14th of Apr | Story

Sticking to the basics


CLEARWATER, Florida | Behind home plate, out on the berm in right field, at the tiki terrace out in left and every few steps on the walkway that circles Bright House Field, fans were saying ‘Excuse me’ and children were cutting through the throngs.

This is a Saturday night crowd – 5,278 fans have come through the turnstiles to see the Clearwater Threshers and fireworks. More than 20 groups, one of 600 people and another of 800, are at the park. The press box has been converted into a party room. People have traveled more than an hour away to watch the game.

The Threshers have had the highest total season attendance in the Florida State League all but one of the last seven seasons, according to statistics compiled by The Biz of Baseball, which tracks the numbers for many of the minor leagues. In 2011, 177,117 fans saw the Threshers play.

"One of the differences with the Phillies is they look at their Florida State affiliate to be a revenue producer." - Jason Adams

Yet, there’s no secret ingredient that keeps fans coming back for more. It’s a basic recipe: a good-sized budget, a tenured front office, a central location and tested promotions. It’s communication and keeping an eye on the numbers. “We can see when the numbers are starting to change and recognize, ‘OK, we changed this and it caused a reaction here. So if we try changing this part, we can see a greater reaction,’” says Jason Adams, the assistant general manager and the man who handles ticketing for the team.

Adams has been with the Phillies for 14 years, and between him, John Timberlake, the director of Florida operations and general manager, and Dan McDonough, the assistant general manager and sales head, they have more than 55 years with the organization.

“One of the differences with the Phillies is they look at their Florida State affiliate to be a revenue producer,” Adams says. “Where I think a lot of teams may look at their Florida State team as, ‘OK, you’re purely player development, just don’t lose a lot of money.’ They give us a nice operating budget where we can do the fireworks on Saturday nights or the giveaway items, and be a little more proactive in going after some of those groups. The old adage, ‘You have to spend money to make money, it definitely is true.”

Adams says the Threshers’ operating budget is probably in the top four of the 12 FSL teams, and perhaps the top two. Also, the team has a larger front office staff than most with 12 full-time employees. Still, everyone wears multiple hats. One of Adams’ other duties is handling player liaison issues, like travel logistics when a player receives a promotion to Reading or Lehigh Valley.

But his main responsibility is to sell tickets, which he and his staff do well, scheduling promotional nights and successfully bringing back groups year after year. Still, it’s not easy.

“It’s kind of a battle,” Adams says of how the team increases its attendance each season. “There are days when we know we’re going to be pushing it to get a decent crowd in here. What carries our attendance is we’ll have probably 15 really big crowds.”

For weekend games, the Threshers book groups to carry attendance. During the week, the promotional nights fill the schedule. And on Sundays, one of the harder days to get people through the gates because of family trips to the beach, they’ll test different ideas.

“Two years ago, we tried Dollar Tuesday promotion,” Adams says. “We have over 3,000 people now on Tuesdays, where we would struggle to just get 1,200 people in. It’s just finding that one promotion that will click.”

The Threshers took the Daytona Cubs’ idea of all-you-can-eat Mondays and adapted it from a Belly Buster to a Feeding Frenzy.

“Mondays and Tuesdays were always battles, especially when you get into a six-or seven-day homestand, a lot of families or groups will pick a night. ‘Well, I’m not going to go three nights a week to the ballpark.’ It’s not practical for their daily life," he says. "So we have to slice up the market and go after different people. That’s the name of the game.”

Then there are those groups that come in on the weekend. That group of 800 that showed up Saturday night is a law firm that has held the same event for eight straight years. It started with a group of 150 and has grown each year. “A lot of times, they don’t start out that large,” Adams says. “It’s massaging those groups and getting them to grow year after year.”

Florida’s concentration of baseball is what makes it difficult for every team to draw a crowd, and the Threshers are within 40 miles of three other minor league teams and the Tampa Bay Rays.

But by finding the right promotional mix and building Bright House Field near thoroughfares in 2004, they’ve been able to draw a steady fan base. The Threshers’ biggest competition for the FSL attendance lead are the Cubs and the Charlotte Stone Crabs, neither of which is owned or operated by its Major League affiliate.

“It’s good for the league because other organizations see people are putting money back into it,” Adams says. “Bring the whole league up. You’re as good as you’re weakest link.”

 Carolyn@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @CarolynLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason 


Want to read stories about the other teams on our schedule? Click here and scroll to the calendar.


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Here are the top three FSL teams in total attendance for the last seven seasons, according to The Biz of Baseball:

Clearwater – 130,446
Daytona – 127,060
For Myers – 112,272

Clearwater – 159,067
Daytona – 147,677
For Myers – 116,397

Clearwater – 166,359
Daytona – 146,195
Tampa – 123,829

Clearwater – 168,637
Daytona – 164,007
Fort Myers – 124,749

Charlotte – 171,314
Clearwater – 169,559
Daytona – 147,921

Clearwater – 172,716
Charlotte – 171,450
Daytona – 150,157

Clearwater – 177,117
Charlotte – 166,375
Daytona – 154,557