Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Sell-Out For Every Game = A Scholarship For Every Player

RT Staff Note: I have written about the strength of West Coast Baseball on this blog and on Rivals College Baseball message boards for over a year now. I am a huge supporter of Big West Baseball in particular. The following letter is an open letter of sorts to vent the frustration from my readers and fans on the lack of support for what is the one of the greatest baseball conferences in America. This also applies to the PAC 10, WCC, WAC, and Mountain West conferences. All overachive on the field but grossly underachieve at the turnstiles...with the exception of Fresno State in the WAC and San Diego State in the MWC. Here's the letter...

I don’t have to tell you how important the Big West conference is to college baseball. Their talent pool is amongst the best in the collegiate ranks. The Big West baseball players in the pros are a combination of All-Stars and future Hall Of Famers.

This year and most other years, the Big West Conference is touted as one of the premier baseball conferences in the country. It consistently is ranked with conferences like the SEC, Big 12, ACC and PAC 10. With the PAC 10 down this year, the Big West is the top conference in the West with Irvine, Fullerton, Cal Poly and Riverside leading the pack.

Unfortunately, the local fans of these clubs don’t seem to know about the accolades of the conference. If they did, then it would seem that the fan base would be a bit more enthusiastic about the quality of baseball being played in their backyard. And, may I add, that it’s being played at such a high level and low cost to the fan…you’d think that during these tough economic times, real baseball fans would gladly substitute a $25+ per person pro experience for an under $7 per person college game.

Fullerton is the lone exception. They know how to market themselves, create fan excitement and interaction. They choreograph their games like a minor league club with between inning fan games, top notch announcers, a great food court and adrenalin induced music. Their Friday night games are usually close to a sell-out and full of crazy, yet knowledgeable fans, decrying the antics of the opposing teams, while keeping the fans amused and giving their club that home field advantage. That’s part of their allure for the potential recruit. No wonder they have such a rich and storied program.

On the other hand, you’d never know that UC Irvine is the Number One Ranked team in the land. (Big West headquarters) They struggle to get 1,200 fans to a game. Granted…it’s a young program with a fraction of the history of its Orange County counterparts, but, THEY ARE NUMBER ONE!!!

Who is the Sports Information Director at this school? Why aren’t there more promotional ideas being generated to draw more fans to the Anteaters games? I have heard all of the excuses…it’s a commuter school…it’s a tough academic school that cherishes grades over extra-curricular activities. Nationwide… Vanderbilt and Rice are tough academic schools as well, that have great baseball, but they get 5,000+ to their games. What’s their secret? Good marketing and top notch stadiums and stadium experiences.

Cal Poly is another school that should be averaging 3,000 or more a night. This top 15 team is a lock for the regionals and is in a college town. There is not a pro team within a 4 hour drive of SLO. This is their team and they are not supporting it. Towns of this size in the SEC Conference are drawing 6,000 or more to each and every game. It’s embarrassing for a club of this caliber in this beautiful climate to draw as few fans as it does.

Cal Poly isn’t the only college town where baseball seems to be the stepchild of the athletic department. UC Davis is also miles away from a premier sports team and while they have an above average stadium and a good facility, they can’t draw a hundred fans. Granted, they don’t have a good team this year, but they are bringing in teams that should draw well for the baseball fan. Just recently an underachieving Santa Clara team hosted San Diego State and the great Steven Strasburg. Santa Clara did a great job of promoting that game and despite a wet night, the game was a sell-out. That’s how you promote your games. The town of Davis is a very accessible community as is the baseball stadium. There’s no excuse for the local fans not to follow this team. The athletic department is not doing its job.

Another very disappointing program is UC Santa Barbara. Located in one of the nation’s most beautiful settings for a college campus, this school should be a haven for baseball talent. Instead, they have the league’s worst stadium and facilities. As a result, they draw less fans than the local Santa Barbara Area high school teams. There are no pro teams within a two hour drive of Santa Barbara to distract the locals from attending their college team. These guys just don’t know how to market the game. It’s like having a top of the line Mercedes and only driving it on small dusty dirt roads rather than the adjacent scenic freeway. It’s very sad, because this team has the greatest recruiting tool in the country…it’s location on the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Tigers have one of the nicest stadiums in the conference next to Fullerton and they too are located in a college town of sorts. The economy in Stockton is a big obstacle to overcome and we can forgive the fans a bit for their lack of support. The fact that they bring in 600+ fans a game is encouraging, but even that is low when you consider how fan friendly and low cost the games are. Like Davis, they too are not a very good team, but good teams are still playing in Stockton.

Long Beach State could also do better. They have the tradition, a good stadium and create some in game excitement… But, they average only 1,500 a game. When you look at their storied background and the blue chip players that have been in their program, they should be averaging over 3,000.

Northridge and Riverside are relative newcomers to the conference, but still folks.,..this is great baseball. The stadiums should be full and the games a must see event.

One should look no further than what the SEC is doing to attract record crowds year in and year out. Athletic directors from every conference in the West Coast should take an information gathering tour of those schools to find out what they are doing right. My take is that they all have top notch stadiums with lights, (If a team will install the lights...they will come...this should be mandatory for all West Coast schools) good food and great local media support. They get their students involved and each game is a new experience. Like basketball, many of these schools have rowdy student sections that keep the fans amused and in the game. It’s brutal to be an opposing team sometimes…but these fans can have you laughing out loud…it’s very entertaining to say the least.

The games announcers, both in the radio booth and on the P.A. system, rival that of any pro club and the fan interaction games in between innings are similar to what you’d find in many minor league parks…This involves mostly the younger crowd, but it’s fun, and keeps many of these youngsters coming back with their families on a regular basis. The music in between innings and before the game is current, lively and a great mood enhancer. I find many of these SEC games to be well choreographed events and it shows game in and game out at the turnstiles.

Conversely, a trip to a Big West game…Fullerton excluded, is a lesson in complacency. The stadiums are just a place to play baseball…which is fine if you are a baseball purist…but reality is…purists are a dying breed. Today’s game needs more…today’s fan expects more…They need solid information that gives them a reason to attend…and they need that information to be given to them on their platforms…Facebook, Twitter, My Space, You Tube, and the myriad of mobile device apps available to them. I mean come on…this is California, we invented those methods of communication…why isn’t the collegiate version of the national past time using them to create excitement and a great fan base?

It’s time for the Big West to step up Big Time. The conference is squandering a huge opportunity to make baseball a top revenue producing sport. If the SEC, Big 12, and ACC can do can America's best baseball conference. With ESPN, CBS Sports, Comcast and Fox investing more time and money into college baseball, the timing to expand is now. The upside could be huge and the ensuing revenue boost could help make baseball a fully funded sport…a topic we have written about over a dozen times. I could go on for about ten more pages...but let's start here with this letter...Thoughts?

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