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 Jack Roeder, general manager of the Midwest League's Cedar Rapids Kernels. Professional baseball in Cedar Rapids dates back to the 19th century, and the city has fielded a Midwest League team since 1962.
MiLB.com: How would characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
Jack Roeder: Our fan base is diverse -- we attract people from three to 93! The fan base has grown dramatically with the building of the new stadium in 2002, as we now average over 50,000 more fans per season. You name it and we have a lot of them coming to the games: retirees, couples, families and a new influx of young adults. The number of young adults has increased over the past several years, due in part to weekly concession specials. We also have received continued support from schools, businesses and surrounding communities in the eastern Iowa area.
MiLB.com: What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
JR: We use a wide variety of marketing avenues to reach our fans, including television, radio, newspapers, direct mail, email marketing, our website and the pocket schedule. Our fans really turn out for promotions such as fireworks, concession specials, entertainment acts and celebrities.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notable promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
JR: In 2007, we had a great promotion to celebrate our millionth fan through the gates at our "new" stadium. The fan received a gift package worth $10,000, a combined package of merchandise and cash from our sponsors and the Kernels. A limousine drove the millionth fan and her family around the warning track before the game. Luck was on our side, as all of this happened on Saturday night, 07/07/07, a night when the stadium was packed. Or was it fate?
A recent promotion to add fun and excitement to the evening is Veridian Credit Union's "Rolling in the Dough." Participants are anxious to be a part of the on-field cash scramble and the fans love it.
MiLB.com: How has the internet affected the way your team is run?
JR: The internet is used to promote the team and events and also to sell tickets and merchandise. People listen to our games via the internet from all around the world and parents, relatives and friends of our players and coaches tune in to catch our broadcasts. They often feel at home when visiting the stadium after listening to our broadcaster relate information and stories about the stadium, city and staff. It is invaluable in this age of technology.
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
JR: We serve sweet corn on the cob from our Hot Corner Grill.
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there are any unique items available for purchase?
JR: The best selling items are foam fingers and logo baseballs. Unique items would be game-used baseballs and bats, in the sense that they are from different players and games. No two are alike. They are popular with kids of all ages.
MiLB.com: How large a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and in the community?
JR: Our beloved mascot, Mr. Shucks, plays a huge role at the stadium and in the community. Mr. Shucks is involved in most of our on-field promotions, makes special visits to our group areas and is seen all over the ballpark. He is a well-known jokester, pouring popcorn on fans, using a water gun to cool off fans and interacting with our young fans in a friendly and playful way. Mr. Shucks also plays a huge role in the community, making over 50 visits a year to local schools, festivals, parades, parties and hospitals.
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
JR: We have many positives in this state-of-the-art facility. It was designed to be fan-friendly in every aspect. From the time you arrive at the stadium you are welcomed by a spacious parking lot dotted with beautiful trees and easy access to the main gates. Once inside, you find a clean, wide concourse, which makes getting around the stadium easy even on our busiest nights. The facility has many concession stands and restrooms, so no one has to wait in line for anything for very long. Our cozy 5,300-seat facility has no bad seats -- from berm seating to luxury air-conditioned suites, you can find it all at Veterans Memorial Stadium -- and that creates a decided advantage for our home team. We see no drawbacks to playing in this facility.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments since you've been with the team?
JR: The support and contributions of fans and the comeback of the team after the devastating 2008 June flood was amazing.
[The time when touring mascot] "Reggy" had to use Roady, our equipment manager, as his dancing partner at the last minute because our manager was ejected from the game. Roady's full participation was entertaining.
The final performance of the Blues Brothers Act in 2007 had the whole stadium rocking. It was electric!
The day Mr. Shucks used a broom on the field to indicate a sweep of the other team. Our manager did not appreciate it to say the least.
The All-Star Game when the Hot Corner Grill caught fire. Listening to the rebroadcast of the game was hilarious (although it was not at the time).
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.