuss what products we’ll be ordering from this company during the season. We also talk about hosting our second annual Clambake at the Ballpark with this company which we did for the first time in 2011 and had nearly 100 people attend in our first year.

Next up – Lunch. Today it’s Schlotsky’s Deli – a sponsor in case you were wondering.

On to my next item…measuring the distance around the ballpark, inside and out, to come up with waypoints for a Walking Tour around Classic Park. This is a promotion I am working on with Lake Health, our official Healthcare Provider, to encourage our fans to get out of their seats and walk around the ballpark once or twice while they are at the game. Lake Health is promoting many various wellness initiatives in the area and this was one I suggested to them as part of their partnership with the Captains.

Following this I finalize an agreement with a local sign vendor, L&M Specialties, to produce and install some of our ballpark signage this season. Sign, scan and e-mail agreement back to my contact at L&M.

Jake Schrum, our Manager of Promotions and the Captains’ one-person “Art Department”, comes into my office to get my opinion on some logos which we use to brand our weekly promotions at the ballpark. Today’s question…which one of four logos for our Thursday Date Night promotion looks the best? We discuss, get one other person’s opinion, one minor change is suggested, and it’s on to the next to-do item.

After talking with Jake I have a little down time to get through returning e-mails and voice mail messages.

Finally, I have an intern interview scheduled for 4:15 PM so I get out his resume and cover letter to re-read them prior to him arriving. The student comes a few minutes early so I conduct the interview and give him a nickel tour of the ballpark before he heads back to school.

At the end of every day I go back to my legal pad of to-do items and re-write it with the old and completed items omitted, tasks that I haven’t gotten to yet moved to the top, and new items added in order of importance.

At about 5:15 I leave the office and it’s off to my much more important job of being a husband and a dad to an almost 8-year old daughter and 5-year old son.

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Between my eight baseball seasons with the Toledo Mud Hens and the four seasons I’ve spent with the Lake County Captains my favorite question I get every fall is “So…what do you do in the off-season?” I can’t tell you how many people literally think we take the entire fall and winter off and then show up in the spring a couple weeks before the season starts.

Every sports organization has a front-office staff ranging from two or three full-time staff up to 100+ full-timers in a Major League organization. In the Minor Leagues, where every employee wears numerous hats, we do more work on a day-to-day basis during the off-season than many days during the season when we’re working 14+ hour days!

When the season ends we spend a couple weeks wrapping up paperwork and playing bill collector before the planning for the following season begins. We review attendance from the previous season, talk about what promotions and theme/group events worked well and which ones were flops (see exhibit “Wings and Wine Wednesdays”). From there, it’s a major brainstorming session related not only to promotions, but more importantly on how we can make more sales and generate more revenue.

For most employees we have a sales component to our jobs (tickets, sponsorships, non-gameday events, food & beverage) and that’s where the bulk of our time is spent during the off-season…making sales. For me, it’s calling and meeting with businesses who already advertise with the Captains or talking with companies about advertising during the following baseball season. It’s a little tough selling baseball in Ohio during December and January when it’s 20 degrees (if we’re lucky) and have a foot of snow on the field, but I think that’s one of the reasons we, as Minor League Baseball employees, are some of the most creative and fun-loving people you’ll ever work with. We have to be in order to convince people to buy baseball tickets when all they can think of is shoveling their driveway and freezing just from walking from their car to their front door! (Why do I live in Ohio again?)

Once the snow melts hopefully all of our hard work, phone calls and meetings in the Fall and Winter translate into signed agreements in the early Spring. Then we cross all our T’s and dot the final I’s which may include anything from sending out season tickets to designing and producing an outfield fence sign to writing copy and recording a radio spot for an advertiser.

Finally, April rolls around where we hold our breath that it doesn’t snow on Opening Day when we embark on another 70-game season. It’s all worth it though when you see kids, young and old, on Opening Day who can’t wait to get into the ballpark for the unofficial Kick-off for Spring and another season of America’s pastime.

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