The Boise Hawks began the summer with an attendance boost, topping 3,000 tickets sold for four of the first five games during the opening homestand.
Minor league baseball clubs typically draw well to start the season. The calendar deprived fans of baseball for nine months. And anticipation built at Memorial Stadium with a new ownership making cosmetic fixes to the ballpark, a new Major League affiliation with the Colorado Rockies and even a blimp designed to block the sun.
But the honeymoon has yet to wear off.
After Friday’s game saw 4,060 fans pour into Memorial Stadium, the Hawks are averaging 2,975 fans a night, putting them on pace to draw 113,050 fans this summer, the most since 2000 (133,715). Boise hit a low last season with 2,303 fans per game and 87,519 in total.
“The cool thing about this is we’ve had weather issues this year and we’re still seeing success,” Hawks president Todd Rahr said. “It’s either been hot or it’s been wet. I’m very excited about that. I think certainly this is going to be a trend coming in the future.”
The Boise Hawks drew between 100,000 and 110,000 ticket buyers every year between 2002 and 2010. Minor League attendance reflects tickets sold or given away in promotions, not fans in attendance.
But then the recession hit. And since drawing 105,671 in 2010, attendance slid 17.2 percent by the end of last season.
Rahr said the dropoff came from three main factors — a depressed economy, a reduced sales staff and the push for a new ballpark.
The Hawks’ former owners — Boise Baseball LLC, made up of one group in Houston and one in Seattle — cut back on staff at the ballpark. Instead of six full-time salespeople hocking season tickets, mini-plans, group packages, sponsorships and corporate events, the company cut back to three full-time salespeople and one part-timer.
“That’s not that big of a discrepancy, I guess,” Rahr said. “But when you’re talking about really three full-time salespeople, that’s half. That means half the businesses you’re going to be out talking to, half the amount of business that you’re going to write.
“We didn’t write half. We wrote maybe 70 percent. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t good enough.”
Boise’s new ownership, Agon Sports & Entertainment, has increased the Hawks’ full-time sales staff to eight since taking over.
STADIUM PUSH BACKFIRES
Rahr remembers the date he gave his first presentation to push for a new stadium: Aug. 30, 2009. He maintains the club needs a new stadium for its long-term viability. But with the previous owners unwilling to commit the cash needed for a stadium or to come up with a plan to fund one, all fans heard was a steady drum beat of a dumpy stadium.
“When you’re going to go after a new ballpark, you certainly have to prove the fact that the one you’ve got is substandard,” Rahr said. “So when you’re calling your facilities substandard, that gets into the brains of the public, which says, ‘Wait a second. We’ve got a substandard facility. Why am I buying tickets to it?’ ”
Agon Sports & Entertainment is still pushing for a new stadium, a mixed-use development along the lines it built in Fort Wayne, Ind., and is building in Augusta., Ga., with hotels, office and residential space anchored by a ballpark. But it also invested in Memorial Stadium in the meantime, renovating the party patio down the left-field line, adding new seats behind home plate and upgrading the netting between the field and the stands.
“It needs a lot of work. It does,” Rahr said. “But it’s an adequate stadium. There are a lot of stadiums in this country that are no different than what we’ve got here. But it needed a little TLC, which we weren’t giving it under the old ownership group.”
Agon Sports & Entertainment President Jeff Eiseman knows plenty can happen during a minor league season. And attendance slacks during August and September when it competes with Boise State for attention.
But with 18 home games remaining, including Saturday’s contest against Hillsboro, the Hawks have already shown significant progress.
The club sold approximately 650 season tickets last season. This season, it sold 912.
The club drew 3,000 fans 10 times last season and topped 4,000 twice in the past nine years. This season, it has already topped 3,000 10 times and 4,000 twice.
Add in an improving economy and Eiseman believes the Hawks’ best days remain ahead of them.
“We’re going to get our hot days. We’re going to get our long homestands,” Eiseman said. “But Rome wasn’t built in a day. We’re making progress and trending in the right direction.”
HOPS 3, HAWKS 2
|Hernandez, G, LF||4||0||0||0||0||1||.246|
|Herrera, C, SS||4||1||1||0||0||0||.276|
|Marte, H, C||4||0||0||0||0||0||.291|
|Jimenez, W, 1B||4||0||1||0||0||0||.292|
E—Cribbs; Jimenez, Follis. DP—Hillsboro 1, Boise 2. LOB—Hillsboro 11, Boise 6. 2B—Mitsui, Dezzi; Follis, Herrera, Padlo. SB—Cribbs; Derkes. CS—Anderson.
|Mejia W, 3-3||3||1||1||1||1||5||5.60|
|Simmons H, 1||0.2||0||0||0||1||0||5.40|
|Gann H, 3||1||2||1||1||0||1||1.06|
|Burr S, 2||1.1||1||0||0||1||0||1.46|
|Sawyer L, 2-2||5.1||7||3||3||2||3||3.57|
WP—Mejia, Thompson, Quinn. HBP—Mitsui (by Sawyer), Anderson (by Sawyer). T—2:54. A—4,060.