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The Home Team – Minor League Baseball’s Las Vegas Aviators Builds Community

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In a town with a million distractions, how do you build support for a something different? The Las Vegas Aviators, a Triple A Minor League Baseball team is succeeding by replicating the feel of Major League Baseball set against the bonhomie of a small town’s support of their local team.

The Aviators built a beautiful, intimate ballpark in Summerlin, near to the Red Rocks casino and the nearby elevated shopping centers. This places the team 15 minutes away from the tourist corridor, and right in the heart of affluent Las Vegas. It allows the community to adopt a local team, where they can gather and partake of the experience of baseball in a pristine setting with all the bells of whistles of new ballparks.

Las Vegas has major teams in residence: The Golden Knights and the Raiders both in eyesight of each other, adjacent to The Strip. There are reportedly serious discussions about bringing in an NBA team, an NHL team and maybe even the Oakland A’s will move. But those teams are national, and their fans come from everywhere. It’s hard to be passionate about a transplanted team, when there are always tens of thousands of people in from out of town who might attend those games. The team spirit may be there, but not the hometown love which flows for a team which is “just theirs.”

The rules of baseball are the same in the big-league stadiums and in the minor leagues: three strikes you’re out, nine innings, cold beer, and plenty of food options. Currently the professional sports stadium which has gone longest without major renovations is that of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. They may have a $400 million player in Mike Trout, but the facility where the seats are for fans is tired.

The Aviators play the same game as the MLB teams, but it’s an entirely different feeling there. Families can afford the tickets and it doesn’t break the bank to eat something. Parking is just behind the field, and a five-minute walk in from there. The players are working their way up to “the show,” but the level of play is more than enough to be entertaining. Plus, the occasional mistake which occurs at MILB level adds to the fun. After all, excitement comes from scoring or making plays.

The Aviators are owned by the Howard Hughes HHC Corporation, which gives the team access to capital and other support. This allows the team to use expensive technology like StellarAlgo to refine their data bases and better target sales prospects who have purchased because of specific promotions or similar identifying information.

Even with the power of the Hughes organization behind them, it’s hard for the Aviators to get airtime on local television or significant newspaper coverage. There are not enough camera crews to cover local baseball, and the Las Vegas Review Journal newspaper does not have a beat reporter for MILB. This is an ongoing challenge for Jim Gemma who handles the Aviator’s media relations. The games are streamed on the MILB network which gives the die-hard fans access to watch the team from beyond the stadium. But, drawing an audience to MILB on television is hard. It’s something that even Major League Baseball finds challenging.

The team does do well in the local community with their direct promotions such as fireworks night, jersey night, “bark in the park” dog night or $2 beer nights. They also use their facility for community relationship building, giving access to tickets for local schools to sell and keep a portion of the proceeds, or during the off season allowing a 35-day Christmas Wonderland to take place on site.

Ticket sales are the lifeblood of MILB as there is really no television revenue. The Aviator’s Vice President of ticket sales is Erik Eisenberg. He oversees the group responsible for selling the equivalent of 3,500 or more season tickets plus individual tickets for the 75 games which take place each year. Baseball is only played in season, but selling tickets is a task which is year-round.

The President of the team is Don Logan, and he has the easy presence of an experienced hand. Logan has a great depth of knowledge of the game, and of this history of this team which used to play at Cashman field under the name Las Vegas 51s. Logan is exactly what you would picture as the man in the memorabilia filled office, making the key operating decisions for the team. His underlying fundamental principal is that it’s about baseball. He’s open to ideas about almost anything other than compromising the game.

Although Logan is focused on the game itself, he’s aware enough to know that it is the open spaces and the 360-degree ability to move through the ballpark that facilitates the communal atmosphere which draws fans and group outings. There is even a swimming pool just beyond the left field fence which can be rented for a business team building event for a family celebration. The idea is to have something which appeals to almost anyone. This breadth of fan appeal is what creates the community which slowly bonds as the game evolves and those in attendance find their community and their commonality.

I spoke at length with the Aviator’s management: Don Logan, Erik Eisenberg and Jim Gemma. Each of them shared their experience and perspective about the team, their strategies and the business of running a minor league team. It’s all very interesting. Follow along in either video or audio podcast format:

John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote one of the great lyrics of all time for the Beatle’s Abbey Road album:

and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” That sentiment fits everywhere in a well-considered life. Curiously, it also applies to baseball. After all, the idea of spending a day watching grown men play a game is isolating. Except, however, when you are part of a community which gathers in support of their team, and because they want to spend a few hours all pulling for the same cause.

The Las Vegas Aviators have built more than a clubhouse where baseball players get the experience to move up the major league. They have built a home for the citizens of Las Vegas to gather and share the joys of being together, while being entertained by the game playing out in front of them. The thought put into the construction of the ballpark and the variety of food, drink, seating and gathering spaces enhances the idea this is not a passive undertaking like watching a game on television. It’s interactive. You are there with like minded people, and there in the stands, the passageways, the vending stations, and the gathering points is where you’ll see your neighbors and your friends.

You may leave having watched your team lose but shared a beer with a neighbor and met a new friend while walking the ballpark. No matter what the ultimate game score is, you’ve won by being out in the world and away from the sofa for a night. No one is tracking statistics on that score, but the number of recurring fans confirms this is as much a communal event as it is about a game to be won or lost.

None of this happens without expertise, and the team behind the Aviators continues to demonstrate their mastery of how to be good hosts to the fans in attendance while managing the endless nuances of a baseball team. For those who are just coming to Las Vegas for a couple or days, it’s a good respite from the noise and hustle of a casino. For those who live there, this ballpark and team is a hub of your community. Memories are made from things experienced, not just watched passively. No one will forget their first impression of watching the Aviators play at home. Go to a game and take it all in. Everyone is welcome in the Aviator’s house.

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