Non-sports events on the field
Most of those who follow baseball have heard the story of the 1979 Chicago White Sox Disco Demolition Night. The fans flooded onto the field, stopping the game. After that, Mike Veeck, then the assistant business manager and director of marketing who thought up the promotion, was fired by a consensus vote of the entire board—including his dad, Bill.
Now part of an investment group (the Goldklang Group), Veeck oversees the marketing and promotion of the six group-affiliated, minor league clubs: the Charleston RiverDogs, Ft. Myers Miracle, Hudson Valley Renegades, Brockton Rox, Sioux Falls Canaries, and the St. Paul Saints. These teams routinely stage promotions that help them set attendance records.
When teamwork works
Mike Williams, head groundskeeper for the Charleston RiverDogs, manages field operations for Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park (nicknamed “The Joe”). The season starts in mid-January with college play as the home field for the Citadel (The Military College of South Carolina) baseball program. Their home games and the RiverDogs home games overlap from March to Memorial Day. The RiverDogs season runs through August, and some years into early September, with promotions and special events being a big part of the summer schedule.
Williams says, “Nothing is done here that will risk the integrity of the field because we’re playing baseball so much of the year. Mike Veeck and the entire staff are great to work with, and we don’t do things that don’t make sense. A great amount of planning and implementation goes into each special event and promotion held here. General Manager Dave Echols is very thorough and gives me the latitude to prevent any damage to the field. It’s a very special atmosphere. No one has their own agenda; everyone works together as a team.”
In the reality of today’s world, stadiums must produce a revenue stream to keep operating. Savvy sports field managers recognize the fact that their stadium is an entertainment venue, as well as a ballpark.
Williams says, “I’ve never heard Mike or Dave or anyone else on our management team comment that it’s only grass, because, with them, it’s not just grass, it’s a part of the overall experience. When we have 160 games, along with all the scrimmages, batting practices, camps, corporate parties with on-field activities and a major concert, there’s always something on the field. A lot of thought is put into that and coordinating it with my maintenance plan. With some events, the scheduling is set in stone. With others, we have some flexibility during the planning period to set up that scheduling. We work together to make it happen, sometimes adjusting the event timing; sometimes adjusting the maintenance plan. Never, in the three years I’ve been here, has any event been planned without asking me if I think we can do it.”
The stadium hosts many charity events as well, but most of them are on the concourse rather than the field. These events generate positive public relations for the stadium and the team, and strengthen their ties with the community.
The RiverDogs’ biggest fundraiser is “Kindness Beats Blindness,” a combination of silent and live auctions. All of the proceeds go to the Medical University of South Carolina’s Storm Eye Institute, which is waging a fight against the loss of sight, including retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes blindness and has affected Mike’s daughter.
Williams is in the know when ideas are discussed during promotional meetings. He says, “We have the steady crowd of those who enjoy minor league baseball. What Mike comes up with reaches out for that marginal fan. Once we put an idea on the promotional calendar, everyone from our field crew to the marketing department comes up with the things it will take to make it work.”
Being a part of the planning process gives Williams and his crew time to work ahead to prevent excessive field damage. He says, “We had a Dave Matthews concert set for July 4, and worked far in advance to prepare for it. The field was in great shape during the eight-day home stand leading up to it. We applied a mix of Heritage, Roots KCS, Hydra-Hume Plus, Roots Concentrate, Superthrive for vitamins and Pentathlon for algae control on the morning of June 29. As soon as the last game of that home stand ended on July 1, the concert setup crew moved in. We did all the necessary protection prior to and during that setup.
“The weather cooperated. It was hot, but not excessive, for the concert. All we saw during the teardown was some minor discoloration. As soon as the last pillar was removed, we deep-tine aerified to open up the soil and irrigated to flush the field. On Saturday and Sunday, we did the cleanup and field prep work. Part of that was another spray application on July 6, adding Roots 123 for a light touch of nitrogen, with the rest of the combination the same as the earlier spraying, minus the Heritage and Pentathlon. On Monday, July 7, we were ready for play with no indication a concert had taken place. The field held up very well during that second eight-day home stand. When it ended, we were able to switch back to our regular maintenance program.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t aggravations involved during all the hours it takes to work special events into already full schedules. “That’s just a part of what we do in sports field management, helping to draw in the revenue we need to keep the operation going,” says Williams. “It’s much easier to get through the challenges when you’re working in partnership with your general manager and team ownership. It’s really great to be respected as an important part of the management team.”
The author is a contributing editor for SportsField Management. To contact her, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.