College baseball isn't typically seen as a revenue-producing sport, especially when a team is only a year old. But at the University of Oregon, a multi-pronged approach is challenging that way of thinking.
Joe Giansante, Senior Associate Athletic Director for External Communication, says the revenue stream for Oregon baseball starts with its new facility, PK Park. Built in two phases, the field was completed in time for the Ducks' 2009 season--its first since 1981. And as the squad takes the field for its second campaign this spring, a multi-level concourse and permanent covered seating have replaced the temporary bleachers that sat behind the backstop last year.
"The first thing any college baseball program needs in order to make money is a proper ballpark," Giansante says. "As we looked at places that have revenue success, the common element we saw was a concourse with visibility to the field. The University of Arkansas and Louisiana State University both have one, as do most new minor league ballparks.
"Our concourse will essentially operate like a mall while the game is going on," he continues. "There's a lot of commerce that can take place on a concourse. A fan might walk by a popcorn stand, cotton candy stand, memorabilia booth, and our fixed concessions area, all on their way to the restroom. This will push our numbers through the roof because no one will leave the park to buy food and memorabilia."
The concourse also gives the Ducks another chance to sell tickets. The Oregon ticket office plans to set up kiosks staffed with salespeople who will offer season ticket packages, future single-game tickets, and special group rate packages. During its inaugural season, the Ducks averaged 2,399 fans per game, second best in the Pacific-10 Conference and 23rd in the NCAA.
Another theme Oregon observed while studying different parks is the importance of suites. PK Park contains eight suites that are sold out for this season and will generate about $200,000 in revenue each year. A deal sweetener for buyers is the ability to use their suite during football season, as PK Park sits next to Oregon's football stadium.
The suites are one of two areas where Oregon will sell beer. The other is located along the right field line in a closed-off section called Fowl Territory. "A lot of colleges worry about selling alcohol in their baseball facilities, but most of them already sell it in their football stadium suites," Giansante says. "Why not expand that revenue producer in a very controlled environment? The 30 to 50 year-old male demographic has money, and we want them in our ballpark buying a beer and a hot dog. There is no question that alcohol sales are a component to us making money."
The Ducks are also looking to minor league baseball for revenue producing ideas--in two ways. One is through its relationship with the Eugene Emeralds, a short-season Class A team that will pay the university $200,000 for three months' use of the park each year. The second is by borrowing some of the quirky in-game promotions minor league teams employ.
"We're really trying to be creative in how we present games so that people have fun and will want to come back," Giansante says. "We have theme nights, for example. We're going to do an Elvis night again this year where we give all fans free mutton chop sideburns, play Elvis music, roll back the prices on some food, and have an Elvis impersonator contest. Last year we gave the winner plane tickets for two leaving that night for Las Vegas.
"We're also trying to tap into what people get excited about around here," he continues. "Oregon football is extremely popular, so this year we're having an Oregon football day where people who come to the park get to interact with the team on the concourse, get their autographs, and hang out with them. And we'll do a football contest like field goal kicking or a throwing accuracy game."
Oregon has also been aggressively selling season tickets, targeting alumni and donors. "One thing college baseball has is people who will buy season tickets almost as a way to make a donation to the program," Giansante says. "We've been pushing season tickets super hard to our former players, donors, and friends of the university. We've found there are people willing to pay $500, even if they only go to two games, just to help the program."
The final piece to any baseball program making a buck might be the most obvious one: winning. "We're building this program to win, so we hired George Horton, one of the top coaches in the country," Ginansante says. "Just as we're investing in a quality ballpark, we're investing in a quality coach. When you put it all together, this program is in a great position to produce revenue every year."