Happy new year! I hope that 2014 is filled with blessings for all of us.
Google Alerts turned up a mention of a Newsroom New Jersey article by Joe Favorito from last week on “The Business of Baseball in N.J.”, focusing specifically on the Newark Bears.
While the Bears’ struggles are Favorito’s focus (and he doesn’t spend nearly enough time talking about the challenges of operating in a city that had a 14.2% unemployment rate as of August and saw a 23-year high of 111 homicides in 2013), he touches on a more interesting question: how many minor league baseball teams can the New York metropolitan area really support?
However the expansive growth of digital marketing [by Major League franchises extending their reach] combined with the fight for discretionary income, may mean that although we would like to have 13 vibrant and fun minor league teams in a certain geographic area, maybe there is not the need to run these high functioning and somewhat expensive businesses at this time. Maybe the market is 10 or 11, not 12 or 13 or even 14, and maybe those dollars, if there is a sports business interest, can go into better marketing of local colleges or even high schools or youth sports, who also have some seats to fill with affordable and fun entertainment.
Check out the full article and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
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8 thoughts on “Link: The Business of Baseball in N.J.”
The two things Favorito didn’t deal with were (a) the Bears dropping from the Atlantic to the CanAm (meaning that the selling point of former MLBers playing and managing wasn’t there anymore) and (b) the lack of marketing by the team. Between those two AND playing in Newark, the combination was a virtual guarantee to seal the team’s doom. To a lesser extent, that happened previously in Nashua and Atlantic City.
The Bears’ owners, whomever they might have been (not just the most recent pair), had to push harder to “sell” the team to the public. Convince me, a fairly well-off white suburbanite, to come to Newark. You can convince me a lot more easily to go to Yogi Berra (and, from I recall seeing, the Jackals’ ownership didn’t do all that much and it showed at the turnstiles as the Boulders appeared to have done a lot more marketing and drew nearly twice as many fans). Had the Atlantic League still been in Newark, it would have been noticeably easier to convince me to go there.
So, it’s not just that it’s a handicap to be an indy team because they don’t have the support of a major league franchise. It’s also location (maybe there’s no other pro baseball in the area) and marketing. Winnipeg and KC, both in the low-level American Association in disparate markets, drew as well as many AA and even some AAA teams. Why? There’s probably not anywhere as much to do on a summer night in Winnipeg as there is in Kansas City. What did they do to draw fans to such low-level ball with players who have no MLB future? For Winnipeg, it might primarily have been just being there while KC, with the Royals there, probably marketed the hell out of their team. Honestly, I don’t know what they did; I’m just speculating.
So, it’s not just that Newark is a hopeless case (though we might have learned more had the Yankees AAA team had been allowed to play there in 2012 as they would have liked). It’s why. Sadly, as Newark, in its heyday, was a good minor league draw (and they did OK in their Atlantic League days), what’s there now should be included as a poster child in a college-level marketing course as how not to do things.
Minor league ball, especially at the indy level, is a night out, as I doubt you could probably round up even a hundred Rockland Boulders FANS. Can team management round up 3,000 people a night to come out to their park to enjoy the experience, spending money that could easily have been spent at other amusements? Yeah, they did. So, what happened at Newark? And, to a lesser extent, what happened at the Jackals and at Three Rivers and what is Quebec, about a half hour up the road from the latter doing differently than their neighbors? Though it would be a different book, maybe the minor league equivalent to Vince Gennaro’s “Diamond Dollars” might be a good read, should anyone decide to undertake the project.
The lack of marketing is an obvious problem. But I think that if you took the same marketing effort & skill and applied it to both the Bears and the Jackals, the Jackals would still draw better because of their more desirable location.
But can the area really support the current number of teams indefinitely? The Jackals’ attendance isn’t going in the right direction, either: 1,955 average per game in 2010, 1,768 in 2011, up to 1,896 in 2012 and back down to 1,709 in 2013.
And what happens if Frank Boulton’s actually starts playing in 2015?
Put it this way (and the following has nothing to do with the current Bears’ ownership. I don’t wish them ill; I just don’t think they have the business sense to run a baseball team or, for that matter, Aggressive Promotions): If Newark, in the CanAm, can draw 2,000 a night, what they did to achieve that should be taught in every business school in the country because it’d be a major miracle.
You asked if the area can the area support the number of teams. My answer would be, yes, but no more. There’s only one team here that’s truly not performing. And, as it performed once, playing in Newark is feasible. But it needs higher quality ball AND marketing.
If Boulton’s league gets off the ground, teams will go under. Depending on where they play, they could all be in his league. If they’re playing on college fields and not small professional parks, they won’t last. In this area, people are also paying for the atmosphere. And 600 at a low-level pro game on a college field isn’t atmosphere. Rockland has a beautiful park and they market. Ergo, they’re successful. The Jackals play at a nice park and don’t market themselves much and they’re doing OK. Newark had no fucking clue (pardon mon Francais) and they’re dead. It’s actually a very simple equation. And, having MLB affiliation is a BIG help. But indy ball is doable around here.
