SBJ/December 20 - 26, 1999/No Topic Name

Nothing minor about these prospects

After participating as a keynote speaker at last week's winter baseball meetings in Anaheim, it became evident to me that Minor League Baseball, more than ever before, controls its own destiny. And, unlike most sports, this is actually good news.

Because it continues to successfully differentiate itself from the rest of sports and manages the fan experience as well as any, Minor League Baseball's future remains bright.

This is the case for a number of reasons, not the least of which are its affordability, commitment to customer service and connection to America's edge cities. But beyond these factors, all of which remain well within the control of Minor League Baseball, the sport is favorably positioned to take advantage of several industry developments that, if managed properly, will propel the sport to levels of success many once believed unattainable.

For example, while the corporatization of sports has gathered momentum over the last decade, Minor League Baseball has not allowed this "intrusion" to tarnish the ballpark experience its fans have come to enjoy and rely upon. Fans of the minors find the sport a refreshing alternative and welcome the fact that it delivers less corruption, greed and controversy than most professional sports.

Further, not only has Minor League Baseball refused to allow the everyday fan to be priced out of the ballpark, it has actually gone out of its way to protect its relationship with families. The sport allows a family of four to take in a ball game for about one-fourth the cost of attending NBA, NHL or NFL games, thus enabling families to pass the minor league experience along from generation to generation.

In addition to managing the corporatization of its product, Minor League Baseball is poised to take advantage of the trends in sports marketing. Since corporations have realized the need to market on a local level, they have propelled the localization of sports marketing activities. Whether through community-based, grassroots, cause-oriented or ethnic marketing, the minor leagues are favorably positioned to take advantage of this rapidly emerging trend. Indeed, no sport is more ideally suited, based on the location of its franchises, their commitment to the community and the fan base they attract, to deliver the local audiences advertisers and sponsors covet.

The ability to create and implement comprehensive Internet strategies represents another significant opportunity for the sport to increase its exposure, fan base and eventually its revenue. The Internet not only allows minor league teams and leagues the ability to reinforce their commitment to customer service with existing fans, but it also enables them to build relationships with new ones, including those beyond their local community.

Significantly, a successful Internet strategy will enable the minors to take full advantage of database marketing, ultimately resulting in an increase in awareness stemming from revenue-producing activities such as e-commerce. A critical component of Minor League Baseball's Internet strategy, a compelling e-commerce plan will enable the sport to increase its already impressive levels of merchandise sales.

The developments highlighted above are merely a sampling of those that will ensure the continued expansion of Minor League Baseball. And, as the sport continues to deliver great value in an entertainment experience by differentiating itself and providing stellar customer service, it will thrive.

The ultimate validation of this expansion will be witnessed in the increase in cash flow and franchise values, the ultimate goals for most minor league teams.

David M. Carter (davidc@bus.usc.edu) is a principal in The Sports Business Group, a Los Angeles consulting firm specializing in strategic marketing.

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