The Indianapolis Indians are starting this season with runners in scoring position.
Team officials said a number of off-season initiatives put the AAA minor-league baseball franchise in the best business shape it’s been in for years.
Adding to the Indians’ optimism, the Pittsburgh Pirates—the team’s Major League Baseball affiliate—are sending several top-flight prospects to Indianapolis this season.
“We think we’ve really got things in place from an entertainment perspective to have a really great year,” said Indians General Manger Cal Burleson.
Chief among the team’s off-season moves is signing a deal to put all 72 home games on Comcast and Brighthouse cable television networks, airing on Channel 81 on both networks.
As part of the deal, the Indians will handle production and use their in-house, on-air radio announcers to call the TV games. The Indians sales staff will get most of the advertising inventory to sell.
Burleson said the televised games can be a minor profit center for the team, but that the exposure for the team will be even more valuable.
“Televising the games will help us illustrate the fun people are having at the ballpark,” Burleson said.
David Morton, president of local sports marketing firm Sunrise Sports Group, doesn’t think the team’s TV deal will deter people from coming to Victory Field.
“You can’t smell the popcorn or feel the breeze at the ballpark by watching it on television,” Morton said. “But you can get a general idea of the type of entertainment experience they’re offering. It’s basically a three-hour infomercial for the Indians.”
The team has had some TV exposure in the past, but never a full season televised.
The Indians also made several other off-season moves to enhance “the fan experience at Victory Field,” Burleson said.
The team installed a 6-1/2-feet-tall by 120-feet-wide video board on the left-field wall. The installation of the video board, which cost $600,000, was completed in late February.
The video board will carry static and moving video messages. There will be an entertainment and advertising component to the video board, which mimics ribbon boards seen at Conseco Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, said Joel Zawacki, Indians director of corporate partnership.
“This gives us more ad inventory to sell, but we also think it’s going to be a big hit with fans at the game,” Zawacki said.
Installation of the video board—along with spending $125,000 to remodel the team’s front office, conference rooms and trophy display areas—is part of a strategy to keep Victory Field looking like new. Burleson said the team has spent $4 million in upgrades since the facility opened in 1996.
“Few minor-league teams have spent as much keeping their facility pristine as the Indians,” said Baseball America Editor Allan Simpson. “I think it’s one reason they’ve enjoyed such strong fan loyalty.”
Attendance dropped from 606,166 in 2008 to 549,522 in 2009, but Burleson pointed out there were four fewer games due to rain-outs in 2009.
Heading into this season, the team has sold 185 new season tickets, about double the number at the same time last year. Group ticket sales are up 5 percent and sponsorship is up more than 5 percent, with the addition of Tire Barn, Marriott Place and Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance.•