SBJ/June 15 - 21, 1998/No Topic Name

Minor league dreams at a minor league price

With surveys pointing to affordability as a significant reason that minor league baseball has outpaced its major league parent in popularity in recent years, the Southern League has taken that core strength into the realm of fantasy — and says it's paying off.

The Southern League is operating a minor league fantasy camp — a three-day weekend excursion meant to sell fans a taste of what it's like to play in the minors — that offers a scaled-down version of a big league fantasy week, delivering it at a scaled-down price.

This year's camp, scheduled for Aug. 21-23 in Mobile, Ala., includes meals and lodging and carries a price of $649. Big league fantasy camps typically run at least five days and cost upward of $3,000.

"It's a camp that runs for a little bit shorter period of time and at a significantly reduced price," said Arnie Fielkow, president of the Southern League. "It's a niche we saw that wasn't being filled. It's profitable, and it fits in nicely with our league in terms of exposure and image."

Fielkow would not discuss a specific profit margin other than to say that it was "several" thousand dollars, with significant variation from year to year, depending upon expense. This is the fourth season the camp has been offered. Typically, 30 campers attend the session.

"We're able to deliver at a lower price [than most camps] because we're typically not paying the large fees to a few hall of famers who appear and play for a day," said Steve Rosenberg, the Southern League's director of special events. "It's affordable to the masses. The major league camps are limited mostly to the affluent."

The experience of the Southern League's camp differs dramatically from a major league camp.

You won't find hall of famers making appearances. Instead, the instructors tend to be mid-level players, some of whom have moved into coaching since they retired. Mark Davis and Tim Stoddard have appeared. This year in Mobile, the camp will feature the outfield from the '69 Mets: Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and Ron Swoboda.

Jones and Agee are from Mobile. Swoboda lives nearby in New Orleans.

The league markets its camps primarily through men's amateur baseball leagues, which cater to weekend warriors nationwide. It touts as value points both the minor league experience — traveling on buses and playing in minor league ballparks — and instruction from former big leaguers.

Campers also come from Southern League cities, where the camps are promoted through the local club.

Fielkow said the league has used the camp as an aid in business-to-business marketing, offering spots to sponsors who then pass them along as perks to executives or clients.

"The marketing appeal of our camp is different from most," Fielkow said. "People come to our camp to play in the stadiums and to feel like they're really in the minors. They're riding the buses, listening to war stories. They're not necessarily here to schmooze with some ex-major leaguers."

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