This article was published in the Fall 2013 Baseball Research Journal
Minor league baseball has undergone a resurgence, exemplified by record-setting attendance and a growing number of new ballparks. Much research has focused on factors that drive attendance. Chief among those factors is promotions, with numerous studies showing that giveaways and sponsored off-the-field activities at games can increase gate receipts. The quality of the team and the draw of the game itself may play a lesser role, at least at the minor league level.
Minor league baseball has undergone a resurgence, exemplified by record-setting attendance and a growing number of new ballparks. Much research has focused on factors that drive attendance. Chief among those factors is promotions, with numerous studies showing that giveaways and sponsored off-the-field activities at games can increase gate receipts. The quality of the team and the draw of the game itself may play a lesser role, at least at the minor league level. Research has also focused on spectator demographics (particularly sex and age) and their influence on baseball consumption. This study of 560 spectators at triple-A games in Omaha, Nebraska, and Des Moines, Iowa, found that the impact of promotions and “non-baseball” diversions at the park may be overestimated. The study also found that women, while being less likely to pay attention to the game, comprise a major component of minor league attendance.
Minor league baseball in the U.S. has undergone a renaissance. Not only has attendance averaged just over 41 million during the past four years,[fn]Devon Teeple, “Minor League Baseball Attendance is on the Rise,” MiLB Stream, May 20, 2012, http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1189533-milb-attendance-on-the-rise (accessed September 7, 2012).[/fn] but new minor league stadia dot urban and suburban landscapes throughout the nation. Many of these new stadia have been designed to accommodate more than just baseball fans. These facilities cater to the family with non-baseball activities for children and adults. New Britain Stadium, which opened in 1996 as the home of the double-A New Britain (CT) Rock Cats, has its “Fun Zone,” featuring an interactive game area, where spectators can play computerized games, such as Guitar Hero.[fn]“New Britain Stadium A to Z,” n.d. http://www.milb.com/team1/page.jsp?ymd=20100304&content_id=8 (accessed September 7, 2012).[/fn] New Britain Stadium has an inflatable “moon bounce” and slide, an amenity that one can also find at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, built in 2002 in Troy, NY, home to the Tri-City Valley Cats of the New York-Penn League.[fn]“Joseph L. Bruno Stadium,” n.d. http://www.milb.com/team1/page.jsp?ymd=20060214&content_id=4 (accessed September 7, 2012).[/fn]
One of the newer minor league stadia, Werner Park, offers even more side activities. Werner Park, home to the triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers (an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals), boasts a merry-go-round, a kids inflatable play area, a basketball court, a whiffle ball field, a picnic/party pavilion, and food and drink vendors throughout the concourse. Werner Park opened in 2011 and was designed to offer entertainment that catered to the entire family. New parks such as Werner are built on the premise that the experience “has to be more than just a baseball game.”[fn]Jean Menendez, “Minor League Baseball Team Washington Wild Things Tries to Revitalize Product,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 17, 2012, http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/pirates/local-team-washington-wild-things (accessed August 3, 2012).[/fn] Without other activities, a stadium and its team are likely to suffer at the turnstiles and neglect the entertainment needs of the entire family. That’s what much of the literature on minor league baseball attendance would lead one to believe. Some minor league team executives believe that most spectators at their ballparks don’t pay much attention to the game. Instead spectators spend as much time enjoying stadium amenities and between-inning activities, such as promotions or giveaways.[fn]Tony Lachowetz, Windy Dees, Sam Todd, and Elizabeth Ryan, “Savannah Sand Gnats: Macro Strategies for Using Identity to Increase Attendance in Minor League Baseball,” Sport Marketing Quarterly 18 (2009), 222–27.[/fn] However, quality of play on the field also matters, according to some literature; but it begs the question: How do minor league teams balance what they offer on the field with the entertainment and diversions off the field? This study offers insight to baseball administrators as to what entices baseball fans to attend their games and what brings them back.
Considering the large sums of money spent by minor league teams and their sponsors on off-field entertainment, the answer to the question has ramifications for the business and the patrons of minor league baseball. Knowing what spectators enjoy most is the first step in addressing this. The researchers intend to use this study to determine what draws spectator attention most: the game itself or the side attractions, many of which have little to do with the game. So the overriding questions are: In offering non-baseball activities, does minor league management detract from the main event, the play on the field? If fans pay attention to the game and cite that as the main attraction, do minor league teams need to devote as much of their budget to non-baseball activities as they do? The answers can be found only by first addressing the research questions (RQs) that guide this study. The following RQs served as the basis for developing a survey to tap spectators’ interests during their visits to the ballpark.
- RQ1: Do spectators pay attention to off-field activities as much, if not more, than they pay attention to the game itself?
- RQ2: Are there differences in what spectators enjoy in a stadium like Werner Park, when compared to Principal Park, an older stadium in Des Moines, Iowa, which offers less in the way of off-field family entertainment?
- RQ3: Do a spectator’s demographics (specifically sex and age) affect what that person enjoys most at the ballpark?
This paper will address those questions and discuss other aspects related to a spectator’s experience at minor league games by drawing from the spectators’ responses to the survey during minor league (triple-A) baseball games. The methodology departs from most baseball spectator studies that depend on year-to-year attendance figures in comparing attendance trends with team records and promotions or that are based on recall by respondents long after they have attended a game. Thus, the research for this paper has immediacy as an advantage by tapping into spectators’ feelings and preferences during (or immediately after) the actual event and reflects how those attending games view their experiences at the ballpark.
Much of the research on baseball spectatorship in the minor leagues follows two divergent paths. Studies focus on the economics of baseball spectatorship. These studies compare various characteristics of minor league baseball organizations (i.e. team record, promotions, give-aways, marketing strategies, multi-season won-loss record) and how those characteristics influence overall attendance and the organization’s revenues. Other studies take a sociological perspective in profiling the demographics of baseball spectators and focus on rituals or behaviors of baseball spectators either watching or listening to games via mass media or attending games.
Many of the studies by sports economists on minor league baseball focus on the impact of promotions and give-aways on attendance. For example, researchers Lorna Gifis and Paul Sommers found that among all promotions, post-game fireworks shows had the greatest impact on attendance.[fn]Lorna S. Gifis and Paul Sommers, “Promotion and Attendance in Minor League Baseball,” Atlantic Economic Journal 34 (2006), 513-14. For a further discussion on the allure of fireworks, see Tyler Anthony, Tim Kahn, Briana Madison, Rodney Paul and Andrew Weinbach, “Similarities in Fan Preferences for Minor League Baseball Across the American Southeast,” Journal of Economics and Finance (December 2, 2011), 1–14.[/fn] Richard Cebula and his colleagues estimated that in the Carolina League, postgame fireworks increased game attendance by an average of 32 percent.[fn]Richard Cebula, Michael Toma and Jay Carmichael, “Attendance and Promotions in Minor League Baseball: The Carolina League,” Applied Economics 41 (Nov. 19, 2009), 3, 209–14.[/fn] The Savannah Sand Gnats, a minor league team in the South Atlantic League, claim that Friday-night fireworks are a main attraction and draw a primary target audience—families with young children.[fn]Lachowetz, Dees, Todd, and Ryan, “Savannah Sand Gnats.”[/fn] “Fireworks are family fun and increase the entertainment,” said Sand Gnats general manager Bradley Dodson. “Kids want to see baseball and parents want to see wholesomeness. There is nothing more wholesome than fireworks with patriotic music in the background.”[fn]Ibid, 226.[/fn]
Give-aways, especially player bobbleheads, also drove up attendance, as did giveaways of such items as magnetized team schedules, caps, jerseys, and helmets.[fn]Gifis and Sommers, “Promotion and Attendance.”[/fn], [fn]Richard J. Cebula, “The Potential Role of Marketing in Promoting Free Enterprise in the U.S.: A Study Involving Minor League Baseball and Ticket-Sales Revenue Maximization,” Journal of International and Global Economic Studies 2 (June 2009), 31–45. See also Lachowetz, Dees, Todd, and Ryan, “Savannah Sand Gnats.”[/fn] John Siegfried and Jeff Eisenberg estimated that free merchandise could result in an extra 1,600 fans during the course of the season for a team that draws 69,000 fans annually, and reduced ticket prices can yield another 975 spectators.[fn]John J. Siegfried and Jeff D. Eisenberg, “The Demand for Minor League Baseball,” Atlantic Economic Journal 8 (1980), 59–69.[/fn] Similarly, research has shown that discounts on tickets for families and groups are also attendance generators.[fn]Cebula, “The Potential Role,” and Anthony, Kahn, Madison, Paul and Weinbach, “Similarities in Fan Preferences.”[/fn] The research on other promotions, such as food and drink specials, yield mixed results. Cebula found that such specials contribute to attendance, while Tyler Anthony and colleagues found that reduced food and beer prices had no impact.[fn]Cebula, “The Potential Role.”[/fn], [fn]Anthony, Kahn, Madison, Paul and Weinbach, “Similarities in Fan Preferences.”[/fn] Anthony also reported that theme nights and even free tickets had a negligible effect.
The quality of the team and the stadium or field where it plays may also impact attendance. Young Lee and Trenton Smith argue that access to and layout of the ballpark can keep fans coming back or keep them away.[fn]Young H. Lee and Trenton G. Smith, “Why Are Americans Addicted to
Baseball? An Empirical Analysis of Fandom in Korea and the United States,” Contemporary Economic Policy 26 (January 2008), 32–48.[/fn] Kirk Wakefield, Jeffrey Blodgett, and Hugh Sloan maintain that the “sportscape,” or the layout of the stadium, “was shown to strongly influence spectators [sic] desire to stay and re-patronize games at that facility.”[fn]Kirk L. Wakefield, Jeffrey G. Blodgett and Hugh J. Sloan, “Measurement and Management of the Sportscape,” Journal of Sport Management 10 (1996), 15–31, quote on 29.[/fn] Spectators want easy access to concessions and restrooms, and those interested in the game itself want to be close to the action on the field. Wakefield advises sports venue managers to pay attention to what spectators want and where spectators sit in relation to what those patrons desire from the event.[fn]Ibid.[/fn]
Team quality is also a mitigating factor for attendance, especially at the major league level. But team quality can also affect attendance in the minor leagues, despite spectators’ realization that players are more transient as they move up the minor league ladder or as they are called up by the parent major league club (although some spectators might not be aware that the players are controlled and owned by the parent major league club and not by the minor league team management). Siegfried and Eisenberg said this is especially true at the double-A and triple-A level, where quality of play has a “substantial” effect on attendance.[fn]Siegfried and Eisenberg, “The Demand for Minor League Baseball,” 65.[/fn] Some of this effect for triple-A teams may be related to top-ranked prospects who are one level away from making the roster of the parent major league team. Seth Gitter and Thomas Rhoads said that a top five prospect can increase attendance during a season by 2%, and some top prospects may have a more dramatic effect on attendance.[fn]Seth R. Gitter and Thomas A. Rhoads, “Top Prospects and Minor League Baseball Attendance,” Journal of Sport Economics 12 (2011), 341–51.[/fn] The authors point to Stephen Strasburg, a minor league phenom who made a quick ascension through the minor league ranks of the Washington Nationals. “In his first three games pitching for the Syracuse Chiefs [the Nationals’ triple-A club], attendance was about three times greater than games when he did not pitch and two of these games became the top two attendance days for his team.”[fn]Ibid, 342.[/fn] A visitor to Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse in early June 2010 was told by some fans that he would not have been able to buy tickets to the game at the main gate that evening had Strasburg been pitching that day.[fn]One of the authors of this study was told that by a gate attendant while at a game at Alliance Bank Stadium in June 2010.[/fn]
