Hey Batter Batter

Triple-A Zephyrs hope to exit their slump with a home-run season
New Orleans Zephyrs

With two top-tier professional sports franchises in town and a crowd of talented collegiate baseball programs within a short drive, the New Orleans Zephyrs – now entering their 22nd season – face steep competition for the local sports entertainment dollar.

Team officials report sponsorships are down compared to previous years, and say the team is making 200 to 300 calls a day to prospective business partners and fans, hoping to draw in cash and fill seats.

But Mike Schline, entering his 10th season as the Zephyrs’ general manager, is hopeful that this season’s potentially playoff-caliber ball club and earlier weekday starting times will draw increased attention to “the Shrine on Airline.”

The Zephyrs are going into their seventh year as the Miami Marlins’ triple-A affiliate. It was a busy offseason for the Marlins, who made a lot of deals for minor-league players capable of being called up to the majors at a moment’s notice should the need arise.

“We’re hoping for a playoff team,” Schline says. “We have a roster of mostly brand new guys – vets, free agents – who are what we call four-A talent. They’re really, really good at the Triple-A level, but haven’t quite found success at the major league level just yet. We’re going to produce wins. We’ll just have to see what happens in July and August.”

Schline’s referring, of course, to the period when the Marlins can call up minor league players to the big leagues, potentially plucking the best talent from and crushing its Triple-A team. To date, 44 Zephyrs players have gone on to play for the Marlins.

“That’s always the challenge in Triple-A baseball,” Schline says.

Management of Triple-A teams seek to draw fans and sponsors to the ballpark with specials and promotions.

 “We pack the place when we have the right promotion, like ‘Star Wars’ Night,” Schline says, “but when you see 800 people in a 10,000-seat ballpark when we don’t have anything going on, like a giveaway, concerts or fireworks, that can be frustrating.”

Over the team’s more than two decades in New Orleans, the Zephyrs have marketed themselves, and their $26 million suburban stadium, as the safe, affordable, family entertainment option in town.

“We have one of only 30 triple-A teams in the country,” Schline says. “We’ve got a good product, and people enjoy it. We just hear too many people saying they love coming to Zephyr games, but when asked how many they came to last season, they say they haven’t been in three or four years.”

In an effort to spur attendance, this year the team will start weekday games an hour earlier – at 6 p.m. “We’re hoping this will bring people to the ballpark directly from the office and will also help families get their kids home and in bed earlier,” Schline says.

Sponsorships remain crucial.

“We don’t have a large season-ticket base, so our sponsors are our bread and butter,” Schline explains. “We’re a solid option for businesses looking for exposure, since instead of having the same 8,000 people in the same seat for every game, we’re getting 8,000 different people in those seats for every game and putting a lot of eyes in front of advertisements.”

The value is clearly there for the Zs, but the question remains, will the support be?

The New Orleans Zephyrs open their 2015 season with an eight-game home stand, beginning Thursday, April 9 at 7 p.m. against the Omaha Storm Chasers.

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.



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