The Indianapolis Indians this year are ahead in the standings—and at the ticket office.
Through their first 43 home baseball games, the Indians are more than 20,000 ahead of last year’s attendance mark. Franchise officials think total attendance this season could reach 600,000, a number that’s proven difficult for the team to reach since it set an attendance record of 658,250 in 1999, its second full season in Victory Field.
As the economy has dipped, Indians’ attendance has soared, up from 549,552 in 2009 to 569,969 in 2010. Last year, total home attendance hit 580,082, a per-game average of 8,170 fans for 71 home games.
The Indians’ increases have put it among the attendance leaders in Minor League Baseball.
Attendance increases are good news for Indians stockholders because ticket revenue accounted for $4.3 million of the team’s $10.1 million in operating revenue in 2011. All indications are that the team will continue its streak of profitability and that profits could top last year’s $1.06 million.
“This organization has several things going for it,” said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis. “They have a great facility in Victory Field; they’re at the right price point given the economy; and they’re very innovative in terms of entertainment and special promotions. What they’re selling is part baseball, part outdoor picnic with a little bit of carnival thrown in.”
While this summer’s weather hasn’t been a boon for farmers or homeowners hoping for a nice green lawn, it has been good for the Indians, the AAA Minor League affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates.
“We’re doing well for a combination of reasons,” said Indians General Manager Cal Burleson. “We’ve had good promotions, a good team and dry weather.”
Indians marketing staffers have rolled out a bevy of new promotions this year with Thursday’s "Value Night" and Sunday’s "Kids Eat Free" specials being two of the biggest attractions, Burleson said.
The Indians' expanded relationship with WRTV-TV Channel 6 this season also has helped, Burleson said. This season, all Indians home games are televised. Most of the games will be telecast on WRTV-TV Channel 6’s digital channel, HomeTown Sports & News. A handful of Indians’ home games are airing on Channel 6.
“WRTV has done some strong promotions for us, and that along with the telecasts has helped raise awareness of what we have to offer,” Burleson said.
The team’s biggest promotion has become its traditional July 4 home game, including a fireworks show which runs right before the city’s fireworks show downtown. Many fans stay at Victory Field to watch both shows. This year’s game drew a standing-room-only crowd of 14,504.
The Indians have sold out their July 4 home game every year since they moved into Victory Field in 1997. This year’s sellout brought total home attendance to 338,561, for a 7,874 per game average.
The team isn’t about to let up now—on the field or in the marketing department. Indians officials explained that average attendance usually increases throughout the summer because some spring games are lightly attended.
As part of the July promotion this year, the Indians played in special stars-and-stripes uniforms, and uniforms worn during the game were auctioned off to fans, with all proceeds going to the Indiana National Guard Foundation.
“Our location downtown has been ideal for families to come down and enjoy the downtown festivities,” Burleson said. “That game has become a tremendous tradition at what we think is the best ball park in the country.”
The Indians have several big homestands coming up and are rolling out more special promotions to keep attendance on the rise, including visits from the Pittsburgh Pirates mascot and retired MLB Hall of Famer Andre Dawson.
Indians marketers usually don’t rely on a winning team to sell tickets, instead relying on their mantra of providing “family affordable fun” and selling the amenities of picturesque Victory Field, located on the west edge of downtown.
This year, though, Burleson thinks the team’s on-field prowess has helped lift ticket sales. The Tribe is off to its best start since 1988, having won 32 of its last 45 games, and is in first place in its division by 12 games.
The team has three players headed to Buffalo for the AAA Minor League All-Star game July 11: center fielder Starling Marte, infielder Jordy Mercer and pitcher Rudy Owens.
Burelson said he wouldn’t be surprised if those three players see some time with the Pirates at the end of the season.
The Indians recently announced that they renewed their agreement with Pittsburgh and will remain its AAA affiliate through the 2014 season.
“We’ve got a good relationship with the Pirates and we’re real pleased with the team they’ve put on the field here,” Burleson said. “And we think the fans are pleased, too.”