Indianapolis Indians scoring sponsorship, attendance increases

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Late last September, the Indianapolis Indians stared down the barrel of financial disaster.

Following the 2009 season, three-fourths of the team’s sponsorship deals expired, giving the Indians a tough challenge in an economic climate that’s enough to make just about any sports business administrator hit the panic button.

But Indians officials stood in the batter’s box, dug in their cleats, and didn’t blink. Instead, the team’s front office rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

The Indians re-signed the vast majority of those sponsors and enough new ones to increase sponsorship sales $200,000 over last year, an increase of more than 10 percent. New sponsors include Firestone, Mike’s Express Car Wash, Buffalo Wings & Rings, Frito-Lay and Sharp Business Solutions.

Indianapolis Indians With a string of home games coming up in August, the Indianapolis Indians could push their total attendance to 600,000 for the season. (IBJ file photo)

One of the driving forces in sponsorship sales has been a $600,000 video board the Indians installed on the left-field wall, said Indians General Manager Cal Burleson.

“The video board is so eye-catching,” Burleson said. “It gives sponsors another way to reach out to our fans, and it’s given us another element in our advertising packages to sell.”

The video board, which is 120 feet long and 6-1/2 feet tall, also has been a big hit with fans. The video board carries static and moving video messages.

“We put a lot of information on that board as well as sponsorship messages, and the people attending our games have really enjoyed it,” Burleson said. “There’s definitely an entertainment component to it. The positive feedback has been overwhelming.”

At this rate, the video board will pay for itself in three years.

“That’s smart business,” said Rick Horrow, president of Horrow Sports Ventures, a Miami-based sports marketing consultancy. “That’s how smart sports business operators are making it in this economy. Not only making cuts where needed, but making strategic investments that will pay real dividends.”

Attendance also is on the rise for the local AAA minor-league baseball team, up nearly 30,000 through July 20 compared with the same period last year. In 2009, the Indians drew 549,522, down slightly from the near-record 606,166 in 2008.

With total attendance at 348,339 through July 20 and with 25 home games remaining, Burleson thinks the team has a shot at hitting 600,000 visitors this year.

“We have a stretch of good home games coming up, and we have a history of doing very well in late July and August,” Burleson said.

The Indians raised their ticket prices $1 this season—the first increase in three years—which should mean a sizable bump in ticket revenue. The franchise, which has a decades-long profitability streak, should be in the black again this fiscal year.

 Indians profit declined from $1.23 million in 2008 to $459,603 in 2009, but sports business experts expect profitability to be above $1 million again this year.

Indianapolis IndiansBurleson said a better year weather-wise, a more competitive team and a lengthy list of weekly and special promotions has helped keep the turnstile whirling. He said many of the Indians promotions revolve around offering fans a “special value.” Such deals include Monday games where many concession items are $1, and Fazoli’s restaurant coupons on tickets for Tuesday games.

Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis, isn’t surprised by the Indians’ success.

“The Indians are at the right price point, like Target and Wal-Mart, and they offer exceptional value,” DeGaris said. “That applies to their sponsors, ticket sales and group sales. I’m sure right now, corporate entertaining at the picnic area at Victory Field is pretty attractive.”

DeGaris also gives the team’s front office a high grade.

“They’ve chosen to emphasize the right things,” DeGaris said. “They’ve done a great job of creating an inventory that sells.”

The Indians are riding a high tide for minor-league baseball nationwide.

Minor-league baseball set an attendance record in 2008 of 43.2 million fans, and brought in nearly 42 million fans last season. Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said he is expecting near-record attendance this season.

According to a Minor League Baseball survey, nationally it costs an average of $57.70 to take a family of four to a minor-league ballgame. The average price to take a family of four to a Major League Baseball game is $194.98, according to Team Marketing Report.

“As long as they continue to offer the sort of value that they do and fans can enjoy the setting of Victory Field,” DeGaris said, “I’m sure they’ll continue to do more than fine.”•


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  1. The Walgreens did not get a lot of traffic. It was not located on the corner of the intersection, and not really visible from Emerson. Meanwhile the CVS there is huge and right on the corner. I am guessing a lot of people drove by a million times and never knew the Walgreens was there. Although, with the new Walmart market going in, that area could really see a lot of increase in traffic soon.

  2. You folks don't have a clue. There is a legal way to enter this country and to get aid. This left unchecked could run us to ruin quickly. I also heard that 'supporters' were getting major $$ to take them in? Who's monitoring this and guess who pays the bill? I support charitable organizations... but this is NOT the way to do it!

  3. Apparently at some time before alcohol has been served at the fair. The problem is that beer or wine used to be a common drink for people before soft drinks and was not thought to be that unusual. Since many folks now only drink to see how much they can drink or what kind of condition they can end up in it becomes more problematic. Go to Europe and its no big deal just as if you had sodas of milk to drink everyday. Its using common sense that is lacking now days.

  4. To address the epic failure of attracting race fans to both the Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 would take too much of my time to write. Bottom line Boles is clueless and obviously totally out of touch with the real paying fan base. I see nothing but death spin coming for the Brickyard, just like Indy. Get somebody in a place of power that understands what race fans want.

  5. I am a race fan through & through. It doesn't matter if it's Indy cars or Nascar. I love a great race. I go to several other tracks each year and you can see the entire track. I know Indy has tradition, but fans want to see the entire race. I sit in the Penthouse, am almost 60 years old, and would like to see a better TV screen in turn 1 so you can see the entire race. Then I think Indy needs to install an escalator so us old folks can make it up to the Penthouse and down again if we want more options to purchase food and drinks. Just a race fans opinion. Lights won't make the race any better, but you might be able to see the TV better at night. Turn 1's screen needs replaced with a better and bigger screen.