Team Marketing Blog: May 20, 2005

In Mar 2005, blog sites were a relatively new thing, and Team Marketing Report staff wanted to give one a shot. Over the next several months, TMR’s staff posted numerous stories and other sports business thoughts as the “Team Marketing Blog.” We have saved all of them and re-posting each of those individually for your reading enjoyment. Please note that we have kept the original links and many may no longer work.

Below is the entry from May 20, 2005, from Executive Editor Becky Wallace

It’s Gold…

I must admit, I was skeptical of the Golden Baseball League when I first heard about it a year ago. I covered the old Western Baseball League in its swan song season, and needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw.

But while researching my page 10 story in the May issue of TMR (on newsstands now!), I was enthralled with how much sense their business plan makes. I talked at length to the GBL’s Chief Marketing Officer Jim Weyermann and league co-founder Dave Kaval.

The single-entity owned league has enough infrastructure behind it to succeed behind-the-scenes. They’ve made marketing their main focus, not falling into “the fans just want cheap family fun” trap. WBL teams were just happy to tread water, hoping to draw enough fans to meet their bottom line.

Thanks to Weyermann and Co.’s contacts, the league secured a multi-million dollar presenting sponsor deal with grocery chain Safeway, as well as smaller deals in league towns dubbed “founding partners.” League officials took control of many of these deals, cementing them before anyone took the field.

Now the teams need to draw fans. Opening Day is this week and Weyermann said teams need to draw about 1,800 fans per game, no small order in old WBL markets like Long Beach and Yuma.

Here are some reasons on why the GBL should prosper:

1. Location, location, location: The GBL has a good mix of old WBL towns and new markets.

Arizona Spring Training outposts Mesa and Surprise. Mesa has been a baseball hotspot for years and has a strong, built-in core baseball audience. Suburban Surprise, spring home of Kansas City and Texas, has a $42 million new stadium. Not a bad home for the Fightin’ Falcons. (League investor Pat Sajak is throwing out the first pitch in Surprise, and will coach first base.)

Chico was one of the only success stories in the WBL and Yuma (my old stomping grounds) has supposedly been selling sponsorships like gangbusters, according to the league. Fullerton is playing in the home of NCAA powerhouse Cal St.-Fullerton. San Diego could be a stretch, but they’re playing at Tony Gwynn Stadium and trying to latch on to San Diego State‘s fan base.

Plus they’ve signed Rickey Henderson.

“It’s fun to get on the phone every week and hearing about success stories from other locations,” said Chico GM Bob Linscheid. “It’s all sounding really positive.”

2. Banzai!: The league’s eighth team is the barnstorming Japan Samurai Bears. The team is made up of young Japan League players who should impress crowds with their fundamentals.The league has secured several sponsorships in different markets for Japanese-themed businesses, as the team is expected to bring out Japanese fans in droves, especially in markets like Long Beach and Fullerton. Benihana has signed on in San Diego.

“We think the Samurai Bears will draw a home team crowd everywhere they go,” Weyermann said.

3. Investing in the future: The GBL has poured money into the stadiums, redoing the field in Fullerton, replacing seats in San Diego, and purchasing a used video scoreboard for Yuma.

Towns and businesses that were burned by leagues like the WBL are being wooed back by Kaval and his crew, who are making conscious efforts to become part of the community.

In Chico, Linscheid, a former WBL and Chico Heat exec, was brought back because he knows what the fan base wants.

“We have people in place who have been on the job before,” he said. “Our strength is our familiarity with the business. We were very successful here.”

In Surprise, the stadium sits in the center of a community-oriented neighborhood and in Yuma, the team is enlisting locals to paint a mural in the stadium to represent its history.

4. The guys are smart: Weyermann has big-time marketing experience (the ABL and the Experience Music Project in Seattle) and Kaval and co-founder Amit Patel met at Stanford‘s graduate school of business. Commish Kevin Outcalt left Cisco Systems to join up full-time.

They did their homework and they know why leagues fail and why they succeed. They’re young and bright, and they know their business.

5. And finally…The two M’s, Money and Marketing: The league has several big-pocketed investors who have ponied up about $5 million for the first season. That allowed them to hire team executives with requisite marketing and business experience.

Now instead of pulling all their resources to sell tickets and sponsorships, people have the freedom to do their specific jobs and do them well.

The league has made a conscious push to promote itself nationally, a la the Northern League, which only helps build credibility to the average fan locally.

Needless to say, I’ll be following this story all summer.

Here are some links of recent stories, culled from the GBL’s Press Room: