Before early this year, the Sounds were still owned by Amerisports Companies LLC and playing in arguably one of the most run-down baseball parks in the minor leagues. The group made little effort to improve things at Greer Stadium, electing instead to wait out word on a proposal for a new stadium in downtown Nashville.
In February, MFP Baseball out of New York City took over the franchise and breathed new life into the baseball atmosphere in Music City.
General Manager and Vice-President George King, a former VP for the Pacific Coast League, in which the Sounds play, said the new group wanted to show it values the fans and city of Nashville.
MFP started with a $2.5 million floor-to-ceiling renovation of Greer Stadium.
“To show what kind of group this is, they were dedicated to that commitment whether they became the new owners or not,” King said. “It’s an entirely different approach from the previous ownership, which was absentee or rarely here.”
Changes include a new playing surface on the infield, overhauled dugouts, upgraded scoreboard, new outfield wall, new paint all around the park, new plaza area with a Family Fun Zone, an outdoor concert stage, a new merchandise shop, new office space and a new clubhouse facility. In addition, concession stands were completely remade, and Sluggers Restaurant on the top floor of the stadium was updated.
As far as the product is concerned, King said the new group has made an effort to make Sounds games a more family-oriented experience.
“We’ve gone away from the cheap beer nights,” King said. “We’ve tried to create a different social atmosphere from the standpoint of being a place to bring the family. We haven’t raised any prices, so it’s still economical. The cheapest ticket in the place is $6, which is pretty reasonable, and there’s not a bad seat in the house. A dollar goes a long way here.”
The Sounds, the AAA affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, have a long history in Nashville and are known for embracing the minor league atmosphere.
“The minor league experience is highlighted here,” King said. “It’s easy to get up close and personal with the players and the game. The Major League clubs have more fans that are there for the baseball experience and are more into wins and losses. We’re a different product. We’re event-driven. It’s more about the experience at the ballpark and getting behind the local team. That’s where the dreams begin.”
King said attendance is up at Sounds games, and fans have responded positively to the changes.
“We still need support from everyone to make the engine run,” King said. “We had an open house and expected between 200-300 to come see the renovations, and we had over 2,000 show up. Another 2,000 showed up for a job fair for seasonal employment.”
In addition to the Fun Zone and an active mascot named Ozzie, the Sounds offer other activities to entice young fans, like a chance to run the bases after every game.
“It’s a chance to touch what they just saw during the game,” King said. “The players are also very accessible. They’re hungrier at this level. They aren’t making a wallet full of money and becoming more distanced from the fans.”
King said marketing the game at the AAA level is different from lower leagues because most of the players are either on the verge of being called up to the Big Leagues or have been there before.
“We’re seeing guys that are either honing their craft at this level for the first time, have been around for a little bit or have bounced around as a role player for the organization,” King said. “Sometimes, you’ll see the seasoned veteran who is outstanding at the AAA level but, for some reason, doesn’t fit in the Majors. Generally, those guys end up being coaches and good guys in the community.”
Above all, King said the Sounds’ most effective marketing tool is to focus on entertainment value.
“Baseball is a social game,” King said. “At a basketball game, you can’t really sit and have a conversation because there’s too much going back and forth. At a baseball game, there’s plenty of time to catch up, and you don’t have to miss any of the action. If you’re really into the game, you can get into all the idiosyncrasies, but for someone who’s not a baseball fan, it’s a place to get inexpensive concessions, get in for a reasonable price, enjoy being outside with their friends and have a good social outing in a pastoral arena.”
The team: The Sounds have been a Brewers affiliate since 2005 and were home to several of Milwaukee’s current top stars, including Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. That season, the sounds won the PCL championship.
The Sounds, as of Tuesday, led the PCL American North division with a record of 34-26, three games ahead of the Memphis Redbirds, 4.5 in front of the Iowa Cubs and 9.5 ahead of the Omaha Royals.
The game: The Sounds rode strong pitching performances to a 3-0 win last Wednesday over the Iowa Cubs.
Chase Wright threw six scoreless innings, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out one. The bullpen allowed only one hit through the final three innings. Chris Smith earned his 12th save with a perfect ninth inning.
Nashville scored the only run it would need in the first inning on an RBI single by Adam Heether, who knocked in another run in the fifth. Erick Almonte slapped a run-scoring sacrifice fly in the sixth. Attendance for the contest was announced at 2,656.