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 Mike Murphy, director of media relations for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Originally established as the New Haven Ravens in 1994, the club relocated to Manchester, N.H., in 2004 and was renamed the "Fisher Cats."
MiLB.com: How would characterize your team's fan base? Has it grown or changed in recent years?
MM: Our attendance has risen in each of our five years of existence, with a franchise-record 373,227 fans coming through the gates at Merchantsauto.com Stadium in 2008. That did not even include the stadium-record crowd of 8,762 for the Northeast Delta Dental Eastern League All-Star Game on Wednesday, July 16.
MiLB.com: What type of marketing strategies do the fans respond to?
MM: Our e-mail newsletter has proven very effective, going out to over 25,000 people each week. Fans appreciate being updated on the latest promotions and news involving the team. We also work very closely with our radio partners to promote our games and nightly promotions heavily during homestands, using 5-to-15-second commercials to quickly catch the listeners' attention. Finally, we work with our local affiliated TV station and the newspaper in Manchester.
MiLB.com: Has your team staged any notable promotions in recent years? Any that just didn't work?
MM: Fortunately, we have not had any Disco Demolition-type disasters to regret. Instead, we've had a Splash Day/Camp Day promotion that has worked out very well. We take a midweek matinee game in the summer and invite day camps, recreation departments, etc., in order to get a number of kids in the park.
Our staff dresses up as lifeguards, we set up a dunk tank, and by partnering with area fire departments, we have "wet zones" where the fire department spray hoses into the air, dousing specific areas of the park to offset the heat of the summer. We'll be going into our third year with Splash Day, which is gaining in popularity for its ability to combine the fun of summer at the beach with baseball.
MiLB.com: How has the internet affected the way your team is run?
MM: We like to treat our website as a one-stop destination for our fans. Even during the offseason, we want our fans to be able to check back every day and see new information. It's a very useful sales and marketing tool, as fans can easily access our promotional schedule, purchase tickets and shop online for merchandise while also getting team statistics in a user-friendly format.
|At a Glance: New Hampshire Fisher Cats
• First season: 2004
• Affiliation: Toronto Blue Jays (2004-present)
• Stadium: Merchantsauto.com Stadium
• League Championships: 2004
• City Population: Approximately 109,000
• Notable New Hampshire Alumni:
- Aaron Hill, Brandon League, Dustin McGowan, Alex Rios
• People who've called Manchester home:
- Steve Balboni (mustachioed slugger)
- Rene Gagnon (Marine pictured in iconic Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph)
- Richard and Maurice McDonald (founders of McDonald's Restaurant)
- Adam Sandler
MiLB.com: Does your concession stand serve any regional specialties or otherwise remarkable items?
MM: Merchantsauto.com Stadium was recognized by PETA as the Most Vegetarian Friendly Ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball in 2008. In addition to the wide variety of vegetarian options, our concessionaire Centerplate provides typical ballpark fare, plus clam chowder, a "Chef's Home Run" upscale carving station where prime rib sandwiches, fresh ham or turkey are rotated to give fans unique, fresh options. We also have a Famous Dave's BBQ location along the first-base side.
MiLB.com: What type of merchandise sells the best at the team store? Are there any unique items available for purchase?
MM: The team-related apparel seems to do well: caps, replica jerseys, fleeces and jackets.
All in all, novelties do the best! There is typically a greater selection and a lower price point for the novelties, which makes them a perfect buy for any little fan. Logo balls, foam fingers and mini-bats are the usual favorites, and our custom Mascot Doll did very well.
MiLB.com: How large of a role does your mascot play, both at the stadium and within the community?
MM: Our mascots, Fungo and Slider, are very community-centric. They both spend a lot of the offseason visiting schools to promote reading as part of our Reading Challenge program. They also visit Little Leagues, hospitals and make a number of community appearances. Since players' schedules are so hectic during the season, the mascots become our main advocates for appearances -- in particular for children. At the stadium, the mascots sign autographs, visit our birthday children and are used in many of our on-field promotions.
MiLB.com: Minor League stadiums often vary greatly from one another. What are the positives of playing in your facility? Any drawbacks?
MM: Merchantsauto.com Stadium is the newest ballpark in the Eastern League, built in 2005, so the modern amenities are very attractive to our fans. We have an open concourse, so fans never miss the action even as they visit concession stands, and we take great pride in the overall cleanliness of the facility. We have 32 luxury suites, which provide a nice bonus for corporations or groups looking to enjoy more of a VIP experience.
Our Samuel Adams Bar & Grill, a new feature added in 2008, is an indoor area for up to 300 fans, complete with table-top and bar seating, a made-to-order menu, 11 HD flat-screen TVs and more. It is located just above the left-field wall, allowing a nice view of the field and a great venue for functions or just a chance for folks to gather before, during and after games. It is virtually weather proof, as fans can gather inside to get away from the elements, and we have windows that can be opened to enjoy the cross-breeze off the Merrimack River, immediately adjacent to the ballpark.
There is also a hotel just beyond the left-center field wall, which provides a unique view both for the fans in the stadium and the guests at the hotel. Finally, we are the official Northern New England home of the Ted Williams Hitters Hall of Fame, a satellite location for the Ted Williams Museum (located at Tropicana Field). This area is on the concourse directly behind home plate and offers fans free access to see sports memorabilia from the greatest hitters of all time, and former Red Sox greats Johnny Pesky, Rico Petrocelli, Bill Monbouquette and Bernie Carbo were among a variety of guests who would sign autographs from within the Hall of Fame during Fisher Cats games.
MiLB.com: What are some of your favorite on-field moments since you've been with the team?
MM: The Northeast Delta Dental Eastern League All-Star Game provided the ultimate highlight of our ballpark's history. Travis Snider, now of the Toronto Blue Jays, put on an awe-inspiring display in the Irving Oil Home Run Derby, outlasting now-Baltimore Orioles outfielder Lou Montanez (Bowie Baysox) in the final round, which took place during a stoppage of play in the second inning of the All-Star Game. Snider sent home runs easily over 400-feet away, including one that smashed the top of the light tower in right-center field in Roy Hobbs fashion.
Other highlights included our Law Enforcement Night in 2007, where the Fisher Cats players wore specially designed Manchester Police uniforms for charity. The sight of police officers and players joining together to hold a giant American Flag for the National Anthem was very memorable, just seven months after the memorial service for fallen Manchester Police Officer Michael Briggs was held at the stadium. The Fisher Cats retired uniform No. 83, Briggs' badge number, which hangs on the outfield wall next to Jackie Robinson's No. 42. Each season, an Officer Michael Briggs Community Hero Award is presented during our Law Enforcement Night.