Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Families Integral to Chiefs Atmosphere

Story and photos by Peter Benson

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - The crowd at NBT Bank Stadium saw a dramatic night of baseball on Thursday evening. But the 5-4 walk-off home run victory for the Syracuse Chiefs over the Louisville bats was in some ways an extra bonus for families already enjoying a beautiful summer's evening out.

Westbrook Shortell, of Syracuse, brought his family to the game and said he loves how welcome he feels.

"What the general manager of the Chiefs, has done here is made this a family friendly crowd," Shortell said. "It’s something that we continuously come to with our two children."

From left to right: Westbrook Shortell; his daughter Everleigh;
his wife Erin; and six-month old daughter Ellowyn
Westbrook watched the game from the left field with his wife, Erin, and his two daughters, Everleigh, 4, and Ellowyn, who's six months old. There is an emotional connection to the games for him.

"You get to make memories with your family." Shortell said.

Paul Kelly, also from Syracuse, enjoyed the game from the first base line his wife and three children: Even, Charlotte and Norah.

"I always love coming out to watch live baseball," Kelly said. "I think we have a great field here."


Attracting families is a deliberate strategy for the team. General Manager Jason Smorol sees moms as the key to attracting families because targeting mom triggers a domino effect.

"If mom says to go to a baseball game, dad’s going to be like ‘I can go eat hot dogs and drink beer and hang out and watch a baseball game? That sounds like a super idea, honey,’" Smorol said.

The numbers show it works. Smorol said data from an internal survey of last year's attendance showed that the crowd dynamic had changed since 2013. Before Smorol took the job, he said, women were only 40 percent of the fans. According to the survey from last year, women outnumbered the men (53 percent.)

Katie Berger, the director of business operations and merchandise for the Chiefs, uses promotions to help attract the families. These range from themed days, such as Dollar Thursday, to fireworks displays or jersey giveaways on random game days. Her goal in terms of strategy is clear.

"You want it to be all-inclusive," Berger said. "You want it to be an experience."


Families were everywhere at the game Thursday night but Berger knows it's a competitive market. She said the Chiefs are competing with summer activities such as camps as well as other evening outings, such as the mall. Getting people to the ballpark can be a challenge.

The promotional days help. Berger said that she sees an improvement in sales on days when a specific theme, such as Star Wars, attracts a wider audience beyond baseball fans.

Smorol and Berger know that the extra things are simply to enhance the experience.

Westbrook Shortell and his family evidently see the importance in that. They understand what special connection the city has to the fans.

"It's incredible cheering on a team from Syracuse," he said. "Having that hometown vibe to keep the energy alive."

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