That the new league, should it get off the ground, is a feeder league to the Atlantic League has no bearing. For comparison’s sake, in 2012-2013, I passed some of the winter working for the NJ Outlaws of the Federal Hockey League (yeah, like “Slapshot”). They were a feeder to the ECHL. The latter is affiliated with the NHL, albeit at a very low level. But the minor league setup in hockey isn’t like baseball and many of those in the ECHL don’t have much of a future. So, what do the guys in the Federal League have? They didn’t market much and they played in a place (the Ice Vault) that had 500-odd seats and some standing room around the corner and end boards. They generally drew a couple hundred a game (mostly weekends) and lied about their attendance. For what purpose I can’t ascertain, but, like the Atlantic and CanAm Leagues, they did. And what happened to the Outlaws and the league? The team lasted in NJ exactly one season. They moved to Williamsport, played outdoors in the minor league ballpark last year and left a trail of bills behind as the team moved after one season yet again. Now, they’re in Dayton. Teams? They had six two years ago. Now? Four–in Danbury, Dayton, Watertown, NY and Danville, IL. The travel has to be awful in a league where management and marketing is dubious. Let me ask you, what might you think the lifespan of such a league might be?
Now, let me ask you, what do you think the lifespan of a league would be with two teams here and two teams about 7-8 hours away with other teams that those four play scattered about the midwest, about a thousand miles away?
My answer is that the teams might be viable and would be in any league but the league itself probably isn’t. Rockland and NJ will survive if the CanAm somehow merges with Boulton’s league. It’ll be a bonanza if they ever became affiliates. What might happen in 2016 is that Rockland, NJ and maybe Sussex (if a team is placed there) might survive as part of a more local league with teams here and through the Hudson Valley and into Connecticut and Massachusetts. And, as it’ll be the same management crew as in the Atlantic League, it COULD be fairly successful. But the only way it could be around here is if the current local CanAm teams bolt for the new one.
Camden, NJ and Gary, IN both have teams. They two of the most economically depressed areas in the nation.
Going back to marketing, one of my former bosses lives in Rockland County. He told me they have a St. Patrick’s Day parade there. There were Boulder employees at the parade handing out pocket schedules.
As for Newark, they should have had interns doing the same thing at BOTH major NJ Transit stations- not just recently, but going back to the Cerone days,
Help me out on this one- at any time was there ever any NJ Transit signage in the ballpark? If not, another Cerone era blunder.
Yes, I think there was up until the bankruptcy following the 2008 season. They even played a train whistle after a Bears player hit a home run. (I’m just not 100% positive if it was NJ Transit or Amtrak this many years later.)
Not sure on the NJ Transit signage as I don’t remember. The train whistle for homers was for Amtrak. That I’m certain of. But, while I was there (2005 & 2009) I don’t recall any cross-promotion with NJ Transit (Hey, take the train or light rail to the game and save a couple bucks!). Nope, none of that.
As far as Camden and Gary–to average in the low 3000s (supposedly, as I know how numbers are fudged) means they must be doing something right as Newark didn’t draw like that in their Atlantic League days. Maybe early on, but that’s about it. And there must be something that the American Association is doing (Gary’s in that league) to where most of those teams are fairly decent draws while, if the CanAm teams were included on that list, they’d be in the bottom half of the league.
Then again, maybe this area is saturated. Maybe Paul’s right and fourteen teams are too much. And, maybe 2,000 a game for indy ball should be considered a “good” night in these parts and, if a team is doing 3,000, they’ve really got their act together.
Attendance numbers have to be judged with an eye towards ballpark capacity.
The Jackals play at a stadium with a permanent seating capacity of 3,784, so if they put 2,000 fans in the park it’s going to look more than half full. If they could draw an average of 3,000, they would be pretty well off based on what they can legitimately expect to do. (Which presents a problem if you ever wanted to move the team up to the Atlantic League – as would potential conflicts with the college and the Atlantic League’s longer season.)
Put 2,000 fans in Camden’s 6,712-seat stadium, and it’s going to look pretty deserted and 3,000 doesn’t get them to the halfway point.
Capacity would only come into play if teams were turning away potential customers. Whether you’re half full or one-third full makes no real difference except that, as you said, 2,000 in a 4,000 seat park looks a little better than in a 6,000 one. And 453 in a 6,200 seat park looks like, uh, uh, a very bad four-letter word. 🙂
Matter of fact, Yogi Berra could be extremely desirable if the Jackals became an Atlantic League franchise. Why? Take a look at MLB stadium construction in the past 20 years. Save maybe for the White Sox (off the top of my head here), all are smaller than their predecessors. Let’s take Citi Field. 42,000 seats. Shea had 55,000 and change. For construction costs, how many times did the Mets draw over 42,000 at Shea? More than a few? OK. Enough to justify constructing a new 55,000 seat stadium? No. Now that there are 13,000 fewer seats, what does that do to potential advance sale and walk-up business? If 13,000 fewer seats are in the mix every night, it SHOULD encourage more advance sales. If the Mets stink, you can get seats for five bucks on StubHub. I have. So, at 3,784 plus the berm in right field, an Atlantic League Jackals team with a little more marketing would (or should) have more advanced sales. A small park would actually be a boon for business.
But I might be getting a little ahead of myself as the first order of business is for the team to sell itself.
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