Saturday, September 11, 1999

Louisville move a winner for Reds


Kentucky tie helps tickets, broadcasts

BY JOHN BYCZKOWSKI
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[louisville]
Louisville Slugger Field will open next year as home of the RiverBats.
(Louisville Courier-Journal/Keith Williams)
| ZOOM |
        The Cincinnati Reds' decision this week to change its AAA minor-league farm affiliation to Louisville from Indianapolis may have been a baseball decision, but it won't hurt when it comes to selling tickets in Kentucky.

        The Louisville RiverBats next season move into Louisville Slugger Field, a new $26 million ballpark that uses a 100-year-old railroad storage building as its main arcade, and team management is thrilled with its new affiliation.

        “The Reds are certainly the team of choice in Louisville — always have been, always will be, no matter who we're affiliated with,” said Gary Ulmer, president of the RiverBats.

        Short term, the new affiliation will help the RiverBats sell season tickets in the new ball park.

        For the Reds, closer ties to Louisville may mean more tickets bought at Cinergy Field and more fans watching and listening to Reds' TV and radio broadcasts.

LOUISVILLE SLUGGER FIELD
  • Where: Along Ohio River shoreline in downtown Louisville.
  • Opens: April.
  • Cost: $26.3 million.
  • Capacity: Seats for 11,522, with a picnic area that can hold more fans.
  • Architect: HNTB Architects, Kansas City.
  • Signature feature: A century-old train shed will become the ballpark's main entrance. It's the largest and oldest structure at any ballpark in the country.
  • Suites: 30. Club has leased 28, and may reserve the remaining two for game-by-game rental.
  • Club seats: 800 (100 unsold).
        “The real benefit is more long-term,” Mr. Ulmer said. “As we get fans and as people come and enjoy the new ballpark, we'll be able to keep them longer.”

        And if it's good for the RiverBats, it's good for the Reds.

        “I think in general, people will follow baseball, they'll follow our players to Cincinnati, and they'll become Reds fans,” Mr. Ulmer said.

        The Reds signed a five-year affiliation agreement with Louisville. The team provides the players and coaches for the RiverBats. The Reds get no direct money from the Louisville franchise, just cross-marketing opportunities.

        The deal ended a seven-year relationship with Indianapolis, where the Indians had posted the best record in AAA during that span.

        The decision to change affiliations was a baseball decision, first and foremost, Reds officials said.

        Louisville is “Reds country,” said Doc Rodgers, assistant to Reds general man ager Jim Bowden. “There were philosophical differences in how our players (in Indianapolis) were being developed.”

        What the Reds gain is a farm affiliate in a city with a long affinity for Cincinnati pro sports, and a new ballpark to boot.

        Whether the Reds make something of new relationship, however, is another story. Reds marketing consultant Cal Levy agreed the team has more to gain by putting the farm club in Louisville than they have to lose by leaving Indianapolis — if the Reds resolve themselves to take advantage of the situation.

        Asked what marketing efforts the Reds put forth in those two cities, Mr. Levy answered, “We don't.”

        The winter Reds Caravan of players and team officials visits both cities, and the team advertises its winter Redsfest in Indianapolis, but that's the extent of it, he said.

        But Louisville may already be a better market for the Reds than Indianapolis. For instance, the Reds Radio Network has an affiliate in Louisville — WKJK-AM (1080) — but none in Indianapolis. However, the signal from WLW-AM in Cincinnati comes in strong there.

        In addition, Reds games are carried in Kentucky on Fox Sports Ohio cable TV network. In Indianapolis, the games are carried only on a low-power TV station.

        “The presence of the media partners in Louisville will add to the strength of what we can do and what we can draw out of the market,” Mr. Levy said.

        The Louisville franchise for decades had been a St. Louis Cardinals farm club, but that relationship ended in 1996. Since then, the club was associated with the Milwaukee Brewers.

        Indianapolis and Louisville each are about 110 miles from Cincinnati. The population of metro Indianapolis is about 1.5 million, a third larger than Louisville, at about 1 million.

        That difference is reflected in baseball attendance. The Indianapolis Indians in Victory Field are among the top draws in the minor leagues with 658,250 this season. That compares to 361,419 posted at aged Cardinal Stadium, a facility it shared with the University of Louisville's football team until last season when the school opened a new stadium.

        But the Reds share Indianapolis fans with the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and they'll have Louisville almost to themselves.

        “When you look at it, it's been easier for us to market ourselves in Kentucky than in Indiana,” Mr. Levy said. “From that standpoint, we're hitting the ground running. We're a little better off.”

        Other major league ball clubs like their farm clubs close. The Cleveland Indians, for instance, bounced their top farm club among Colorado and Charlotte, N.C., before ending up 200 miles east along the Lake Erie shore in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1995.

        The Indians wanted their farmhands closer to home and in a topnotch facility. Buffalo's Dunn Tire Field is considered by many to be the closest thing to a major-league ballpark in the minor leagues.

        But beyond that, the Indians got a marketing kick out of the deal, building a loyal fan base in Buffalo, said Jeff Overton, Indians vice president of marketing and communications.

        “From a marketing perspective you can say, "Now I've got something I can take and run with and create more press stops and regional marketing campaigns, and radio and TV affiliates,'” Mr. Overton said.

        The Indians had no radio affiliate in Buffalo before the farm affiliation, but they do now, he said.

LOUISVILLE SLUGGER FIELD
        • Where: Along Ohio River shoreline in downtown Louisville.

        • Opens: April.

        • Cost: $26.3 million.

        • Capacity: Seats for 11,522, with a picnic area that can hold more fans.

        • Architect: HNTB Architects, Kansas City.

        • Signature feature: A century-old train shed will become the ballpark's main entrance. It's the largest and oldest structure at any ballpark in the country.

        • Suites: 30. Club has leased 28, and may reserve the remaining two for game-by-game rental.

        • Club seats: 800 (100 unsold).

       



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