The Indianapolis Indians this year scored the second-highest-percentage attendance increase in the 14-team International League. The spike could push the team's profit over $1 million.
The AAA farm team for Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates scored a 10-percent increase in attendance. The Indians drew 8,383 per game, up from 7,608 in 2006.
While attendance for all minor-league baseball teams was up 2.2 percent, the Indians' ability to beat that trend in a crowded sports market is a testament to the team's marketing, said Larry DeGaris, director of academic sports marketing programs at the University of Indianapolis.
"I think the Indians have done a great job marketing to their strengths," DeGaris said. "They have a great venue in a convenient location and affordable ticket prices."
Attendance gains came despite a team that finished 70-73, 12 games behind the division winner.
"In minor-league baseball, it's important to have a competitive team, but it's not all about winning and losing," DeGaris said. "The overall experience is critical."
This year's total attendance of 585,785 marked the team's highest attendance since 2001, when the team drew 604,407. But in 2001, the team had one more home game, so the 2001 per-game average was only slightly higher, at 8,513.
The Indians' total attendance this year was good for fourth in the league.
"We had good, dry weather and that was important this year, but our marketing and ticket people also did a good job," said Indians Chairman Max Schumacher.
Season-ticket sales were similar to last year, at 2,500. Walk-up ticket sales accounted for the bulk of the increase, Schumacher said.
While the Indians had plenty of promotions this year, including visits by a famous chicken mascot, the Pirates mascot and dollar menu night at the concession stand, Marketing Director Chris Herndon said the team's main advertising thrust centered on the game of baseball.
"Our research showed the primary reason people attended games was because they were baseball fans," Herndon said. "We stepped back and took a fresh look at things. This year, our advertising campaign had more of a baseball flavor with more baseball images."
The team's advertising campaign designed by locally based ad agency Hirons & Co. "connected" this year, Herndon said.
"The promotions we do enhance the experience, but we think baseball is what brings the fans in," he said.
The Indians will definitely be profitable again this year, Schumacher said, but the exact numbers won't be calculated until next month.
The team turned a profit of $810,108 last year, $961,525 in 2005 and more than $1 million in 2004.
The attendance increase has sports business experts thinking the team's profits will be more than $1 million again this year.
"A 10-percent increase is significant," said David Morton, president of locally based Sunrise Sports Group. "I would think that would lead to increased sales in merchandise, concessions and other ancillary revenue. Those increases combined could really increase the bottom line."
About the only thing sports marketers think the Indians could do to improve on this year is sign a deal to be the farm team for the Chicago Cubs or Cincinnati Reds.
The Indians, however, have another year left on their deal with the Pirates, and Schumacher said he is pleased with the arrangement for now. The Cubs and Reds, meanwhile, are partnered with AAA affiliates in Iowa and Louisville.
Affiliation aside, Herndon is confident the Indians can grow attendance again next year.
"Baseball as a sport is very healthy right now," Herndon said, "so we're very optimistic going into next year."