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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 Geoff Brown, the general manager of the Lakewood BlueClaws. Since their inception in 2001, the BlueClaws have ranked among the top-drawing clubs in the 16-team South Atlantic League.
MiLB.com: How would you characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
GB: Our fan base has always been very family-oriented. They view the BlueClaws as an opportunity to have a fun, affordable night out, and we think we provide that for them. Each night, however, is different. Mondays, where Kids Eat Free, are full of families with younger kids. Tuesdays, where Seniors Eat Free, we have an older crowd. During the summer, we get a lot of tourists who are vacationing at the Jersey Shore. It's a big group of people from different demographics from all over Ocean and Monmouth Counties.
MiLB.com: What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
GB: We have such a wide variety of promotions over the course of the year, but recently Mondays and Tuesdays have taken off with "Kids Eat Free" and "Seniors Eat Free." Historically, our biggest nights have been our fireworks nights -- every Friday plus another two this year around Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
We've also been able to bring in celebrities from many different segments of society, from Hall of Famers like Steve Carlton and Bob Feller to professional wrestlers, actors, ESPN personalities, singers and contestants on "Survivor." We really do have something for everyone.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notable promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
GB: There have been some really nice ones in the last few years. Last year, the players wore special uniforms modeled after Jersey Shore native Bruce Springsteen's album "Greetings From Asbury Park," and for that night, the BlueClaws became the "BruceClaws." Every year, we host "Bark in the Park," where we let fans bring their dogs to the ballpark and enjoy a nice day at a BlueClaws game. We've had a "Concert Ticket Extravaganza," where fans get raffle tickets and the chance to win tickets for dozens of different shows in the area.
In 2006, the day the movie "Snakes on a Plane" was released, we hosted "Snakes in the Ballpark." We brought in a bunch of snakes and had them in cages, all along the concourse. Some fans loved it, but I think some fans were a little freaked out.
MiLB.com: How has the internet affected the way your team is run?
GB: It's been a tremendous aid to us as an organization. Recently we started a BlueClaws Facebook page, where we can directly reach and interact with hundreds of fans at one click. We have a blog we update every day and our Web site is the best source for up-to-the-second team news. Fans can print out their tickets at home, avoiding the long lines at the box office. We have photo galleries, a YouTube page and an e-newsletter. It just gives us so many more ways to reach our fans and let them know what we're doing at the ballpark.
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
GB: The most regional item we have at our concession stands is a pork roll, egg and cheese sandwich, which is incredibly popular in central and southern New Jersey. But our most unique item has to be the BellyBuster sandwich. Bring your appetite: it's a half-pound of pulled pork, half-pound of brisket, cole slaw and onion rings. It comes with a free t-shirt too.
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there any unique items available for purchase?
GB: You can walk into our store and we'll put your name on the back of a BlueClaws jersey and it's yours in just a few minutes. That's always been very popular for us. We also have dozens of different BlueClaws hats and shirts. Our "Got Crabs?" shirts have always been popular, and we have them in different languages. For the kids, we have mini-eyeballs, representing the eyeball race we have here during every game.
MiLB.com: How large a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and within the community?
GB: Buster is a huge part of our operation. He makes a huge number of appearances every year, from book readings at local elementary schools to marching in parades and appearing at charitable events. He's the most visible part of our organization year after year, and he gets the biggest ovation every night when he first appears.
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
GB: We think we have one of the nicest stadiums in the country. And that comes from the scouts, players and coaches -- from our team and others. Different people who get to see different stadiums all have tons of praise for FirstEnergy Park. We have a full 360-degree concourse, an enormous video board, three picnic areas, 20 luxury suites, two party decks, a batting cage and a conference center.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments since you've been with the team?
GB: Besides the team winning its first league title in 2006, the best experience we had was when Ryan Howard rehabbed in Lakewood in May 2007. We had over 40 media members here and had to set up auxiliary media tables on the concourse to accommodate everybody. He had first been here in 2002, so when he came up to bat we played the theme from "Welcome Back, Kotter." Ryan did what everyone came out to see; he hit a home run that put the BlueClaws in the lead. He was here for two weekday games in May, and we had over 17,000 fans for the two days. It was a lot of fun.
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.