Foul Ball

New Orleans has one more season of Triple-A Baseball, but will fans support a team on the run?
illustration by Tony Healey
Chris Price is an award-winning journalist and public relations principal. When he’s not writing, he’s avid about music, the outdoors, and Saints, Ole Miss and Chelsea football. Price also authors the Friday Sports Column at BizNewOrleans.com

 

Wichita, Kansas made the pitch, and New Orleans’ Triple-A baseball franchise swung for the fences. They’re going, going, but not quite gone yet.

The Baby Cakes will begin their final season in the Big Easy this month. It’s the beginning of the end of an affair that started in 1993.

When the team moved to Zephyr Field in 1997, Jefferson Parish had one of the biggest populations in the state. Flush with numerous middle-class families and lower crime compared to neighboring Orleans, Metairie appeared to provide a strong, stable fan base for the team to attract and entertain. But dynamic changes were coming to New Orleans’ sports landscape that no one saw coming. The first was the arrival of the NBA’s Hornets in 2002. Hurricane Katrina struck three years later, causing momentous shifts in the region’s population and demographics.

Finally, in 2006, the NFL’s Saints, an underachiever for most of the franchise’s history, began and have continued to enjoy their most successful period the team has ever seen. In addition, since the early ’90s, LSU and Tulane have consistently been among the best clubs in collegiate baseball. Combined, these factors created an environment that pushed interest in Baby Cakes games and merchandise further down fans’ priority list.

Additionally, it could be argued that the baseball team was a victim of the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina.

While there had been a northward migration to St. Tammany Parish for years, Hurricane Katrina changed the region’s makeup almost overnight. Many of the families who lived in Jefferson before the storm moved across Lake Pontchartrain and settled on the Northshore. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Jefferson Parish’s population decreased 0.02 percent between 1990 and 2017, the last year for which figures are available. St. Tammany’s population, however, increased 77.3 percent in the same period. There’s no data showing how much of the increase in St. Tammany’s population was due to Jefferson Parish transplants, but regardless, its not good news for the ballpark.

The Baby Cakes will be in a precarious situation this season. They’ve already declared their intention to move. Can they expect fans to invest their time, energy and treasure to support an entity that will be gone come September?

“We are excited about the 2019 season,” said Baby Cakes GM Cookie Rojas. “We have some great Miami Marlins prospects coming through the system, and they should make a great impact this season.

“We hope fans will come out and enjoy our 2019 season,” he continued. “We are finalizing our promotions calendar. We have some great giveaways, and of course our Friday-night fireworks games are back this season.”

Getting fans to the ballpark may be easier said than done. After some initial interest after the name change and its Mardi Gras-related merchandise were revealed, attendance fell. According to Minor League Baseball stats, the Baby Cakes saw a reduction of 97,269 fans overall year-over-year from 2017 to 2018. The team’s average attendance of 3,827 fans per game last year was 1,727 fewer than the year before. For comparison, Round Rock, a suburb of Austin, Texas, had the highest average attendance with nearly 9,000 fans per game last year.

With one foot in the batter’s box in New Orleans, it will be interesting to see how fans react to the Baby Cakes this season. They may benefit from the Pelicans’ slump in play this spring. But with the team headed for home in Kansas it looks as if a successful financial season may be as tough as hitting a 100 mph fastball.


DECLINING DEMOGRAPHICS

BAD NEWS FOR THE BALLPARK

When baseball came back to New Orleans, it opted for a stadium in family-friendly Jefferson Parish. But increased competition for the sports entertainment dollar and shifting demographics changed the region’s economic landscape. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Jefferson Parish’s population has decreased 0.02 percent between 1990 and 2017 while St. Tammany’s population has increased 77.3 percent in the same period.

 

Year Jefferson % Change St. Tammany % Change
1990 448,306 114,508
2000 455,466 1.6 191,268 32.4
2010 432,552 -5 233,740 22.2
2017 439,036 1.5 256,327 9.7

           


 

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