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 Stephanie Bindewald, the game entertainment coordinator for the Augusta GreenJackets (Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants). The GreenJackets' name is a tribute to the Masters golf tournament, which Augusta has hosted annually since 1934.
MiLB.com: How would characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
SB: Our fan base has seen tremendous growth in recent years. After our first season under the management of Ripken Baseball in 2006, we finished with the second largest attendance increase in all of Minor League Baseball. In 2007, we set a franchise record for total attendance, and this season we are on pace to set another franchise record for total attendance. Our fan base is diverse and includes all segments of the Augusta area, focusing mainly on groups of families, friends and co-workers.
MiLB.com: What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
SB: Our entertainment acts and fireworks seem to be fan favorites in Augusta. We try to not only sell a ticket to a baseball game, but also a ticket to see some of the hottest entertainment acts in the nation. Since 2006, we have increased the number of outside acts and fireworks shows each season. This year alone, we have eight nationally acclaimed acts coming into Augusta and five fireworks shows.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notable promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
SB: In 2006, we made an entire night based on the famous ejection of Asheville Tourists manager Joe Mikulik, entitled Anger Management Night. This theme night included soothing music, base throwing competitions and a stress ball giveaway. The GreenJackets made national news and received the most publicity in franchise history for this play on Mikulik's explosion.
We're always willing to try new promotions to see what works and what doesn't. Even if it doesn't work, we might just rethink the strategy and try to run it again. For example, our 2006 Superhero Night was not one of our best nights. However, we made a second attempt for our Superheroes in 2007 and had one of our best crowds of the season. Superhero Night is a season regular now and will be for many seasons to come. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.
MiLB.com: How has the internet affected the way your team is run?
SB: One of our top marketing strategies is email blasts to all GreenJackets fans, which may include player profiles, upcoming promotions and ticket sales information. Our website is our lead marketing tool and the most time sensitive, which has allowed for increased popularity. Everyday we work toward developing more strategies to reach out to the Augusta area via the internet.
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
SB: Just like during the Masters at Augusta National Golf Course, we serve pimento cheese sandwiches and egg salad sandwiches. We also serve the traditional southern favorites like Low Country Boil, BBQ, turkey legs and boiled peanuts.
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there any unique items available for purchase?
SB: Our top selling merchandise items are the official team ball caps, mini bats and logo baseballs. Our most unique items are Cal Ripken Jr. autographed baseballs.
MiLB.com: How large a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and within the community?
SB: The GreenJackets mascot, Auggie, is the face of the organization. If you can't find him running around the ballpark cheering on the team, you'll find him visiting local area schools and community events. As if Auggie isn't busy enough, he is also running for President this year! The fans have been sporting the "Auggie for President 2008" orange T-shirts, a highlight video of Auggie's good deeds is on our website, and signs and buttons are being distributed daily. The final voting will be on August 16, while his closest mascot friends are in attendance for his birthday bash! Vote for Auggie in '08!
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
SB: The positives at our stadium include the noise-making ability of our metal bleachers, the extra large outdoor ceiling fans for comfort, the Fun Zone for the kids, the Party Pavilion to entertain large group outings and the Cool Zone to beat the heat.
One of Lake Olmstead Stadium's biggest drawbacks is the view from the stands. We don't face the very lake we are named after! While fans can enjoy a stroll along Lake Olmstead on the walking trail or play a game of disc golf prior to first pitch, they have their backs to this beautiful scenery while catching the baseball game.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments since you've been with the team?
SB: Opening Day 2006 was a huge highlight in GreenJackets history. Our new owner, Cal Ripken Jr., came out to sign autographs and throw the first pitch. This, in addition to a military flyover and Auggie's introduction, led to the largest single-game crowd in franchise history.
In 2006 and 2007, the Augusta GreenJackets had the best record in all of Minor League Baseball, including a 12-0 start in 2007. Also in 2007, we had the first-ever winner of our "Hit the Hyundai" promotion! The goal of this in-game event is to give a contestant three chances to hit a ball off a tee toward a moving car, provided by Taylor Hyundai. The contestant is by first base and the car is located on the warning track, which makes for a very difficult delivery and no winners ... until now. Our participant this night whacked his ball up in the air and Hit the Hyundai earning him $500 cash and $500 for Walk for Autism, an Augusta charity organization.
So far in 2008, our biggest highlight of the season was not a winning streak, or one of our promotions, or a home run. It was our first rain delay of 2008, which fell on the Saturday of opening weekend! The tarp was pulled and that's when the magic began. Dancing GreenJackets players, enthusiastic fans, rubber duck tosses and worm competitions kept the entertainment flowing and the fans happy for two hours. While we didn't even see the first pitch of this game, the fans left with plenty of memories and smiling faces.
Benjamin Hill is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.