There has been a great deal of daily hype about the Nets move to Brooklyn and the Barclay’s Center this fall. From Jay Z to Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, along with the specter of Dwight Howard, the new black and white logo’ed Brooklyn Nets are doing all they can to build a business and pull in attention as a sports brand.
Even with all the attention, one of the best small business sports stories has been going and growing in the borough since 2001. The business is the Single A New York-Penn League Brooklyn Cyclones, the short-season affiliate of the New York Mets. While many seem to think that the Nets are bringing pro sports back to Brooklyn for the first time since the Dodgers went west, it is actually the Cyclones who have set a standard for excellence, promotion and family fun since they opened their doors at what is now MCU Park that 11 years ago. Since then, despite the crowded marketplace, the team has routinely ranked in the top 20 in all of minor league baseball in attendance, with an average never less than 7,100 per game and regularly are in the top 15 in every business category for minor league baseball, from merchandise sales to sponsor activity. Their ballpark, facing the Atlantic Ocean, has also taken advantage of the relationship with the hometown Mets, with rehab stops for players like Jose Reyes and career starts for players like current Met starter Dylan Gee.
We caught up with Cyclone GM Steve Cohen to talk about minor league baseball in the biggest market in the country:
The Cyclones are in a unique place…the largest media market, but the most cluttered. How have you been able to cut through the clutter to be successful?
It’s not easy. There are a lot options for people here. It’s also a very diverse and changing demographic. I think the most important thing is that we give people great value for their purchase. In addition to the baseball we offer some of the best giveaways in sports on a regular basis like our Jersday Thursday promotion, Sunday Bat Days plus entertainment throughout the entire game. We also try to be creative and come up with events and promotions you don’t get at other sporting events in the area. (The team also has its games broadcast regionally on WSOU radio and has select broadcasts on local TV, including SportsNet New York).
Does the Nets move to Brooklyn impact your business in any way?
I’m not 100% sure about that yet but I don’t think it will. Our seasons are opposite and I think the Nets arrival indicates how far the Borough has come on the sports/entertainment side since we started. Come June I think people will still look for a night outside at the ballpark for the price of a movie ticket.
How have you been able to embrace the Dodgers tradition as a Brooklyn sports entity?
When we started in 2001 we wanted to embrace the history of baseball in Brooklyn but also not rely on it completely. The return of baseball to Brooklyn was a part of our marketing campaign but we also realized a significant part of the Brooklyn population was either not born in 1957 or had no family connections to this country at that time. We’ve had a majority of the former Brooklyn players here at the ballpark, celebrated team milestones and always tried to embrace the fans being as much of the story as the players are. Looking back people talk about the ballpark and some of the characters that went to Dodgers games as much as the on-field events and we tried to replicate that with the Cyclones.
You are a short season team. With all the success on the business side is there talk of going to a longer season?
Not really. There are some baseball territorial issues that would need to be worked out and as beautiful as Coney Island is in the summer it’s a bit chilly on the water in April-May. I wouldn’t mind the season starting earlier or even adding a few games.
How much of a halo effect is there being part of the Mets organization. Could you be as a big a success with another club?
I think it’s important we are affiliated with the Mets being in the NY market however there are Cyclones fans that root for other Major League Clubs. They want to support Brooklyn. I know there is a level of pride to see the success of former Cyclones playing for the Mets at Citi Field. I’m not sure if that would be the same if our parent club was in another city.
The team has created some unique partnerships over the years. What are your three favorites?
We are always trying to keep things fresh so these change annually. This year our WWE collaboration on an anti-bullying night was a huge success and brought a lot of attention to people that may never have been to a game before. We are working with the Brooklyn Ballet to put on an actual ballet program during a game later in the season that I think will be unique. It’s not always about the straight revenue arrangement but what can bring added exposure to the Cyclones. We play in a market with at least eight Major League teams in the four major sports, getting media coverage isn’t easy. We use these partnerships to try to change that.
You are one of the few milb teams to control all your digital rights. How has it benefited you?
Not having experienced the other side I can only say having control of our website was always very important to us. Having flexibility and complete control gives us the opportunity to explore new initiatives like the Cyclones Social Rewards program we started this year. The Social rewards program uses Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare and other platforms for fans to share their hobbies, interests and feelings. The Cyclones have created a social scoreboard which rewards fans for participating in the program as many times as they like.
This first of its kind endeavor will provide incentives to fans for liking or sharing posts, checking in a MCU Park, tweeting using certain hash tags or retweeting from Cyclones Twitter feeds. The more active you are, the more you can win, with prizes including a trip for two to Spring Training in 2013, a fully catered luxury suite at MCU Park and much, much more!
How wide do you market to. Are there areas you and other clubs split?
We are located in an interesting place, as south in Brooklyn as you can get. Someone who has never been to Brooklyn may see Williamsburg, for example, and assume it’s a great market for us. It is but there are other factors like limited public transportation to Coney Island that keeps people from that area from attending a game. Flip side to that is there are several Queens neighborhoods that are right off the Belt Parkway that we draw well from. There are also a lot of former Brooklyn residents that live in places like Staten Island and Long Island so we like to get our message to them as well. There are three other baseball teams in the New York City area from us so there are a lot of common markets.
What is next in your vision of growth for the club as a brand?
Again, Brooklyn is a changing borough. Much different than when we arrived just 12 years ago. I think it’s important we figure out a way to cultivate baseball fans in some of the populations that historically don’t follow the game. Brighton Beach for example is 5 minutes from the ballpark and is a Russian community and we haven’t had any success bringing them out to the park. That’s just one example but there are 5-6 others so this will have to become a priority for us.