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Sports Business

Captain Morgan abandons ship, but Indians still making sponsorship gains

March 12, 2014
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Captain Morgan has abandoned ship at Victory Field.

The premium seating area in left field formerly known as Captain Morgan Cove is now just The Cove.

Captain Morgan’s parent company, Diageo, isn’t renewing its sponsorship of the popular section after a three-year voyage.

“They just wanted to move in a different direction and we respect their decision,” said Indianapolis Indians General Manager Cal Burleson.

Though team officials declined to divulge how much money the spiced rum sponsorship brought in for the Indians, Burleson called it “one of our most significant sponsorships.”

Despite the loss of The Captain, Burleson remains confident the Indians will score more sponsorship revenue in 2014 than in 2013.

Diageo remains active in motorsports and has been putting increasing amounts of marketing funds into NBA sponsorships, which is one reason why the company might be pulling out of other sponsorship deals.

The Indians are in talks with several companies about sponsoring The Cove, and Burleson is optimistic something could be in place by the home opener April 10. But team officials are willing to be patient to bring in the right long-term title sponsor for the popular area. The Indians want a sponsor that will be active in promoting the amenity.

The Indians tore out about 400 seats in left field in 2011 to make way for Captain Morgan Cove—an open-air restaurant and bar featuring a menu separate from other stadium offerings and table service for up to 120 fans.

According to team officials, the Indians paid $772,000 to build The Cove, which replaced Sections 101 and 102.

Burleson said Indians officials have no regrets about the hefty investment, the second-biggest capital project the team has undertaken since moving into Victory Field in 1996.

“We’ve had a great return on investment with it. We got our money back in three years,” Burleson said. “It’s a tremendously popular area. We feel great about it and its future.”

The Indians have excelled in recent years in selling advertising and sponsorships. In 2010, their financial statement showed the team brought in just under $2 million in advertising and sponsorship revenue. In 2013, that grew to just more than $3 million.

For the upcoming season, the sales staff has already signed several new sponsors including Buffalo Wild Wings, Dairy Queen and MI Homes, and has expanded the team’s deal with Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, including the sponsorship of a new wireless communications system and a presenting sponsorship deal for Friday fireworks shows at Victory Field.

In another coup for the sales staff, AT&T has been retained for the second year to sponsor the franchise’s popular autograph nights.

Burleson credits the sponsorship gains to the sales and marketing staff, but added the ticket sales staff also has made it easier to sell sponsorships.

The Indians finished their 2013 season with the highest overall regular-season attendance of all 176 Minor League Baseball teams, drawing 637,579 fans (8,980 per game) through the turnstiles. The Tribe’s home attendance was the fourth-largest in Victory Field history and the best single-season total since the team’s championship campaign in 2000.

“People like to partner with you when you’re popular,” Burleson said. “For us, any achievement is always a team effort.”

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