S.I. Yanks Flop Leads To Yanks Tix

Despite their success on the field, the Staten Island Yankees, facing declining ticket sales, hired Mandalay Entertainment earlier this month to run their behind-the-scenes operations and will unveil a unique season ticket package to lure fans.

The S.I. Yankees, a minor league affiliate of the New York Yankees and winners of four New York-Penn League championships in their seven years of existence, have seen annual attendance dwindle each year from a franchise-high 188,127 in 2001, their first year at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, and then plummet from 155,531 in 2005 to 115,395 this past season.

A ballpark that was trumpeted by city officials and was expected to be a major attraction to a rejuvenated St. George neighborhood, has thus far been a huge disappointment. According to Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr., the organization is over half a million dollars in debt.

In an audit issued in April, Thompson asserted that the Staten Island Yankees had failed to pay $570,202 in electricity, water and sewer costs dating back to 2003. The organization’s rebuttal was that it was not required to pay if total attendance dipped below 125,001 persons, as it has.

With an average attendance figure of 3,118 last summer, the 7,500-seat waterfront stadium had just 41 percent capacity each night. Of the 176 minor league teams throughout the country, the franchise ranked 85th in fan turnout.

A July 20 noon game which featured Yankees reliever Octavio Dotel, pitching for the Single-A club to rehab his injured shoulder, drew only 4,560 fans, many of whom were children from summer camps who were given free tickets.

A July 27 game against the Batavia Muckdogs drew only 3,737 people, although it was attended by Yankees star Chien-Ming Wang, who made his first appearance there since he was promoted, and featured a giveaway of a bobble head doll in his likeness.

Unlike Major League teams, who get the bulk of their income from lucrative television and merchandise deals, minor league franchises rely more heavily on fan attendance. On average, close to 80 percent of a club’s revenue is generated from ticket sales and the items sold at concessions stands.

Because the athletes are sometimes unknown to the casual fan, the ballpark sideshows are often the main attraction. The Baby Bombers’ sushi toss, kids vs. mascots race around the bases, between-innings water balloon fights and seventh inning quesadilla giveaways haven’t been alluring enough, though.

Compared to the attendance figures of their New York nemesis, the Brooklyn Cyclones, the Yankees’ numbers seem paltry. The Cyclones, the Mets Single-A affiliate, drew an average of 7,819 people to Keyspan Ballpark. Ironically, Staten Island ’s most attended home game (6,552 people) was against the Cyclones in the season-opening series.

Both stadiums, built with city funding, cost a total of $81 million to construct and opened in 2001.

Keyspan’s capacity was initially 6,500, but ticket demands were so great that the organization added 1,000 seats in a right field bleacher pavilion three weeks after its opening and now sells discounted tickets for standing room. While the majority of the money was allocated to RCB’s construction, Keyspan is larger (two seating decks and five stories compared to one seating level and three floors).

Their stadium had the best attendance of any NY-Penn League team and was 15th overall in the nation, while their in-game promotion ploys aren’t unlike those used in Staten Island. Neither are their ticket or concession prices. Both venues sell field level tickets for between $8 and $11.

The locations of the parks do differ, however. Keyspan was built near Coney Island amusement park, near the beach, and is surrounded by restaurants and stores. RCB, though it’s closer to Manhattan and is just a 5-minute walk from the Staten Island Ferry, is located in a mostly residential area, surrounded by apartment buildings.

“The location of Keyspan plays a large part in attracting a crowd, definitely,” said Margo Berman, a marketing consultant with Sales Training Incorporated. “Obviously when you have other attractions around, it’s going to bring people to the area and that increases your chances.”

The Yankees ballpark has fallen far short of the lofty expectations that had been placed on it at the outset.

“This is an exciting day in the history of this great borough,” then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said on June 8, 2000, during the construction period. “The [ballpark] will be an important component in an overall economic redevelopment plan that will bring enhanced transportation services, shopping, entertainment and waterfront dining opportunities to Staten Island residents and the 60,000 daily commuters and one million tourists who ride the Staten Island Ferry each year.”

The area, however, has not seen the boom that the mayor and other city officials had predicted. The neighborhood surrounding the park is mostly residential and the shopping center adjacent to the stadium – the only one in the area – is a cluster of small food joints and a launderette bunched together.

The operating expenses – stadium maintenance, employees and players salary, etc. – costs the New York Yankees over $16 million annually and the city has yet to recoup on its investment. The government was expected to collect over $2.5 million in yearly taxes and fees from them, but because the ballpark has flopped financially, the organization has been unable to pay.

The Yankees, in need of a financial remedy, sought out Mandalay, a Hollywood-based company more known for its film production, and hired them to run their marketing and promotion department.

Mandalay first entered the sports realm in 1996 when it formed Mandalay Sports Entertainment and took control of three minor league franchises – the Dayton Dragons, Las Vegas 51s and the Frisco RoughRiders.

Mandalay’s plan, which is already in the works, is to piggyback the parent club’s popularity. They will present a ticket package that will allow Staten Island season ticket holders to get early access to purchase priority seating for New York Yankees regular season and playoff games up to the American League Championship Series.

“It’s without question the best package ever offered in professional sports,” said Kevin Mortesen, Mandalay Baseball’s spokesman.

Mortesen also pointed to the success Mandalay has had with the Dayton Dragons. The Ohio Single-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, he said, has sold out all of its home games since Mandalay took over its operations in 2001.

“The Yankees are the epitome of sports success,” he added. “They’re the biggest brand in the industry and we’re arguably the best operator. The [stadium] setting is spectacular and it has all the bells and whistles. You combine that with the package we’re going to offer and [we] have every reason to be confident that it will be a good season.”

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4 comments so far

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