With Major League Baseball continuing to have annual attendance woes, there’s one team that commissioner Rob Manfred doesn’t have to worry about. And it’s not a team from New York, Los Angeles or Boston.
It’s in Minnesota, where the Twins have had one of the biggest attendance turnarounds year-over-year in the league, riding a wave of both team success and a renewed focus on the fan experience.
With a lackluster 78-84 record in 2018, the Twins ranked 20th in MLB attendance — attracting 1,959,197 fans to Target Field, a decline of 4.5% compared to the previous season.
Fast forward to 2019, and Minnesota’s past misfortunes have quickly been forgotten. Sporting the fourth-best record in MLB on July 23 at 61-38 – tops in the AL Central – the Twins’ attendance is estimated to grow by over 340,000 fans to approximately 2.3 million, which would represent a 17% increase year-over-year, according to a proprietary attendance-modelling formula from Two Circles, WPP’s sports property-facing agency.
Only the Philadelphia Phillies – with 34% growth year-over-year – have witnessed a greater increase than the Twins. But unlike Minnesota, Philly boasted a blockbuster free-agent signing in Bryce Harper this off-season who has, unsurprisingly, attracted more fans to Citizens Bank Park in 2019.
With Minnesota’s young stars like Max Kepler and Jose Berrios, they’re a departure from the team’s recent legends. According to Twins senior director of communications Dustin Morse, this youth movement in Minnesota has attracted a more youthful demographic to Target Field.
“It’s actually a fun way to just experiment with different things and see what works and see what our fan base likes,” said Morse. “Obviously a lot depends on the attitude of your team and some of the faces on your squad. We have a younger team, kind of a core group that’s come up together and it’s fun to market a lot of different players.”
“In the past we’ve had some pretty big faces like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer, Joe Nathan, even Brian Dozier – now it’s kind of a group of guys that are coming into their own. Everybody’s got a favorite Twin so we make sure that there are themes and items for each,” he said.
After the Twins’ forgettable 2018 campaign, the off-season focus shifted internally towards the fans. According to Morse, the question was asked: how could the Twins bring in more fans to the stadium, regardless of the team’s on-field performance?
For starters, making Twins games more accessible to visitors. With April’s inclement weather keeping fans away from Target Field, Minnesota began experimenting with “flash sales.”
Morse describes “flash sales” as certain areas of the ballpark where tickets would be heavily discounted for as low as $5. When Minnesota unveiled this ticket package in May for its 12 remaining home games that month, they generated immense interest from fan-goers.
In less than 48 hours, the team sold out all available 32,000 upper-level outfield seats – and followed that by selling out an additional 12,000 standing-room “ballpark access” tickets. Fans had to act quickly, but according to Morse, he saw this promotion as a major opportunity for those unfamiliar with the Twins to fall in love with them – leading them to attend future games.
“A lot of [the flash sales] was to give people a taste of what this team was all about and the experience at Target Field,” said Morse. “We had a strong belief that once our fans came out and experienced a game or two that they’d fall in love with this team and the experience and keep coming back.”
Once fans arrived at Target Field, Morse and his staff would utilize numerous promotions to make the experience worthwhile for visitors. That is one area where a MLB team took a page out of Minor League Baseball’s tactics.
According to Brian Earle, MiLB’s chief operating officer, teams that were selling well and experiencing attendance hikes interacted with their community. That local connection, at any MiLB facility, is what Earle believes has helped its recent revenue numbers.
“You certainly have to tailor [the fan experience] to your own community,” said Earle. “One of the areas that MiLB excels at is connecting with the community and support in those community initiatives. I think what makes a brand popular is when it’s something that is connected locally with that community but then also can have a national appeal to it.”
Fortunately for Morse and the Twins, the Twin Cities have a rich musical history to lean on for promotional events. On June 14, Minnesota hosted its annual “Prince Night” at Target Field. Honoring the late-Minnesotan singer, the first 10,000 fans in attendance that night received limited-edition purple Prince Twins jerseys.
According to Morse, like May’s flash sales, Prince Night tickets sold out almost instantly. Over 38,000 fans were in attendance that night, a 37% increase year-over-year from Prince Night in 2018.
Another successful off-the-field promotion came from the unlikeliest of places: Twins players themselves.
Heading into their contest against the New York Yankees on July 23, the Twins have 187 home-runs through 99 games, which is on pace to break the record set, coincidentally, by the Yankees’ 267 dingers in 2018.
Earlier in the season, left-fielder Eddie Rosario — second on Minnesota with 21 home-runs — mentioned that his team hits “a lot of bombas.”
After consulting with Morse, Rosario began endorsing the phrase “BombaSquad” on a daily basis. It eventually launched a #BombaSquad social media campaign which, according to Brea Hinegardner, the Twins’ digital content manager, has helped contribute to a 23.6% growth year-over-growth on their social media accounts.
Coupled with focus on merchandise such as bobbleheads and student discounts, there are almost any number of promotions that Minnesota uses to lure in its diverse fans.
“We believe that baseball is a game that can connect generations,” said Morse. “Whether you’re a three, four, or five-year-old little leaguer that’s interested in the game and learning, or you’re knowing your nineties and grew up with baseball, we believe it’s a game for everybody.”
Obviously, Morse would be remiss to not include the team’s winning ways as a reason behind its successful 2019 season thus far. With the Twins sitting in first place and a distinct chance at a postseason berth, people want to bask in the club’s recent success.
As Morse points out however, a win isn’t guaranteed every night, and neither is a World Series title. Either way, with October baseball nearing, he wants fans to visit Target Field knowing that their visit there isn’t predicated on the Twins, but on everything else around them.
“[With] the fan experience, with how you’re greeted at the ballpark, the food and beverage opportunities, the affordable pricing, we just hope everybody walks away having a good time,” said Morse. “Obviously you want to win more than you lose, but the one thing we can control is our fans having a good time at Target Field.”