It is perhaps the best form of family sports entertainment in North America; affordable, fun, usually pretty quick, casual and plentiful in most areas. It is minor league baseball, a solid rite of passage for many people who used to make more regular stops to the Big leagues but may be priced out of more than one or two trips a year. The business of an affiliated MiLB team is all about community; work with local brands and partners, build your base and sell the experience. Play in your territory and try and be as entrepreneurial as possible. Your costs on the field are picked up by the parent club, the rest of the business is yours to run.
For years that work was in a vacuum. You shared best practices with other clubs in the offseason, but the sell was yours to handle locally. Maybe occasionally a larger brand would come along for a league-wide or regional partnership, but largely these were businesses unto themselves. There was massive scale and data, but it was usually pretty unwieldy to navigate, like trying to place the same ad in hundreds of church bulletins, a nice idea but tough to do. Recently however MILB has found some ways to work together and find those economies of scale, better implement best practices and consolidate some media to best grow the overall business of the collective without sacrificing the charm or the bottom line of most clubs. With Michael Hand as the Chief Marketing Officer, the business of minor league baseball is taking a bigger step forward collectively than it has ever before, and the result is a more cohesive and better run organization with ancillary benefits for all involved.
By looking at the aggregate of over 108 Million fans, an almost 50-50 gender balance in the stands and at least once club within 30 minutes of almost ¾ of the population of the US, MiLB is making its case that it is not just a smart local buy, maybe it’s a smart national play as well. New deals, like a weekly Game on CBS Sports TV, a multi-faceted partnership with Disney for the recent film “Million Dollar Arm,” and a national deal with the “Pep Boys” chain, which matched the footprint of their stores to the map of where MILB is played, are all recent steps forward in a healthy overall strategic business plan for MiLB. While not in every park, Pep Boys will be a “proud partner” of each participating club and activate various in-stadium elements from April through the beginning of September; including, signage, on-field promotional activities, video board messaging, public address announcements, print advertisements and couponing. All of which brings added value, and added dollars to the clubs while presenting “Brand MiLB” in a very compact and effective light.
Still as with every collective there will be some bumps in the road. Minor league clubs have operated in their own business model for years, and the most successful ones may not have the margin or the ability to suddenly vacate a category for the better of all others who may not have that spot filled, but in select areas, like major entertainment categories, the larger partnership can be a great fit. What has been realized and is important is the fact that these very savvy local business units, the clubs themselves, recognize the need for innovation, and collective innovation is sometimes healthier than the rick of going at it alone. While not one size fits all, the way MILB is now approaching business creates an interesting patchwork, and one worth watching as best practices come about, the air gets a little warmer, and families look to the diamond for a night of fun under the bright lights.