The Lakewood BlueClaws are entering their 12th season as a Single A minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. Playing their home games at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, the BlueClaws are three-time South Atlantic League champions.
Geoff Brown has been the only general manager in team history. Now in his 18th year in baseball, Geoff spent three years with the Norwich Navigators and three years with the Trenton Thunder. In addition to his duties at the ballpark, Geoff is on the board of directors for several local community organizations.
Question: You’ve been with the BlueClaws since they started play in 2001 and the team has been hugely successful since day one. What do you do to keep the experience of going to a BlueClaws game fresh for fans?
We try to do something every offseason so when people walk into the ballpark, there’s something new for them. One year, we expanded the food court. One year, we tripled the size of the playground. We added the Kimball Medical Center Champions Club. The ownership and the town have done a great job putting money back into the ballpark so every year, there’s new stuff for fans to enjoy.
We also add different promotions every single year. There are some that work great and we’ve done them for 11 straight years. There are some that last for a couple years that just kind of fall off, and we add something different. There’s absolutely no shortage of ideas. The nice thing is that we can have some fun trying new things to see what fans like the most.
Question: Just as important as the fans who come to the games are the businesses that sponsor events and promotions, or advertise at the ballpark. How does the BlueClaws organization build relationships with the local business community?
Well, we’re part of that local business community. We’re a member of about 20 chambers of commerce and our staff is on the boards of 22 non-profit organizations, so we’re out in the community on the business side. Buster the mascot and our staff are always doing appearances, St. Patrick’s Day parades, charity walks and 5K runs, school fundraisers, and other events.
We try to be a big part of the community and stay involved year round. Sometimes people wonder why we’re at a festival during the first week of September right after our season ended. Well, we’re a part of the community and this is a big deal to the community, so we want to support it.
We’ve also shown a value to businesses that are holding company outings or picnics at the ballpark. Whether they’re bringing employees or entertaining their customers, they’re seeing a return on that investment – and it’s a turnkey investment.
We take care of the entertainment, food and beverage, and cleanup. It’s a great value not only from a price standpoint, but from an experience and entertainment standpoint, we have a pretty good story to tell to businesses who want to come out and support their employees or clients.
Question: When the Blueclaws began play 11 years ago, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. There was no iPhone or iPad. How have you integrated new platforms and technology to stay connected with fans and sponsors?
When I first started in minor league baseball with the Trenton Thunder in 1994, all I did was label envelopes and send out pocket schedules – mailing after mailing. Obviously, in those 18 years, things have changed. People have much easier access to more BlueClaws information than when we started in 2001. They go to our website for schedules, promotions, game times and news about the players.
If they’re not going to the website, they’re going to the apps. We’ve got an iPhone app, a Droid app, podcasts, a blog three times a week, and weekly email newsletters year round. Facebook and Twitter are updated daily. It’s just a matter of getting the information in as many different places as possible.
However, we still drop off packs of schedules at 500 or more local businesses. The amount of people who say they got pocket schedules from Quik Check, Wawa or someplace else – from old school, grass roots marketing – is still number one when we do our surveys.
The number of people who say they got it from the Asbury Park Press is number two. We’ve absolutely embraced social media and we’re probably just scratching the surface of what we can do, but the grass roots stuff like pocket schedule distribution and the unbelievably good relationship we have with the Asbury Park Press is very important for us.
Question: As popular as the BlueClaws are, there are challenges that come with running a Single A minor league baseball team. What are the biggest challenges and what can you do to overcome them?
It’s a great story to be able to say we’re affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies. We have been for 11 years and hope to be forever. We’re in their market, and we’re growing Phillies fans out here, no question about it.
From 2001 to 2011, the amount of Phillies gear seen at the ballpark has grown dramatically. Obviously, the Phillies are a top level major league team and recent world champion that has been in the playoffs five straight years, and their success is a big part of that.
It’s also a pretty good story to be able to say that Ryan Howard played for us for an entire season, Cole Hamels spent most of one season here, Carlos Ruiz and others – these guys are big time players for the Phillies. There are also guys on other major league teams – Gavin Floyd on the White Sox, Michael Bourn on the Braves.
The challenge of being at low A is that when a player like Ryan Howard plays for us and he’s popular, he kind of disappears for a couple years while he’s at Double A and Triple A before he resurfaces in the majors.
We keep our history alive by telling people who played for us, and it’s helpful to have and maintain those connections. When Ryan Howard came back for a rehab appearance, it was the second highest attendance we’ve ever had. And quite frankly, every guy who plays for us and then comes back to rehab has a lot of fun with the players and the fans, even though it’s a short-term thing. They like coming back and seeing familiar faces.
Question: What do fans have to look forward to this season, from the team itself to promotions throughout the season?
From a team standpoint, the most exciting and notable name is our manager, Mickey Morandini, who played for the Phillies for nine years and was on the World Series team in 1993. He’s the most established major league player we’ve ever had as our manager. I’ve talked to him and met with him and he couldn’t be a nicer guy, so he’ll be great with the fans.
As for the players, there’s not a major name that will jump off the page unless you’re a big baseball junkie. The Phillies do a great job of drafting, so we always have players that come out of nowhere and emerge over the course of the season.
From a promotional standpoint, we’ve always had a lot of success bringing in former players and other celebrities. Doc Gooden and Jim Kaat are coming in to sign autographs. We’re bringing in a professional wrestler, Bret “Hitman” Hart. The wrestlers go over big every year and they’re always great with fans. We’re bringing in Mark Ballas, one of the dancers from Dancing With the Stars. Those are big draws that attract very different demographics – wrestlers vs. dancers – so you’ll definitely see different crowds on those nights.
We’re also continuing kids characters and “kids eat free” every Sunday. As a member of the kids club, the kids walk in for free, we feed them for free, and mom and dad get to have an inexpensive, enjoyable afternoon at the ballpark on Sunday. That’s one promotion that’s on the top of the list for us and our fans.
Check out the BlueClaws website for tickets, promotions and special events at the ballpark. What’s the best, funniest, craziest or most creative sports-related promotion or marketing campaign that you’ve ever seen?