MLB teams put focus on kids to grow fanbase

Published On March 12, 2013 | By Hung Vong

Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts was candid to Cubs fans concerning the state of the team’s stadium at an annual Cubs Convention held on Jan. 19 in Chicago. Ricketts didn’t draw on the Cubs’ 101 losses last season, or that the organization hasn’t won a World Series since 1908. He was thinking about the long-term success for the organization. His approach is to start with the young kids who come to see the home games with their parents at historic ivy-themed Wrigley Stadium. He knows that one day those kids will become lifelong Cubs fans – and the sooner the better.

Ricketts put his wallet on the table this past January: all $300 million of it. Much of that money will go into renovating the ballpark with a 5-year plan in mind. During this time, restrooms will be added; the concourse will be expanded; and over 50 million pounds of concrete and steel will be removed in an architectural foundation overhaul.

According to the Bush League Chronicle, the Cubs are overhauling its antiquated structure for the kids as well. Parts of this plan include adding batting cages, radar gun zones, and chidren’s apps for smartphones and tablets. The organization has also decided to add a mascot to tie in with their kid-friendly approach.

Cubs players had mixed reactions. The Chicago Tribune reported that Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija wasn’t very enthusiastic about the approach. Samardzija recalled his days as a minor league pitcher at Class-A Daytona, where fans, players, and vendors, abused the Cubs mascot daily.

On the other hand, Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney thinks this approach has a chance to succeed.

“I think it could go either way,” said Barney. “There’s something fun about having that at the ballpark during the game. Especially with just organ music, there’s not much to keep fans into the games at times.”

Other clubs around the country have also taken advantage of appealing to the fans that are also parents.

For example, the Royals ownership group improved the team’s Kauffman Stadium by footing $250 million for renovation that was recently completed. The team’s Outfield Experience area features batting cages, a pitching mound, a timed base run, a baseball game lounge, and a carousel. Yes, a carousel.

The stadium also has a playground with slides and a mini ballpark. If there is any baseball fan that is a young golf protégé, the stadium has an added five-hole miniature golf course attraction.

An example of a success with kids vis-à-vis the mascot route is the Milwaukee Brewers for Miller Park. After home runs, the giant, baseball uniform-clad mascot reportedly slides down a large yellow slide onto a home plate-shaped podium. The Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park aren’t far behind either. Their organization actually has a ferris wheel with baseball-shaped cars for the kids. Instead of horses, the Tigers put in tigers in their carousel. Go figure.

For more kid-centric activities, the Washington Nationals at Washington Nationals Park let kids ages 4-12 run the bases after certain Sunday home games. There’s also a racing presidents event held during the fourth inning of home games, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt in giant foam heads and costumes race to the first base.

The Atlanta Braves at Turner Field had a more technologically savvy approach. Their Sky Field attractions include LED-lit Coke bottles, picnic areas, and a large play area called the Taco Mac Family Zone, which features a tree house for climbing, a giant Tomahawk, as well as a slide. The stadium also has miniature baseball fields and an Xbox Kinect area where kids enjoy their own off-season camp.

The list goes on.

The takeaway message here is not just look at the few trees in a large forest. No one knows for sure where the Cubs will be next season. When the 5-year plan comes to a screeching halt, part of the Cubs’ success will be evaluated for their win-lose columns over several seasons. But a large part of that success should also be judged on how the organization has appealed to its fanbase–in particular, instilling the love of baseball to the kids who will become teenagers, and then become the very parents driving their  own kids to Cubs games years later.

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