|© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.|
At Home With the Lookouts11/06/2008 8:00 AM ET
By Benjamin Hill / Special to MLB.com
The Minor League Baseball landscape is endlessly diverse and encompasses everything from Rookie league clubs nestled in mountainous rural areas to Triple-A teams located in the heart of major urban centers. Accordingly, each club must develop marketing and promotional strategies that resonate with its unique fan base. Each week, MiLB.com profiles a Minor League club to spotlight just how interesting and varied the world of professional baseball can be.
Today we speak with Pete Intza, director of media relations for the Chattanooga Lookouts. After 21 seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, the Lookouts will be an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009.
MiLB.com: How would you characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
Pete Intza: Well, to understand the Lookouts' fan base, you must understand a little bit of our rich history as a franchise. Recognized as one of the oldest standing franchises (inception occurring in 1885), we have been an integral part of the community for a significant amount of time. As such, we have become very much interwoven into the fabric and culture of the community through what we do on and off the field. Reciprocally, Chattanoogans are very proud and supportive of our team, which is something that we refuse to take for granted.
Perhaps one can trace this inveterateness to long-time owner Joe Engel, who guided the Lookouts for a large portion of the early-to-mid 20th century. He was a renowned promoter, who did everything from giving away a house to signing a female 17-year-old pitcher named Jackie Mitchell. He was equally known for his generosity and genuine recognition of where his success came from: the community. Those tenets are still very much in existence today, and have served as the backbone to our sustained success.
MiLB.com: What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
PI: People really seem to respond to some of our more random, zany forms of marketing. We have this whole campaign in which we feature two knights. Whether they are walking around downtown hotspots, or featured in one of our commercials, a play on words centered around "two knights game" pops up. Our commercials with the knights are really random and awkward, but generate a lot of attention and laughter. Additionally, two of us will go out downtown dressed as the two knights to promote that night's game. As you can imagine, we make a lot of heads turn.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notable promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
PI: One of our more notable promotions in the last couple of years was during a homestand in which we commemorated the infamous "rosin bag toss" incident by Mississippi Braves (and former Lookouts) manager Phil Wellman. I must preface the particulars of this promotion by saying that Phil was a highly popular manager in Chattanooga, and is a very good friend of our owner/president/GM/director of global expansion, Frank Burke. Suffice it to say, the whole promotion was done in the name of good ol' fun. Some of the highlights for the promotion included giving away rosin bags to the first 300 fans each night, using a rosin bag for the first pitch, and crafting a Phil Wellman mannequin for fans to toss a rosin bag at. The closest participant won $50 each night during that series. It was a wildly popular promotion, which garnered us a lot of publicity, including a bit in ESPN Magazine that featured this event as one of the top promotions of the year.
Also, Our "Used Car Night" in which we give away 10 used cars continues to be a major, long-standing promotion.
MiLB.com: How has the Internet affected the way your team is run?
PI: Perhaps my answer will come across as rather cliché, but the Internet facilitates a more accessible relationship between fans and the team. Information is easily transmitted, and it has provided an amazing platform to enhance ticketing and merchandise sales. Yes, I know, a rather vanilla answer, but it is true ... plus, I was not around during the pre-Internet age, so it is impossible for me to contrast!
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
PI: We serve a lot of the old ballpark favorites. We do stay true to our Southern roots by having one concession stand devoted to the frying of fine foods, including our delectable catfish sandwich. Don't worry though, we only fry with a trans-fat free, canola-corn oil blend!
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there are any unique items available for purchase?
PI: Our hats are wildly popular due to our famous "eyes" logo. We have another item called the "Stadium Butler" that was developed by a couple of local inventors. It basically is a practical product that allows fans to sit on a comfortable cushion while being able to store their ballpark items in conveniently located compartments.
MiLB.com: How large a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and within the community?
PI: Looie the Lookout is our main mascot. His buddies are Slider, who often gets mistaken for Clifford, and Trashie the Trash Monster. Also, this season we added a bunny and an eagle to the mix, who randomly chase each other on the field from time-to-time in what seems to come straight out of a scene from a Fellini film. Among all those mascots, fans have ample opportunity to correspond with at least one of them. Looie, however, is the star, and gets the most attention and exposure. We get a lot of requests to have him appear outside of the stadium, which we typically honor. Looie is not too big on speaking engagements, however.
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
PI: AT&T Field has an excellent location, being that is situated in the heart of downtown, and features an aesthetically pleasing view with the Tennessee River and Signal Mountain in the backdrop. We go through painstaking measures to keep our stadium in tip-top shape. We take a lot of pride in how the stadium looks. After every game the main areas are pressure washed, and when the team is away, we will pressure wash the other parts of the stadium. Fans constantly laud the cleanliness of the stadium.
Every season, we make a sizable capital improvement to the stadium. Two years ago, we built the Big River Beer Garden on the third-base side, which features our own "Lookouts Lemon Lager" and a breathtaking view of the field and downtown area. This last season, we added some gigantic fans that circulate air from above. As for the playing surface, our head groundskeeper, Bo Henley, does an amazing job of making the field look, well, amazing. Players are very open about their love for the playing surface of AT&T Field.
Due to the fact that our stadium is nestled on top of a hill, lack of parking on the premises is the big drawback. Luckily, we have an agreement with nearby Unum, in which fans can park in their parking lot and then take our trolley to the stadium.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments since you've been with the team?
PI: Oh boy, I am not a big fan of superlatives, so I will resort to the answer that answers all questions: the Phil Wellman incident!
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.