In earlier research, Gitter and Rhoads found that quality of play also affects attendance at the single-A minor league level. They found that a 10 percent increase in winning percentage translates to a two percent increase in attendance.[fn]Seth R. Gitter and Thomas A. Rhoads, “Determinants of Minor League Baseball Attendance,” Journal of Sport Economics 11 (2010), 614–28.[/fn] Those findings support the research of Cebula and colleagues. Their research on teams in the Carolina League (single-A) found that ticket sales and attendance was “positively impacted by runs scored by the home team. Team performance counts!”[fn]Cebula, Toma and Carmichael, “Attendance and Promotions in Minor League Baseball,” 3, 212.[/fn]
However, there seems to be some debate over how much attention minor league spectators give to the play on the field. Some officials in minor league sports believe that quality of play takes a backseat to promotions and off-field entertainment. Craig Bommert, a vice-president of a minor league sports team, reflects the opinions of many minor league executives when he says that minor league sports are strictly about entertainment and minor league organizations are more likely competing with restaurants and movies than other sporting venues. Said Bommert: “Most of your crowd will not even know what the score is when they leave the building. Don’t make it about the game. If you lose you still want them to leave with a smile.”[fn]Menendez, “Minor League Baseball Team Washington Wild Things.”[/fn] The results of this study state otherwise.
While the impact of promotions and team and stadium dynamics on attendance and ticket revenues has been the primary focus of minor league baseball research by sports economists, sports sociologists have looked at various demographic and psychographic differences among those who attend games and consume sports via mass media. Sex and age have been two variables commonly studied in sports sociology. Numerous studies have shown that men are more likely than women to be socialized to embrace individualism and to engage in competition, while women are more likely to be socialized to support the welfare of family and other primary groups. These differences carry over into sport.[fn]For in-depth discussion of women’s styles of learning and socialization, see Mary F. Belenky, Blythe M. Clinchy, Nancy R. Goldberger and Jill M. Tarule, Women’s Ways of Knowing: The Development of Self, Voice and Mind (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1986); D.D. Flannery, “Changing Dominant Understandings of Adults as Learners,“ in Confronting Racism and Sexism, (eds.) Elisabeth Hayes and Scipio A.J. Colin (San Francisco: Jossey-Boss, 1994), 17–26; and Mariah B. Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1994).[/fn]
Men are more likely than women to learn that social standing and image “hinge on accomplishments in a competitive world”[fn]Nelson, The Stronger Women Get, the More Men Love Football, 31.[/fn] while women are more likely to measure their lives through their “webs of connection.”[fn]Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), 42.[/fn] In a study of more than 1,100 spectators at minor league games, David Ogden found that men were more apt to focus on the contest on the field, while women’s interest at the ball game was more likely to be centered on “the group or person with whom they attended, and they sought affiliation with the larger group of spectators through stadium activities.”[fn]David C. Ogden, A Sports Sociological Perspective: Gender and Sense of Community of Spectators of Professional Baseball, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1999, 136–37.[/fn]
More current research verifies those traditional specialization trends. Some studies found that women’s tendencies to engage in sports spectatorship are often driven by the interests of a male family member or male friend.[fn]For example, see Li-Wen Hsieh, Chien-Hsin Wang and Tracy Wisdom Yoder, “Factors Associated With Professional Baseball Consumption: A Cross-Cultural Comparison Study,” International Journal of Business and Information 6 (December 2011), 135–59.[/fn] Women may attend sporting events to support the interests of their significant others, but Kevin Byon and fellow researchers take it a step further. Women were more likely than males to see sporting events as an opportunity to re-affirm and strengthen social bonds.[fn]Kevin Byon, Michael Carroll, Michael Cottingham, II, John Grady and James Allen, “Examining Gender Differences in the Effect of Spectator Motivation on Sport Consumption Behaviors at Collegiate Wheelchair Basketball Games,” Journal of Venue & Event Management 3 (2011), 12–27.[/fn] Byon and his colleagues say that “attending sporting events in order to spend time with family was a more salient motive among females than males.”[fn]Ibid, 15.[/fn]
