There are two questions that I get asked often about my time as a minor league GM:
1. How did you get into sports? This is a story for another day and another article.
2. What goes on in the off-season?
Over the next few months, I will break down the latter question, as different times of the year yield different priorities, results, and mindsets.
I already touched upon this here and here, but let’s dig a little deeper into what is going on at the MiLB braintrust now in late August. For simplicity, we will rule out making the playoffs, as I covered that dilemma here. The front office’s efforts and resources are dedicated towards executing the end of the season and next year’s business.
The team is deciding whether or not to raise prices or change ticket packages, and when to reach out to these people for renewal. Smart teams only raise prices of tickets or certain sections based on demand, and use it as an opportunity to offer value for bulk purchases. For example, this would include a ticket package special during the Holidays to increase sales in a down time, or increasing the price of single game tickets or tickets bought day of game to encourage fans to buy ticket packages.
With full time staff making calls around the city all off-season long, sales could increase with the right messaging and execution. In my first year as Ticket Director, we stripped our tickets and group packages from 25 price points to just four. This helped us simplify and streamline our messaging and accounting.
At this point of the season, teams can look at ticket data to strategize for the off-season. For example, did many fans buy season tickets, single game tickets a few days before a game, or ticket packages to a few games and specific promotions? This data helps teams shape their policy.
I usually liked to wait until our World Series parties (more on that below) to approach fans about the following season. It gave fans time to breathe before hammering them for money and allowed us to reconfigure ticket packages if we needed to adjust. This is counter to what most major league sports leagues do, as they leverage playoff tickets and in-season excitement to ask for revenue at all times of the year.
I was always in favour of adding value and incentive to off-season ticket packages because it ensured revenue and attendance. However, it also allowed our team to show off our friendly, value-conscious thinking, so it gave fans even more reason to like us.
Good teams do three things very well.
1. They sign their partners to multi-year deals.
2. They execute and activate their current deals very well.
3. They work their sales pitch on sponsorship prospects all year round, which includes the baseball equivalent of wining and dining: bringing the prospects out to games.
Inviting people to your games to enjoy and see the business first hand is a huge advantage over traditional or social media. As I’d like to say, “nobody’s ever got goosebumps making a radio or TV buy.” But believe me when I tell you, they sure do when they buy into sports. Simply put, our experience makes MiLB, MiLB.
One of my favourite stories involves prospecting a large company in a highly competitive industry about becoming a top-level partner. We hosted their 10 nationwide decision makers at our final game of the season, a sold out fireworks show with perfect weather. It was an incredible night. At the end of the game, when we were wondering what they’d thought of the experience, we thought to ourselves: if they aren’t smart enough to want to be a part of that, they don’t deserve to be there.
The following season, they came on board as one of our largest partners, and are actually still involved with the team today. Good teams use the season as momentum to bring on new partners in the early Fall. Unlike tickets, these investments involve higher budgets and involvement, so teams need to capitalize on this timeline and stay in direct and constant contact.
An important piece of the business that goes unnoticed is stadium rentals, both while the team is on the road and during the off-season. Potential stadium rental opportunities include local tournaments, business meetings, and corporate softball games. This revenue is valuable to the team and, depending on the city’s climate, can be a consistent revenue stream until the end of October.
For teams with a third party concessionaire, these events also help them reach budget and royalty thresholds. At this time of the season, the staff members focused on these events are preparing to ensure that they all go very smoothly.
This is a bittersweet part of the business. Internships are ending, some interns are going back to school, and some are yearning for a full time job with the team. The big challenge is deciding which interns to offer a full-time job to. Typically, interns have been with the organization for up to six months, and have created many great relationships with staff and fans.
The jubilation and excitement of the ones that get hired full time is equally as emotional as the despair and sadness of the ones that aren’t able to. It is very difficult to tell a hard working, hungry, educated young adult that you can’t keep them. It’s very tough to give bad news at that juncture of their career, especially when they would have done nothing wrong.
It took me years to get my first internship, so I know how hard it is to break into the industry. As a result, I’m always trying to help those that we can’t keep get a job with another team.
Games may take place only over the course of six months or less, but minor league baseball is a year round business and it needs full-time attention. The more efficient and successful a team’s planning and off-season, the better position they will be in for next season. And as we’ve discussed previously, being prepared is ultimately what will separate a successful minor league team from one struggling to continue operations.
Lead Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports