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Minor league baseball attendance records drop in N.J.

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Geoff Brown, general manager of the Lakewood BlueClaws, said the team will try to improve regular-season attendance by offering visitors more value for their entertainment dollars.
Geoff Brown, general manager of the Lakewood BlueClaws, said the team will try to improve regular-season attendance by offering visitors more value for their entertainment dollars.

Despite pitching more value packages and special events to potential ballpark visitors this year, New Jersey's minor league baseball teams had fewer people in the stands compared to previous years, an analysis of regular-season attendance data show.

Will Smith, general manager and chief operating officer of the Trenton Thunder, said he's seen "corporate buyers rein in their ticket purchases more," which is one reason the team has seen attendance drop from 384,028 visitors in 2010 to 373,355 visitors in 2012.

"People are really inspecting their budgets more, so instead of trying to sell a corporation four season tickets, we'll try to get the whole company to come to one event," Smith said. "Even for non-corporate season tickets, trying to find people willing to come to even 50 games a year is hard. So instead, we're pushing smaller game plans to more people to get them into the park."

According to data released by the leagues, none of the state's six minor league teams saw their audience increase from the 2010 regular season, though teams affiliated with Major League Baseball maintained higher attendance rolls than independent ones, like the Somerset Patriots and Newark Bears.

But Smith said even when affiliated teams host major league players on rehabilitation assignments, it "doesn't move the needle a ton" on the total number of people watching games all year, as 2011 attendance — when New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter played on the Thunder for two record-breaking sold-out games — was lower than 2010.

Instead, Smith and Lakewood BlueClaws general manager Geoff Brown have placed a greater emphasis on offering entertainment packages to families and business groups that include games, activities, giveaways and meal vouchers in an attempt to fill their stands.

While the BlueClaws have persistently led the state's minor league attendance numbers since their arrival in 2001 — hosting 410,113 visitors in 2012 — Brown said "it's been a challenge every year to stay on top."

"We try to do it all in having a mix of season ticket holders, groups and mini-plan holders attending our games, but I think what's been working for us very well — and something we want to expand on next year — is our day-of-the-week promotions," Brown said. "Over time, people get it in their heads what we offer every Tuesday and Thursday, so instead of saying, 'We missed the Phillie Phanatic that one time he was there' and forgetting about us, they say 'We missed this Senior Day Tuesday, but we can come back for the next one.' "

Though Brown is aware of increasing consumer confidence and fewer families "skipping the trip to Disney World to go see the BlueClaws," he said the team hopes to continue to attract entertainment dollars from people looking for more value.

"Through our corporate partners, we give you almost half of what you pay for tickets back in gift cards and promotions, and right now, we're coming up with new promotions for next year," Brown said. "We know that even with that Disney week, people will still want to do something the other four-and-a-half months of the BlueClaws season, and we're willing to offer them more to choose us."

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