MetsPlus Minors Preview: The 2017 Columbia Fireflies
Today, as we inch closer and closer to Opening Day 2017 (even though the Blizzard makes me think we are still two months away). I wanted to preview the seasons for some of the Mets affiliates, specifically ones that some people might know a little bit less about, but will still root for even if they don’t know the roster by memory. The Columbia Fireflies fit that criteria, and without further ado, here’s a preview of the 2017 Columbia Fireflies season:
That logo is awesome, isn’t it?
Anyway, I first head of the Columbia Fireflies like most people did, during the announcement that the Savanah Sand Gnats, the previous incarnation of the franchise, was moving out of Savanah after 2015, and after seeing their name, uniform and cap combo, I was hooked, and wanted to see the team and feel the atmosphere up close.
I did so by attending one of their games and speaking to some of their folks last July, which I wrote about on the blog. Noticeably absent, however, were the Mets fans that one typically sees at a Brooklyn Cyclones, Binghamton Mets or even a St.Lucie Mets game.
Not that it is a bad thing, as the attendance was about right for a minor league game, so I was perplexed about what it was about the Fireflies that made them a unique minor league team that appeals to a wide demographic. Being a college town, there were way more than 20 year olds at the Fireflies game I went to, so I decided to get in contact with the Fireflies to ask them some questions.
Brad Shank, the Executive Vice President of the Fireflies was nice enough to answer some of them, from a question on Solar Eclipses, Tebow, to being in the ballpark in the Winter. Here is a condensed transcript:
Niko/MetsPlus: What was your favorite part of the Inaugural Season?
Brad Shank: Well, we didn’t really know what to expect, going into it, you have your goals and I think we were really able to hit some of those in a big way, but also some room for improvement down the road. A highlight for me was the July 4th game, in Famously Hot Columbia, with temperatures over 100 degrees, but we still had our largest crowd of the year with over 9,200 people in the ballpark. We were also able to honor four active duty military personnel before the fireworks with them and their families, and they were able to kick off our fireworks.
N/MP: I took a look at the Promotional Schedule for 2017, what are some of the highlights this year?
BS: Well, you know, we have some of the classic promotions, like the days of the week promotions, which have started to really kick off down here. Thirsty Thursdays, which includes a happy hour, which, being in a college town, should be pretty popular. As far as the unique promotions, we have some theme nights coming up, the biggest one of the year will be August 21st, a 1:05pm game, only because there will be a total solar eclipse, and Columbia just happens to be right on the path of the total solar eclipse, which will happen just after 2:30. The game will be delayed for five minutes to allow fans and players to enjoy the once in a generation sighting of a total solar eclipse. We will also have a NASA night with an appearance of an astronaut who grew up here in Columbia.
N/MP: A unique feature of Sprint Communications Ballpark (the home of the Fireflies) is that it is open 365 days a year, which is something I’ve never heard of before. Is there anything behind this?
BS: It’s a community thing, but, as much as we try to get the word out on that, some people don’t realize that’s an amenity that they can come out and enjoy any time. The idea behind it is that this is a public-private partnership, and I’m sure everyone’s heard the debates over whether public money should be used on athletic venues, or if the ownership should pay for all of it. We are a public private partnership, so as we talked with the city of Columbia, we told them we don’t want this just to be a ballpark, we want this to become community asset. It’s also a marketing tool, as someone who might be doubting the ballpark, we can talk to them and invite them down, being open dawn until dusk. Fans can come out and check things out. Fans can also come out and have lunch, take a run, there are also even boot camps that have been coming down as the developments around us continue to grow.
N/MP: Why should a Mets fan come down to Columbia during an extended weekend to catch a game?
BS: It’s one of those things where Columbia has a lot going for it. A family can come into town for a weekend, and it will be affordable, which is a big thing. Plenty to do, including a adventure-children’s museum, with a full sized fire truck, and all kinds of things for the kids. We’ve got the state museum, which has a lot of history. A great weekend can be made out of this town. And, for a Met fan, getting to see the stars of tomorrow. We just watched P.J Conlon pitch in the big-league game, and that’s a huge jump. Guys like him, David Thompson, and the other big time prospects that we are expected to have. You also get way more access when you are at a minor league park, so being able to get close, especially on Sunday’s when players sign autographs after the game. It just gives fans to have that access that you wouldn’t be able to have at a big league level.
N/MP: How have the Fireflies been utilizing social media to captivate far away fans?
BS: The power of social media for us is great. When we went on-sale with individual game tickets, we sold tickets to people in 15 different states, so, the majority of that is through social media. We have a full time employee that focuses on new media, social media, and as we got started with the grassroots campaign, social media was imperative to us. Getting those followers on-board when we were going around the community and selling merchandise after unveiling the logo was huge for us. The other thing being, in a college town, social media is very important for us, as they will go there when looking for something to do for the weekend.
N/MP: Thanks Mr.Shank! Good luck with the All-Star game this year…
BS: Absolutely, it will, it’s going to be huge. Also, while the prospect watchers aren’t really to excited about it, but being in SEC county, people are going crazy asking us about Tebow right now, so we will see; we are ready to go, we’ve purchased some extra #15 jerseys.
Thanks to Brad Shank and Kevin Fitzgerald for their time and the insightful responses.