Attendance champs ... and how they did it

A look at the reasons behind MiLB's top 10 turnstile increases

(Tom Priddy/

By Benjamin Hill / Special to | January 16, 2009 5:00 AM ET

For those who own and operate Minor League teams, attendance figures are far more important than victory totals.

Sure, everyone wants to see the home team emerge triumphant, but fielding a winning team doesn't always translate to the maximum number of butts in the seats. Besides, the front-office staff doesn't have control over the product on the field. Personnel decisions are made exclusively by the Major League parent clubs and players come and go at an alarming rate throughout the season.

Therefore, when Minor League teams market themselves they focus on the family atmosphere, affordable prices and creative promotions. It is a combination that has led to continued attendance growth throughout the Minors over the past several seasons, and in 2008 the industry topped the 43 million mark for the first time.

But when it comes to individual team attendance increases, what factors are most likely to make a difference? To answer this question, we took a look at the top 10 biggest attendance jumps that have taken place in the Minor Leagues over the past three seasons.

While the reasons for some of the increases were obvious (such as playing in a new stadium or adopting a new identity), others required a bit more digging. But taken together, this list helps highlight the myriad ways in which teams keep the turnstiles whirring.

The Top 10 Team Attendance Increases in the Minor Leagues, 2006-2008
(Editor's note: does not include franchises that relocated)

1. Greenville Drive, 2006
Average attendance: 4,784 (178 percent increase over 2005)

The Capital City Bombers relocated to Greenville prior to the 2005 campaign, but the inaugural season in their new location was forgettable. That year, the Boston Red Sox affiliate played in 21-year-old Greenville Municipal Stadium, a no-frills ballpark located in a relatively remote section of the city. The franchise stopped treading water in 2006, however. The Bombers' moniker was retired in favor of the Drive (a nod to Greenville's automobile industry and entrepreneurial spirit) and the team moved into West End Field. Modeled after Fenway Park (right down to a replica Green Monster and right-field "Pesky's Pole"), the new ballpark was a massive hit in the community. Attendance jumped a staggering 178% as a result and has risen in each of the two subsequent seasons as well.

2. Arkansas Travelers, 2007
Average attendance: 5,644 (71 percent over the previous season)

The Travelers have been a professional ballclub since 1896, and in that time have called just three stadiums home. From 1932 all the way through 2006, the club played at Ray Winder Field, a facility with plenty of old-time charm but very few modern amenities. In 2007 the Travelers traveled to Dickey-Stephens Park, a $40 million facility located in North Little Rock that was funded by a one-cent sales tax. The new home was an immediate hit, as the team posted a 71 percent attendance increase in 2007.

3. Dunedin Blue Jays, 2007
Average attendance: 721 (68 percent increase over 2006)

Thanks to hot weather, regular thunderstorms, plenty of other entertainment options and a fan base spoiled by Major League Spring Training, it's always tough to draw a crowd in the Florida State League. The Dunedin Blue Jays' 2007 attendance totals may have been modest, but they still represented a startling turnaround from the previous season. The mastermind behind this success was then-GM Jason Diplock, who now works as the Vice President of Ticket Sales for the Toronto Blue Jays. In his own words:

"Dunedin really needed to establish a sales and marketing culture. We had to build a ticket product line and provide fans with options when it came to season ticket subscriptions, group sales and single-game sales. And then we had to take the time to go out there and sell it and be proactive in our approach. ... We got to selling sooner rather than later and marketed the Minor League club at the same time that we were marketing the big boys in Spring Training. "In the end, I'd say we put together a pretty great product. And it helped, too, that the team has been remarkably consistent on the field as well. We haven't won it all, but making it to the playoffs in seven out of the past nine years has to count for something."

4. Lakeland Flying Tigers, 2007
Average attendance: 785 (59 percent increase over the previous season)

Like the Blue Jays, the Flying Tigers posted impressive gains as a result of an aggressive marketing campaign. The club was aided immensely by the decision to overhaul its identity to highlight the armed forces history of Joker Marchant Stadium.

