Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Bakersfield Jam Play Small Ball

In many small- to mid-sized cities and towns, minor league sports are the main attraction. Major League Baseball probably has the oldest and best-known of the minor league systems - coming from a town of just over 100,000 people, I have gone to my share of AA baseball games. So several years ago when Erie got a National Basketball Association Development League (D-League)team named the Bayhawks (I'm not crazy about the name), I found myself watching and reading up about a league I never really knew.

For those of you who have never heard about the D-League, it is the NBA's only minor league system. Presently it consists of 16 teams across the country, with nine of those teams either directly owned by or having an exclusive affiliation with one NBA team. The reason I'm telling you all of this is that readings this week reminded me of a story I read a couple years ago that was about the D-League's Bakersfield Jam.

At the end of the 2008-2009 season the Jam were on the brink of folding because the club had trouble drawing consistently large crowds (as do many minor league franchises) for the 10,000-seat Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield. Along with the $250,000 in rent for the arena, the club had to pay upwards of another $250,000 in advertising, marketing, and staff time to try and sell tickets to fill the arena. Prompted by D-League president, Dan Reed, the Jam's ownership came up with a strategy to remedy their problem and avoid going under - have fewer seats.

With construction of a practice facility for the team underway, ownership decided to adjust the plans and use the facility for games as well. This smaller venue would not only allow the Jam to differentiate themselves from other minor league sports clubs in the Bakersfield area and other D-League teams, but to enact a sort of customer relationship strategy.

The result of using the practice facility (now known as the Jam Events Center) as a venue for the club's games has been a sort of "boutique" basketball. According to the Jam's website, the facility holds just 750 people, allowing "for personable business-to-business networking between [guests] and the unprecedented seating arrangement creates an intimate environment and one-of-a-kind fan experience." Needless to say the seats are close - either courtside seats and tables or one of the four baseline executive suites (this video really illustrates just how close the fans are during a game). Other amenities fans can enjoy on gameday include:
  • A bar area where a pregame dinner is served to all ticketholders,
  • A cigar lounge, and
  • Waitress and "concierge" service for all guests.
Additionally, ownership has positioned the arena as a place that "can also be used for corporate events and utilized as a luxurious venue for private events."

In the three seasons since moving to the Jam Events Center, the team has been able to rebound from nearly folding to seeing an operating profit. As the Blue Ocean reading suggests, much like Cirque du Soleil, the Jam have been able to successfully "reduce costs while also offering customers more value," and this seems to be key to their turnaround.

So what do you think? Is this a feasible strategy for other minor league clubs? Should this be something that premier sports and entertainment options begin to consider to combat fans opting to watch events at home on high-definition televisions?

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