Home team’s $4 gas pitch

by Jim Masilak

Published in the Commercial Appeal, June 11, 2008

With fuel prices soaring, so-called “staycations” promise to be all the rage among the cost-conscious this summer.

Whether by design, good fortune or a combination of both, the Memphis Redbirds’ 2008 advertising

campaign seems to have struck a chord with those seeking entertainment options closer to home.

The Triple-A ball club says it has seen an increase in ticket usage and walkup sales in particular during the first two months of the Pacific Coast

League season. Redbirds president of baseball operations and general manager Dave Chase thinks that’s a direct result of marketing home games at AutoZone Park as “nineinning vacations.”

“I think the nine-inning vacation has really been well received,” Chase said. “We’re staring at $4 gasoline. People want to stay close to home, and I think we’re becoming a viable alternative for those who want to do that. We’re really encouraged.”

While Chase says the Redbirds are “still behind a little” in overall ticket sales, ticket usage is said to be up 5 percent from a year ago.

Even more promising for the St. Louis Cardinals’ top minor-league affiliate, walkup sales are up about 15 percent from 2007. As a result, he said, in-game revenues are on the rise.

“We’ve really seen an increase in ticket usage, which has been our goal for a long time,” Chase said. “And we’ve seen some incredible numbers on walkups — our best in years. The trends are positive.”

But challenges remain.

Although the Redbirds ranked third in the PCL and sixth in all of minor-league baseball as of Monday, with an average of 8,095 tickets sold through 29 home dates, overall ticket sales are still on pace to fall for a seventh straight year.

“The fact that (AutoZone Park) is as beautiful as it is isn’t news anymore,” said Trace Hallowell, creative director and managing partner at Tactical Magic, a local advertising firm specializing in brand identity. “The novelty had worn off to some extent.”

More than a decade ago, Hallowell designed the “Nostalgia Man” icon that served as the Redbirds’ primary logo until last season. Hallowell and his team built on a pre-existing Redbirds marketing theme in devising the “nine-inning vacation.”

Anticipating that families might be inclined to stay closer to home this summer rather than pour their paychecks into their gas tanks, Tactical Magic wanted to position the Redbirds as an attractive alternative for entertainment seekers.

“When you look at where gas prices are going and the economic challenges people are facing, we knew they would be looking for entertainment closer to home,” Hallowell said. “While (the market trends) looked foreboding and detrimental, we looked at it as an opportunity to enhance business and grow business instead of suffer because of market forces.

“It’s an inexpensive vacation. Instead of an inconvenient trip Downtown, it’s actually a convenient, close destination.”

Jason Potter, the Redbirds’ director of marketing, is delighted with the results thus far. The number of walkup sales and single-game ticket purchases, he said, “lends a certain credence to what we decided to go into the market with.”

“We’re getting people to think of the Redbirds and AutoZone Park in a way they may not have in the past,” Potter added. “People are viewing the Redbirds and AutoZone Park as a getaway and an experience to remember with the family as opposed to just a place to watch a ball game.”

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