Baseball history was made in Dunedin, Florida on July 19, 2014, as the first Universal Rain Check was redeemed.
A "Universal Rain Check" might initially sound like a strange concept, but it is just what its name implies: Fans may redeem a ticket from any rained-out Minor League Baseball game for a game at the Dunedin Blue Jays' home of Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Whether that ticket is from the Vancouver Canadians (located some 3,200 miles away) or the nearby Clearwater Threshers, the fan in possession of it is assured of complimentary admission.
The Universal Rain Check is the brainchild of D-Jays director of marketing and social media Nate Kurant, who was inspired to implement the program after going on a Minor League road trip with a friend.
"In 2013, we went from Charleston to Savannah to Jacksonville; we went north and then came back south," said Kurant. "And every day there was about a 70 percent chance of rain. And like most traveling Minor League fans -- if it rains and that's your day in the city, that's it. I came back, and the idea met opportunity here in Dunedin. We have a few seats available."
"A few seats available" was Kurant's wry, understated way of saying that the Dunedin Blue Jays -- a small market team even by Florida State League standards -- have traditionally struggled to draw fans. Their average attendance of 896 in 2014 was the lowest in the league and 119th among the 120 full-season Minor League teams. Therefore, they are an organization perhaps more amenable to outside-the-box initiatives such as the Universal Rain Check.
"There's so many different teams, especially in our league in Florida," said Kurant. "Clearwater is right down the road; Tampa is across the bridge; Bradenton just south of us; There's an opportunity. It might give fans a reason to go, 'Hey, we can get in free, so let's make a weekend of it.' … So come on down, come see our beach. We're real close to the Gulf of Mexico."
Early returns on the program have been negligible, however, as the aforementioned July 19, 2014, redemption marked the first and thus far only time that the Universal Rain Check has been used. In that case, it was a fan using a ticket for a Lakeland Tigers game that had been rained out some two weeks prior. Nonetheless, Kurant remains guardedly optimistic.
"It might still not be on a lot of people's radar," he said. "But it's open to everybody."
However, the Universal Rain Check is sure to appeal to that subset of Minor League fan that regularly embarks on ballpark road trips. I learned this first-hand in 2012, when I ran a guest blog post from a reader by the name of Pete Golkin in favor of an industry-wide Universal Rain Check policy. After all, when you're only in a particular city for one night, than a standard-issue raincheck good for that ballpark only is sure to go to waste.
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"If your summer travel includes Priceline, tolls, a dose of the local culture (battlefields, snacks on conveyor belts, robot tobacco farmers) and a nightly topping of Minor League Baseball, ol' Mr. Rain Check will likely land in your wallet but only to die there," wrote Golkin, whose proposal resulted in a robust back-and-forth in the ensuing comments section. "OK, maybe some accounting issues would need to be resolved. But remember, we're talking about Minor League Baseball tickets. They're not supposed to break the bank or become scarce, which is why you'll never see a scalper in the parking lots at Danville, Greensboro or Richmond. To work out the details, I suggest calling in the same accountants who said my old sliced cheese wrapper meant two-for-one admission anywhere on a Tuesday."
It is sentiment such as the above that spurs Kurant to keep fighting his perhaps quixotic Universal Rain Check crusade.
"Hopefully, we have some more people take advantage of it this year, and the Universal Rain Check gets some more attention," he said. "Maybe it'll get promo of the month, then promo of the year, and then it'll be something we look back on five or 10 years from now like, 'How did we ever not do this?' Hopefully it's something that can change the game a little bit."
Benjamin Hill is a reporter for MiLB.com and writes Ben's Biz Blog. Follow Ben on Twitter @bensbiz.