Indeed, women may attend as many baseball games as men do during the course of a season, but they attend for different reasons. Women not only attend to support the interests of and to bond with significant others, but once at the game they attend to different aspects of the event. While men are more likely to attend to the action on the field, women are more interested in other aspects of the event, such as promotions or entertainment between innings.[fn]Robin Snipes and Rhea Ingram, “Motivators of Collegiate Sport Attendance: A Comparison Across Demographic Groups,” Innovative Marketing 3 (2007), 65–74. See also Ogden, A Sports Sociological Perspective.[/fn] Ogden found that women were more likely than men to “get more enjoyment from crowd activitie…making noise with the crowd, watching the team mascot, giveaways, special events and talking with family and friends.”[fn]Ogden, A Sports Sociological Perspective, 104.[/fn]
Minor league spectators’ ages also play a role in what aspects of the game those fans attend to. Ogden’s study of minor league spectators showed that the older a person is, the more games that he or she attends in a season.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] That research and other research also showed that the older a spectator was, the more that person followed baseball via mass media and the more likely the person was to have a favorite team.[fn]David C. Ogden and Michael L. Hilt, “Baseball and Its Appeal to Older Americans,” in The Cooperstown Symposium on Baseball and American Culture, 2002, (ed.) William M. Simons (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., Inc., Publishers, 2002), 330–38.[/fn] Robin Snipes and Rhea Ingram found similar results in their research on spectators at collegiate sporting events.
While older spectators were more likely to pay attention to the game itself, younger spectators were more interested in “the promotional and entertainment items, such as special prizes and giveaways, participation games and half-time entertainment.”[fn]Snipes and Ingram, “Motivators of Collegiate Sport Attendance,” 71.[/fn]
Taken together, sex and age play significant roles in predicting what drives spectators’ interests in sporting events and what aspects of the event they most like.
The researchers surveyed spectators at five Triple-A minor league games in the Midwest on June 28 and 29, and July 15, 2012. The surveys were conducted concurrently at Thursday and Friday night games at Werner Park at the southwest edge of Omaha, Nebraska, and Principal Park in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, and during a Sunday game only at Werner Park. Those parks were chosen not only for their geographic convenience, but also because Werner Park offers numerous off-field activities (as previously stated), while Principal Park offers little more than a small children’s playground, which is located under the stands away from the field. Werner Park also features open concourses from which spectators can still view the field while buying food and beverages. Food vendors at Principal Park are located in a concourse beneath the stadium seats. The days for conducting the surveys were selected because, according to team officials, crowds at those particular parks are larger during those days when compared to Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
The 10-item self-completion survey consisted of single and multiple response questions to determine the spectators’ age and sex, how many professional games they attend in a typical year, with whom they attended a game, where they sat during the game, what they most enjoyed about the experience, and their knowledge of the players and the game’s outcome or status. Spectators were approached as they left the ballpark beginning in the seventh inning. The researchers surveyed every 15th spectator coming through the exit gates. To be surveyed, spectators had to be 19 years or older, as required by the University of Nebraska’s Institutional Review Board. If a spectator declined to be surveyed, the researchers continued approaching spectators until one agreed to be surveyed. Then, the 15th spectator after that respondent was approached, and so on.
The researchers used the software program SPSS for statistical analysis.
In all, 560 spectators participated in the survey (270 at Werner Park and 290 at Principal Park), with 543 surveys used for the final analysis (the 17 surveys were not used either because of lack of sufficient data or the respondent was not age 19 or older). In some cases respondents skipped answering certain items, although the rest of their responses were used in the study. This explains why the total number of spectators in some of the statistical analyses is less than 543. The mean age of all respondents was 43, with 374 men and 169 women responding.
