Winnipeg independent franchise model for success

ADAM WAZNY

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Prior to his first game as a Winnipeg Goldeye in June, veteran outfielder Anton French, a man who has bounced around the minors his whole career, looked around at the stands at CanWest Global Park.

"So this is Winnipeg," he started. "I've heard a lot of good things about this place."

The Goldeyes have spent 14 years in the Northern League and are the second-most successful baseball operation in Canada, trailing only the Toronto Blue Jays. Last season, the independent minor league club attracted 312,213 customers -- the sixth straight season of cracking the 300,000 mark in attendance and a testament to the hard work the staff (20 full time, 100-plus on game days) has put in over the years, including the early years when the team played out of a corner of the then-named Winnipeg Stadium, home to the CFL's Blue Bombers.

"We just don't open up the doors on May 17th and 300,000 people walk through," said GM Andrew Collier. "From the minute the season ends to the minute the season ends the next year, we have to be working."

The Goldeyes model is simple -- cheap sports entertainment for families (tickets range from $5-$15) with a good product, good food and a lot of free stuff. But there's more to it than that. Though CanWest Global Park holds 7,481, the club only sells about 2,000 season tickets every summer. According to Collier, season tickets only have a 60-65% usage rate.

"What we do very well, and other teams have told me how impressed they are by this number, is that we sell over 9,000 (eight-game) mini packs," said Collier, who has been with the team in some capacity since they started in 1994. "That number is significant. Nearly all of those tickets are being used, and having people at the park means increased revenue in other areas like concessions and souvenir sales."

Again, a simple business premise. Get people to the park and they'll spend money.

Before landing the Fish in 1993, owner Sam Katz actually purchased the Edmonton Trappers, the former Triple-A club based in the Alberta capital. That deal fell through, however, when the Pacific Coast League -- not wanting to expand their footprint that far out -- stepped in and blocked the sale.

Thank you, PCL. Without knowing it back then, you gave hope for minor league ball in this country.

The Goldeyes are proof it can be done north of the border.


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