By Cullen McIntyre
The new owners of the Portland Sea Dogs are continuing the organization’s emphasis on a fun fan experience to ensure financial success.
Now part of Diamond Baseball Holdings, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, is making a continued effort into what’s happening off the field rather than on it.
“What’s outside the foul lines is in our control,” said Jim Heffley, vice president of financial and game operations of the Portland Sea Dogs. Heffley’s primary duties with the Sea Dogs involves managing the financial operations alongside Geoff Iacuessa, president and general manager of the Portland Sea Dogs.
“We can’t control what’s on the field, so we have to make sure that everyone is having a good time.”
Since 1994, the team has made its home in Portland, the largest city in the state of Maine with a population of 68,424. Being in a relatively small market, the new ownership is putting an emphasis on connecting with the city and state they reside in and focusing on familiar fan favorites.
“What works in Portland might not work in Oklahoma City,” said Heffley. “Diamond lets us know our markets and run our team with our markets.”
Some of the ways the Sea Dogs cater towards their market is their alternate jersey nights, where the team takes on an alternate identity such as the Maine Whoopie Pies, Maine Red Snappers, Maine Bean Suppahs, and the newest addition: the Maine Clambakes. Along with the alternate identity games, the team also holds postgame firework nights, bobblehead nights and other theme nights to bring fans to the ballpark.
“Most of our fans are die hard Red Sox fans, but a lot of them are just entertainment fans,” said Jesse Scaligon, director of ticketing operations for the Portland Sea Dogs. “They come out here because it’s affordable for a family of four and maybe they come to Star Wars night or whoopie pie night.”
Scaligon manages the ticket sales for the team along with merchandise, but putting fans in seats is the most important part of the job.
“It’s the lifeblood,” he said. “Without having strong ticket sales your merchandise numbers, concessions numbers and sponsorship numbers aren’t good.”
With 69 home games in a regular season, the team is dependent on filling up the 7,368 seats at Hadlock Field to bring revenue into the organization. Individual single game tickets range from $11 to $35, so making sure the experience makes a fan want to return is important for the team.
“We’re just keeping it family friendly and entertaining,” said Scaligon. “It’s huge for us and helps us because we focus so hard on promotional sales and marketing to theme nights.”
What makes a team successful is a dedicated base of season ticket holders. Scaligon and his team do their research by surveying people who purchased multi-game tickets throughout the season to make them into season ticket holders.
“That’s our big strategy on spending our time in August, September and October by converting those folks from multi-game buyers to full season ticket holders,” he said.
Season ticket holders make up the cost for the challenging weather and the fact that schools are still in session during the first two months of the season.
“We’re able to convert that into stronger concessions, merchandise, sponsorship sales, better attendance and the overall visual of having more people there,” said Scaligon.
Sponsorships are another major factor in revenue for a minor league baseball team like the Portland Sea Dogs. Most of the promotional nights that the team puts on are sponsored by a local organization or company.
“Without sponsorships, we wouldn’t have a team,” said Dennis Meehan, assistant general manager and sales. “If we lived on just tickets and food we would not make enough money to survive.”
Sponsorships are common in sports, but at the minor league level there are sponsorship banners all over the outfield wall of Hadlock Field, in nearly every in-game promotion and with most of the vendors at the ballpark.
“A lot of our sponsors are also vendors that we use in the ballpark in some way,” he said.
The team offers many options for local companies to be involved, whether they have a billboard in the outfield or bring clients to a game in one of the skyboxes, Meehan and his team work with companies on whatever fits best for them.
“You can use us for hospitality, you can use us for marketing, you can use us for employee engagement and retention, there’s so many different ways to come to a game,” he said.
The benefit for Meehan is that the Sea Dogs operate in a mature market as the team has been invested into the Portland community for decades. Most of the community already knows that the team is established and successful in bringing fans into the ballpark, something that the organization leverages successfully.
“We’ve been around for 30 years so most people know who we are, most people have been to a game, and most people like us,” he said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out do we fit into your business model for the other things that you do or convincing you that you need to do those things.”
Some of the local sponsorships include Funtown Splashtown, Giffords, Oakhurst Dairy and Portland Website Co. The team also has local vendors at the park that offer unique food items, such as Sweet & Boozy, an ice cream vendor that offers alcoholic ice cream options.
Oakhurst Dairy Co. is one of the sponsors of an in-game promotion, as their mascot dances on the video board between an inning doing the “Oakie Shake.”
Getting involved with the fan experience makes a lasting impression for the fans.
“We’re an entertainment venue that features a baseball game in the background 69 times a year,” said Meehan.
The start of that entertainment begins when fans enter the ballpark, greeted by staff members who may have sold them the ticket but also are an in-game host.
“I don’t say gates open, I say curtains up,” said Madison Spencer, account executive of ticket sales with the Portland Sea Dogs. “Customer service is the number one thing in baseball so the first thing they should see when they come into the ballpark is a smiling face.”
Spencer works in the front office selling tickets, but also is one of the in-game hosts putting on promotions throughout every game. She puts an emphasis on making the experience great for the fan from the ticket sale.
“I get to be the start of the experience and get them here,” said Spencer. “The most rewarding thing is just seeing the full process through.”
The process doesn’t end at the ticket sale, as she has to communicate with the fans after to make sure the fan gets what they need and they’re happy before heading to the ballpark.
“When people tell me they had fun it’s not about me, but I’m happy I could help them with that experience,” she said.