The first research question examined whether spectators pay attention to off-field activities as much, if not more, than they pay attention to the game itself. Approximately 74 percent of the spectators were paying close enough attention that they knew the score of the game, while 95 percent knew which team won or was ahead. Slightly more than 67 percent could correctly identify at least one player who played in the game. One-half of those surveyed said that the game was the most enjoyable part of their experience, while six percent cited promotions and 12 percent identified activities between innings as their favorite part of the ballpark experience. Overall, the on-field action got more attention than any other activity in the ballpark.
For the second research question (“Are there differences in what spectators enjoy in a stadium like Werner Park, compared to Principal Park, an older stadium that offers less in the way of off-field family entertainment?”), the researchers tested for differences between what Werner Park fans and Principal Park fans found most enjoyable. Results were mixed. Chisquare calculations showed that while Principal Park spectators were more likely to know the score of the game (p=.079), Werner Park spectators were more likely to know which team won or was ahead at the time they left the ballpark (p<.05). However, Principal Park spectators were significantly more likely than Werner Park spectators to be able to name a specific player who was in the game (p<.05).
There was no significant difference between the percentage of Werner Park spectators and Principal Park spectators who cited the game as the most enjoyable part of their experience. Approximately 50 percent of both groups did so (50.1 percent and 49.9 percent respectively). When it came to enjoyment of off-field activities, there was little difference between Werner Park and Principal Park spectators. The exceptions were promotions and the children’s playground. While Werner Park spectators were more likely to cite promotions and the children’s playground as the most enjoyable aspects, the chi-square to test differences in enjoyment of promotions (p=.075) was not significant at the 95% confidence level; and while the differences in enjoyment of the children’s playground were significant (p<.01), only 27 respondents (19 at Werner and 8 at Principal) marked that item. Otherwise there were no significant differences between spectators at Werner Park and Principal Park in the percentage who said they enjoyed the mascot (5.1 percent and 5.0 percent respectively), concessions (17 percent and 12 percent), activities between innings (13 percent and 11.4 percent), attending with a group of people (35 percent and 33 percent), the ballpark and atmosphere (7.6 percent and 5.3 percent), and fireworks (1.3 percent and 2.1 percent).
The third research question (“Do a spectator’s demographics, specifically sex and age, affect what that person enjoys most at the ballpark?”) was addressed through a series of chi-square calculations and t-tests. Men were significantly more likely than women to know the score of the game (p<.001) and to know which team won or was ahead at the time they departed (p<.05). However, women attended almost as many games as men did each season (9.8 and 11.2, respectively), and they were as likely as men to be able to name a player from the game. There were also no sex differences among those who cited the game as the most enjoyable aspect.
There is some evidence, however, that women, more so than men, enjoy off-field activities and were less likely to attend alone. Women were more apt to cite in-between inning activities as an important part of their experience (p<.01). There were also sex differences in socialization patterns. Women were significantly more likely to come with their spouse (p<.05) and men were more likely to come to the game alone, although the difference is not significant (p=.127). Otherwise, women were as likely as men to come to the ballpark with colleagues, family, and friends and to cite their attendance with family or friends as an enjoyable aspect of the game. (Approximately 57 percent of men came to the game with family, as did almost 60 percent of women).
While both sexes appreciated the on-the-field action, older spectators seemed to do so more than younger spectators. The mean age of those who cited the game as the most enjoyable aspect of their ballpark experience was 45, compared to the mean age of 41 for those who did not cite the game (p<.01). The mean age of those who knew which team won the game (or was ahead at the time they left) was 43.3, while the mean age of those who did not know which team won or was ahead was 36.5 (p<.05). There were no significant age differences between those who noted off-field activities (the mascot, concessions, promotions, in-between-inning activities, the children’s playground, and fireworks) as enjoyable aspects of their ballpark visit and those who did not.
