In their final year at Memorial Stadium in 2008, the then-Fort Wayne Wizards pulled in a season attendance of 256,693 fans.
Last year — the now-Fort Wayne TinCaps’ sixth year in their new downtown digs at Parkview Field — the franchise pulled in 410,458 fans to set an all-time franchise record. The mark was the third-highest in Single-A baseball and 24th out of 160 minor league baseball teams overall.
The growth in attendance can be attributed to many factors, including a more centralized stadium location. But in the planning and construction of Parkview Field, the idea of making the new ballpark a regional gathering place was a big focus. Team President Mike Nutter and the TinCaps hope to continue that growth into the coming years, particularly as downtown continues its revitalization process. The multistage downtown development projects being discussed would bring more people to the city center in the coming years.
“(At Memorial Stadium) we felt like we had to work so hard to draw 250,000-275,000 fans,” said Nutter. “Now, we are not working any less or more and with the new facility we are drawing more. A lot of that comes from group sales.”
The TinCaps’ business model focuses on individual and group sales reaching out to about 60 miles around Fort Wayne.
Business and school outings are very popular with the TinCaps and are the “lifeblood of success” for the franchise, Nutter said.
“A lot of people aren’t going to be buying season tickets with 70 home dates,” Nutter said. “But getting the big company outing from Marion or somewhere like that (is popular).”
The TinCaps share the city’s minor league landscape with the Komets and Mad Ants, who have both similarities and differences in their respective business models for success.
For instance, the Komets do not count on as many large company groups as the TinCaps do but instead go “as grass-roots as possible” according to Executive Vice President Scott Sproat.
“We not only use a lot of mass media but … partner up with different chambers of commerce and prominent media in smaller communities,” Sproat said.
One challenge for all three franchises is drawing people from the surrounding area in significant numbers. While Fort Wayne and Allen County have more than 355,000 residents, pulling prospective ticket buyers in from outside that region can be tough.
“The Hershey (Pa.) Bears (of the American Hockey League) is a team we get compared to a lot because they do very well (in attendance),” Sproat said, referring to the team that leads minor league hockey in fan turnout year after year. “Hershey only has about 20,000 in their town, but within 25 miles they have 3 million people. Our area is much more geographically spread out.”
Despite that, the Komets routinely have one of the highest attendance averages in minor league hockey.
Getting families out to games is a priority of all three franchises, but the Mad Ants in the NBA Development League have arguably the biggest footprint in schools and at high school sporting events with the Mad Ant mascot.
“We are seeing more and more kids that know our mascot and know our players and ask their parents to come on out and have a good time with us,” team President Jeff Potter said. “While there are a lot of pure basketball fans that come out, some come out just because it’s fun.”
That is also true with the TinCaps. During a 13-game losing streak last season, the TinCaps had eight home games, and half of those were sellouts.
“A lot of people come for the fireworks, the experience and the group sales,” Nutter said.
Back-to-back trips to the D-League finals have helped the Mad Ants gain a bigger chunk of the minor league attention in Fort Wayne.
By and large, the Mad Ants are more contingent on success for fan support than the TinCaps.
“For us to come in and have a little success (on the court) has validated the idea that we are here for the long term,” Potter said.
While the seasons may sometimes overlap for the three teams, the support for one another is exceptional. All have season tickets to each other’s games and will work together toward a common goal if needed.
“The support for the other franchises is a big reason why we have been recognized as one of the greatest minor league sports towns in the country,” Nutter said.