"Changing the name and logo really gave us an identity and brand to market, and I can't thank Plan B Branding enough for their creativity," said Flying Tigers GM Zach Burek. "The changes highlight Tigertown's rich military and aviation history. We really promoted this history by targeting military branches and honoring veterans during games. Holidays like Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day and D-Day provided Joker Marchant Stadium with a unique personality. We continue to strive to honor our history every Lakeland Flying Tigers home game."

5. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees, 2007
Average attendance: 8,802 (59 percent increase over the previous season)

For the first 18 years of their existence, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons were an affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. This relationship ended at the conclusion of the 2006 campaign and the New York Yankees immediately swooped in. While the Scranton area is close to both the Philadelphia and New York markets, the region's baseball fans immediately made it clear that they prefer the Bronx Bombers over the Fightin' Phils. With a new affiliate, team name and logo, the SWB Yankees drew robust crowds to Lackawanna Stadium all season long.

6. Quad Cities River Bandits, 2008
Average attendance: 3,451 (53 percent increase over the previous season)

Under the leadership of new owner Dave Heller and GM Kirk Goodman, the River Bandits implemented a staggering array of changes in 2008. After four years as the awkwardly named "Swing of the Quad Cities," the club returned to the River Bandits moniker and unveiled a new logo. Meanwhile, a much greater emphasis was put on the game-day experience at Modern Woodman (formerly John O'Donnell) Park. In addition to a greatly expanded concession stand menu, fans were able to enjoy a drink at the Tiki Lounge and even take a dip in the hot tub overlooking right field.

7. Idaho Falls Chukars, 2007
Average attendance: 2,762 (42 percent increase over the previous season)

In 2007, the Chukars were the recipient of an extreme makeover. McDermott Field, which had hosted Pioneer League Baseball since 1940, was torn down. Melaleuca Field was then erected. Built for the comparatively low price of $5.6 million, Melaleuca Field inherited the same playing field and outfield fence from McDermott Field. Beyond that, however, attending a Chukars game became a brand-new experience, and the fans responded. Attendance dipped slightly in '08, but is still well above the numbers posted in the final seasons at McDermott.

8. Visalia Oaks, 2007
Average attendance: 1,192 (33 percent increase over the previous season)

The Oaks switched affiliations prior to the 2007 season (from Tampa Bay to Arizona), which may have led to a slight attendance boost. A far greater factor was the renovations done to Recreation Park. Most notably, the innovative Dugout Suite was introduced, from which fans could enjoy a player's view of the game. The team's work was far from done, however. Additional widespread stadium renovations are scheduled to be ready by Opening Day '09, not to mention the fact that the club has overhauled its identity by changing its name to the Visalia Rawhide.

9. Orem Owlz, 2006
Average attendance: 2,701 (30 percent increase from the previous season)

Here's a rarity -- the Owlz played their first season at the aptly named Home of the Owlz in 2005 and set an attendance record by drawing over 81,000 fans. But the team nonetheless still managed to post a 30 percent attendance increase in 2006.

"After completing our first year at a new stadium, we felt it was vital for us bring added incentive for our fans to come to our park the following season," said assistant GM Blake Buswell. "The first year of a new stadium seems to always bring an increase in fans because the community is curious to see the new structure, so for our second year at our stadium we strived to focus on the needs of the fans. We made more personal contact with season ticket holders and sponsors in the offseason, we added unique promotions to excite the more casual fan, and we focused on consistently strong promotions like firework shows."

10. West Tenn Diamond Jaxx, 2008
Average Attendance: 2,096 (28 percent increase over previous season)

The Diamond Jaxx have survived quite a few relocation scares over the past several seasons, most notably when then-owner Bob Lozinak attempted a move to South Carolina. In 2007, however, the club was sold to a group of Nashville-based investors who decided to keep the club in West Tennessee. This renewed commitment to the hometown fans was illustrated in myriad ways throughout the season.

"The new ownership group allowed us to do things differently," said Diamond Jaxx GM Tom Hanson. "We generated excitement at the ballpark by increasing the number of fireworks shows and by adding theme nights and giveaways to the promotional schedule. We also welcomed well-known character acts such as the San Diego Chicken and Myron Noodleman. Overall, [the attendance increase] was the combination of several factors, all of it having to do with how we approach our fan base."

Benjamin Hill is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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