The Savannah Bananas are preparing for a new normal sports teams in the age of the coronavirus: playing games with a reduced number of fans in the stands. Fifty percent less, to be exact.
“Our usual capacity is 4,100,” Jared Orton, president of the Savannah Bananas, said. “We don’t foresee our capacity growing due to the pandemic, which means there are going to be a lot of fans that aren’t going to be able to come to our games.”
The Bananas, which play in the wood-bat collegiate summer Coastal Plain League and feature college players recruited from throughout the nation, are set to begin their new season on July 1, roughly one month after the original late May start date. While concessions, merchandise, and other ballpark attractions will be available, the team only expects to welcome about 2,000 fans to Historic Grayson Stadium for each home game.
As a result, the Bananas will lose out on selling between 30,000 to 40,000 additional tickets this season. To help alleviate the team’s attendance problem, the team has been promoting its new Bananas Insiders streaming service on Facebook to fans that won’t attend games this season.
Bananas Insiders, which has grown to 500 subscribers since launching on June 23, costs $4.99 per month and is a part of Facebook Fan Subscriptions. This platform allows fans to “support the ages they love with monthly, recurring payments,” Facebook says. In return, subscribers receive exclusive content. FC Barcelona became the first sports club to try out the service in September.
Bananas Insiders subscribers will have access to behind the scenes video and photos, unique merchandise, and exclusive giveaways, the team said. But the organization is also looking to add a bit of flair to their online broadcasts, which will feature all team home games with some bonus elements for when the team hits the road.
“We want to break down the traditional way that baseball gets presented,” Orton said. “For our exhibition game the other night, we had four players mic’d up on the field. We want people to feel like they’re at the game and in our players’ minds.”
The innovation does not stop with mic’ing up players and coaches. The Bananas will have staff with handheld cameras walk up with hitters to bat, with pitching coaches on mound visits, and standing front and center during home run celebrations. Drones will also be used for an inning during games to follow all the action.
And then there’s the added element of fans calling the shots. In the beginning, Bananas Insiders subscribers on Facebook will be able to decide what uniforms the team wears. But managerial decisions will also be posed via polls on the social media site. This includes choosing which of three pitchers comes in from the bullpen.
“Our hope is to make this as real-time as possible,” Orton said. “Should we pinch-hit here, steal a base, or hit and run? It’s about getting to that point where fans are making in-game decisions from their couch.”
The Bananas know that making up for lost ticket revenue during the season is a long shot. Monthly revenue from the service is marginal compared to the thousands of tickets the Bananas would sell between $18 to $30 for each game under normal circumstances.
But what the Facebook initiative offers the team is a monetary return on all the content it produces, Orton said. The team expects Bananas Insiders subscribers to grow to 1,000 by the week of July 6. Twenty-six states and three countries are already represented among users.
“For the past five years, we’ve invested pretty heavily into content production,” he said. “Prior to the pandemic, we again had a well thought out plan. This now allows us to use new revenue to double down on what we need, whether its longer-form content or investments on the hardware and personnel side.”