Savannah Sand Gnats: Macro Strategies for Using Identity to Increase Attendance in Minor League Baseball

By Lachowetz, Tony; Dees, Windy et al. | Sport Marketing Quarterly, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Savannah Sand Gnats: Macro Strategies for Using Identity to Increase Attendance in Minor League Baseball


Lachowetz, Tony, Dees, Windy, Todd, Sam, Ryan, Elizabeth, Sport Marketing Quarterly


Introduction and Marketing Problem

It is less than a month to opening day as Bradley Dodson, General Manager, walks through Historic Grayson Stadium with John Simmons, the owner of the Savannah Sand Gnats. They survey the renovation of the stadium, comment on all the work that has been done, and contemplate what the future holds for the Sand Gnats. Dodson has been preparing for a staff meeting to discuss where the Sand Gnats stand and how to improve the organization. As he takes a seat in the stands and peers out to left field where the bleachers have been removed and the wall still needs to be finished, he considers "What can we do to improve our marketing tactics to draw more attendance over the next two to five years?" This will be the overarching question presented to the staff in the meeting today. A new reign of ownership of the Sand Gnats began in 2005 when Simmons bought the club. Since then, attendance has drastically improved and records have been broken. Ownership and staff members were applauded at reporting one of the highest attendance crowds during the 2007 season, but the fact still remains, the Sand Gnats draw considerably less fans than competitors in the South Atlantic League as well as throughout Minor League Baseball comparably. "Something drastically needs to change," reflects Dodson. "But what should be done," is the themed question for the Savannah Sand Gnats?

The biggest issue facing the Savannah Sand Gnats, and their main goal over the next two to five seasons, is increasing attendance at the games. Currently, the management team has followed a two-pronged strategy for marketing the Sand Gnats: 1) improve the overall fan experience, including completion of a $5 million stadium renovation project, and 2) build a strong local identity in and around Chatham County (Savannah). This two-part marketing strategy has drastically improved the attendance numbers for the Sand Gnats since 2005; however, the problem facing the franchise is that more needs to be done if the team wants to climb the South Atlantic League attendance standings.

Background and Market Conditions

The 2007 season marked one of the highest attendance figures in the history of the Savannah Sand Gnats. With 59 openings, the Sand Gnats drew 91,722 spectators to the stadium. Since the new ownership under John Simmons took over in 2005, the baseball franchise witnessed a 27% increase in attendance and a 57% increase since 2004. Although these figures are a marked improvement for the Sand Gnats, they still pale in comparison to other teams in their league and Minor League Baseball overall.

According to Minor League Baseball's official website, established in 1901 as The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, Minor League Baseball (MiLB) attendance continues to rise steadily. In 20 of the last 24 seasons, total regular season attendance has increased and MiLB has reported a surplus of 35 million in attendance for seven straight consecutive seasons. This attendance surplus has positive meaning for the Savannah Sand Gnats and Dodson is optimistic about the positives MiLB is experiencing. "On the whole, Minor League Baseball has shown improvement the last few seasons," said Dodson. "I look forward to growing in this niche market and improving the fan experience."

MiLB celebrated its centennial season in 2001 with a year-long celebration. In the centennial year, the clubs attracted the second highest attendance figure in history at 38,808,339. The all-time record of 39,640,433 was not broken until the 2004 season, which drew a total of 39,887,755 total fans. Last season's total attendance for all clubs was 42,812,812 (MiLB, n.d.).

The General Market

The 2007 season attendance figure contributed to a 13.72% increase in MiLB overall attendance since the 2000 season and marked an all-time attendance record for the fourth straight season (Table 1). In 2007, MiLB drew 1,102,455 more spectators than the previous season, marking a 2. …

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