With the large amount of money and resources used by minor league teams on promotions, respondents to this survey downplayed the importance of those activities in describing their enjoyment of the experience. Of all those surveyed at both parks, 33 noted promotions as an enjoyable aspect; and only 9 spectators specifically mentioned fireworks, the most popular of promotions, despite the fact that surveys were conducted on a Friday at Werner and Principal when both parks featured post-game fireworks.[fn]Gifis and Sommers, “Promotion and Attendance;” Anthony, Kahn, Madison, Paul and Weinbach, “Similarities in Fan Preferences;” Cebula, Toma and Carmichael, “Attendance and Promotions in Minor League Baseball.”[/fn] Although previous research has shown the impact of promotions on attendance, minor league team officials and administrators may be overestimating the drawing power of promotions and should reconsider whether the expenditure of funds and resources in developing such off-field activities is worth the return in ticket sales. Officials with the Savannah Sand Gnats admitted that the team cut back on promotional nights when they realized that people still came to games that didn’t offer a promotion.[fn]Lachowetz, Dees, Todd, and Ryan, “Savannah Sand Gnats.”[/fn] Matthew Bernthal and Peter Graham sum it up well when they say that “minor league promoters often operate with the mindset that fan-oriented promotions, in large part, drive a significant number of fans to attend their games. Our results, while based on a single study, suggest that this factor might not play as important a role as a general driver of attendance… as these promoters believe.”[fn]Matthew J. Bernthal and Peter J. Graham, “The Effect of Sport Setting on Fan Attendance Motivation: The Case of Minor League vs. Collegiate
Baseball,” Journal of Sport Behavior 26 (2003), 223-39, quote on 234.[/fn]
The Sand Gnats’ observation, and that of Bernthal and Graham, serve as evidence that minor league team officials may be underestimating the allure of the action on the field. One-half of all spectators in this study said the game was the most enjoyable part of their experience, and the vast majority of spectators, both men and women, knew the score of the game and which team won or was ahead. The majority of spectators were also able to name a player from the game. In fact, the player cited the most by Storm Chasers spectators was Wil Myers, one of the top prospects in the Kansas City organization and the winner of the 2012 J.G. Taylor Spink Award as the Topps/Minor League Player of the Year for all of baseball. The Royals traded Myers to the Tampa Bay Rays after the 2012 season.
The most cited Iowa Cub was Josh Vitters, who late in the 2012 season was called up by the Chicago Cubs and was still with the Cubs’ organization at the start of the 2013 season. Since not enough games were surveyed in this study to measure attendance with and without those prospects in the line-up, it was not possible to test Gitter and Rhoads’s contention that prospects help to bump up attendance.[fn]Gitter and Rhoads, “Top Prospects and Minor League Baseball Attendance.”[/fn] This finding, however, refutes the belief among some minor league team administrators that the game is not the focal point for most spectators.
In this research, the game was the focal point for at least one-half of the spectators and evidence is sufficient to conclude that spectators do pay attention to the play on the field and individual players. Based on such results, minor league team officials should consider featuring certain players or top prospects in their advertising and public relations, even though such players could be called to the major league team at any time. Still, underscoring a triple-A team as the incubator for future stars should be a recurring theme in their messages to potential spectators. Such findings also indicate that stadia, like Werner, with all their other nongame activities for attendants to enjoy, don’t detract from the game itself. This study offers limited evidence that people attend games in parks like Werner to enjoy nongame activities, including a children’s playground, rather than watch the game.
Women’s interest in the game is another finding that minor league teams should heed. As noted previously, women attend almost as many games as men, but they are more likely to do so with others and seldom alone. This research gives some credence to the communal role of women spectators. That is, women may see the game as an opportunity to be with others, and to strengthen friendships, marriages, and familial bonds. In that way, women could be attendance-builders. These results can have implications when considering retooling promotions by bringing back a decades-old promotion that is not offered as frequently at ballparks as it once was. That promotion is Ladies Day, which baseball teams used traditionally as a drawing card. The late Hall of Fame executive Larry MacPhail believed that women were the key to drawing large crowds, and major league baseball team owners in the 1920s and 1930s used Ladies Day to improve gate receipts.[fn]Red Barber, 1947: When All Hell Broke Loose in Baseball (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1982) and The Broadcasters (New York: Dial Press, 1970).[/fn], [fn]Janet Lever and Stanton Wheeler, “Mass Media and the Experience of Sport,” Communication Research, 20 (1993), 125–43.[/fn] During that time period, every Thursday was promoted as Ladies Day in the Pacific Coast League, but that is no longer the case.[fn]David Eskenazi and Steve Rudman, “Wayback Machine: Lou, Mel—The Almada Brothers,” Sportspress Northwest, August 28, 2012, http://sportspressnw.com/2012/08/wayback-machine-lou-mel-the-almada-brothers. html. (accessed September 21, 2012).[/fn] Still, the finding that there was no significant difference between men and women in citing attendance with family and friends as an enjoyable aspect of their ballpark experience validates baseball executives’ beliefs that both sexes view a trip to the ballpark as a viable opportunity for a family outing.
Sex is not the only demographic that minor league team administrators should consider in drawing more spectators. Age is another factor. This study showed that those who cited the game as the most enjoyable part of their experience were significantly older than those who did not, as were those who knew which team won. Those results bolster the long-standing belief that baseball’s fan base is aging.[fn]Ogden and Hilt, “Baseball and Its Appeal to Older Americans.”[/fn] But a closer look at the ages of those who attended the games covered by this study shows a younger spectatorship. About 50 percent of the respondents at Storm Chasers games were under the age of 44 and half of those at Iowa Cubs games were under age 37. In fact 75 percent of those at the Iowa Cubs games were under age 52, while 75 percent at Storm Chasers games were under 57. Baseball, at least at the Triple-A level, may be catering to an increasingly younger fan base than before.
This study can serve as the starting point for more research to verify the results reported here. To get a clearer picture of what spectators enjoy and who those spectators are requires a season-long survey project, and not just five games. In addition, these findings may be specific to triple-A baseball and may not apply to single-A or double-A minor league baseball, independent league baseball, or to the major leagues. Surveys of spectators at lower level minor league games are needed to provide a well-rounded perspective of differences and similarities between perceptions of spectators at the various levels of minor league ball.
However, the study serves as a prototype of a research tool that could be valuable in business and promotions planning in minor league baseball. Direct feedback from minor league customers (spectators) provides data that the team can’t get otherwise. Such a survey is also a boost for community relations by demonstrating to spectators that the minor league team does care about what they think.
Finally, this study does provide some indication of what minor league team administrators should consider in marketing to a fan base and in providing a product or experience that has the broadest appeal to people in their communities.
DAVID C. OGDEN, Ph.D. is a professor in the School of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Ogden’s research focuses on baseball and culture, with specific emphasis on the relationship between African American communities and baseball. Since 1995, he has presented his research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Conference on Baseball and Culture, Indiana State University’s Conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture, the Nine Spring Training Conference and others. He is co-editor of the books, “Reconstructing Fame: Sport Race and Evolving Reputations,” “Fame to Infamy: Race, Sport, and the Fall from Grace,” and “A Locker Room of Her Own.”
JOHN SHOREY, M.S., is Professor of History and Political Science at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Along with his survey courses in history and government, Shorey developed a course on “Baseball and American Culture” that he has taught at Iowa Western since 1998. Shorey has conducted research on various baseball topics and has presented his research at the National Baseball Hall of Fame at their annual Symposium on Baseball and American Culture and he has presented at Indiana State University’s Conference on Baseball in Literature and Culture. Shorey received his MA in 1986 from Illinois State University.
KEVIN WARNEKE, Ph.D., who earned his doctoral degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, has taught journalism, public relations, and fundraising courses at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for the past 20 years. His research focus is leadership and baseball.