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In this, the third of a three part series, Lake County Captains assistant general manager Neil Stein offers a behind-the-scenes look at all that went in to planning August 1’s Cleveland Sports History Night and Major League movie tribute.
Part one is HERE.
Part two is HERE.
Part three, detailing the night of the promotion in question will commence as soon as you transition from this sentence to the next one.
The “Calm” Before the Storm – Planning the Promo of the Year (Part Three)
Friday, August 1
The day we’ve all be waiting for has finally arrived. My day begins with a 7:12 a.m. text message from our groundskeeper, Dan Stricko, telling me that the golf cart was there but that it was too tall for the garage. He also informed me that the first person in line for the Jobu bobblehead arrived at 4:30 a.m.
At 8:30 I went to Bruce Custom Graphics and picked up a banner for our gate with the text “Welcome to Classic Park. One giveaway per person, not per ticket. No stadium exit until all giveaways are distributed.” I also picked up the 6’6” Skipper cutout with removable jersey. The cutout is reminiscent of the Indians owner from Major League, Rachel Phelps, and the cutout Indians Manager Lou Brown gets for the team. He tells the team that there are 32 pieces on the cutout, and he’ll remove one piece of her clothing for each win they get for the remainder of the season.
When I got into work I spoke with Dan Stricko about the golf cart, to see what we might be able to do as a backup plan. We thought about our options: removing the roof, backing it into the players entrance tunnel, leaving it in the corner of the bullpen and, finally, parking it behind the centerfield gate and driving it out from there. (The final option was the one we ended up deciding on.) I also spoke to Dan about the Brandon Weeden promotion we were planning, where we’d have someone in a Weeden jersey get stuck under the oversized American flag in centerfield just like Brandon Weeden did in his NFL debut for the Browns.
I then wrote up a summary of how the Skipper cutout promotion would work. It would cost $10 for a piece of his jersey; each purchase included an oversized Topps Jobu trading card and another prize. Other prizes included tickets to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, Ricky Vaughn Topps Cards, and Singing Skipper bobbleheads from 2013 which played part of the song “Burn On” from Randy Newman (the song played at the beginning of Major League).
Next I spoke with promotions manager Drew LaFollete about the in-game promotions and the prizes we’d be awarding. We had Ricky Vaughn bobbleheads (thank you Cleveland Indians) for the five fans who got the Red Tag under their seat, full packs of Topps Major League trading cards for in-game promotion winners, Bubba Q’s barbecue sauce for any RBI, and Bubba Q’s gift cards for home runs hit by a Captains player.
I returned to my desk to take care of a few last minute details. These included ticket requests from celebrities, finding graphics for the Bubba Q’s promotion and locating a logo for the Baker Vehicle pitching change promotion.
While doing this I was looking at the Crisco, Vaseline and Vagisil sitting on my desk and had an idea. Could we put all those substances, plus jalapenos, on a tray and offer them to Chelcie Ross when he threw out his first pitch? I found a serving tray and put together a platter of substances from which he could choose for his pitch.
By now, Billy Herron, a college student who has helped us a few times this year, showed up to assist with our celebrities and VIP event. I explained everything to him so that he’d be up to speed as he was helping get the celebrities into the ballpark and to the VIP tables.
It was now 4:45 p.m., so we started moving the bobbleheads out of storage to the gates. I took the boxes that we needed for the VIP event and the rest were to be placed evenly at the gates. We ordered extra giveaways (over and above the 1,500 at the gates) for our season ticket holders who have “guaranteed giveaways” as part of their package. Those boxes were set aside.
At 5 p.m. the gates opened for the 200 people who purchased a Jobu VIP package. I checked them in, as several members of our ownership group helped pass out the bobbleheads. After I got through the initial rush of fans, I noticed that there didn’t seem to be as many boxes at the gates as I was used to seeing. I asked an intern to watch the table for me while I checked storage. Sure enough I found 30 more boxes of bobbleheads that had not made their way to the gates. We only had 10 minutes before gates opened for season ticket holders so I made a plea over our radios for anyone available to get the boxes to the gates. In two minutes the task was done, but it was a panic attack nonetheless.
At 5:45 p.m. season ticket holders began entering and cleared out in about 10 minutes. A couple of last minute stragglers came through in the final five minutes before the gates opened to the public.
At 6 p.m. I wrapped up the VIP early entry and prepared to open gates to the public. The playing of “Burn On” by Randy Newman signaled the opening of the gates. A mere 15 minutes later, the 1500 bobbleheads were gone. In somewhat of a surprise, we didn’t have any issues at the gates with people trying to get more than one bobblehead. An always stressful moment during giveaway nights is when we’re down to the final box. One fan is ultimately going to be number 1,500 and get the giveaway, and the next person will be number 1,501 and kick themselves for not getting in line two minutes sooner. Stadium operations manager Josh Porter drew the short straw and had the final box of bobbleheads. Down to three bobbleheads, he literally held them over his head as fans were pouring in and the next three people who got to him went home with the final Jobu bobbleheads of the night.
Two months earlier, when the national media first picked up on the Jobu giveaway, we knew the demand for Jobu was going to be at an all-time high. Fans were traveling to our ballpark from 23 states and Canada, so we came up with a plan for fans who really wanted a bobblehead but weren’t one of the first 1,500 through the gates. We put together a Jobu seven-game ticket package that would be good for any August game or April 2015 game. The plan was priced the same as our normal seven-game plan — $60 each — and fans who bought a package would get a free Jobu bobblehead at a later date. We planned on placing a re-order for these fans the following week. We had 3,000 postcards printed describing this offer and handed them out once the bobbleheads were gone. Fans wanting this package had to purchase them that night and our ticket department processed the orders on the spot. At the end of the night we had sold nearly 200 packages!
When the gates opened it also marked the start of our game-worn jersey auction and the first half of our celebrity autograph session. The Captains wore replica road jerseys of the 1989 Cleveland Indians – the year Major League was released. A bonus item included in the auction was an autographed Pete Vuckovich baseball. Baseball fans remember Vuckovich as the 1982 American League Cy Young winner with the Milwaukee Brewers but Major League fans know him as Yankees slugger Clu Haywood from the movie. Vuckovich is currently a special assistant in the Seattle Mariners organization and they were gracious enough to have him sign a baseball to include in our auction. Not only did he autograph the baseball, he also included the inscription “Clu Haywood,” which made it even better.
At 6:40 PM the first autograph session ended and our Cleveland sports celebrities were escorted to the field for their First Pitches.
Celebrities included Arthur Chu (Jeopardy! Champion), Hector Marinaro (all-time leading scorer in Indoor Soccer History and former member of Cleveland Crunch and Force), Jock Callander (all-time leading scorer in IHL history), Jessica “Evil” Eye and Stipe Miocic (current top-10 ranked UFC fighters from NE Ohio), Al “Bubba” Baker (former Cleveland Brown), Jim Chones and Austin Carr (all-time great Cleveland Cavaliers) and finally Chelcie Ross, aka Eddie Harris. Ross got the biggest ovation and a huge laugh from the crowd when we presented him with the tray of Vagisil, Crisco, Vaseline and jalapenos to choose from before throwing his pitch. For those wondering, Ross went to the Crisco first followed up by a little Vaseline.
After the first pitches the celebrities got to eat and relax in a suite before returning at 7:15 for the second autograph session. Autographs wrapped up at 8; some of the celebrities headed home for the night while others went back up to the suite to watch the game.
On-field host Andrew Grover and promotions manager Drew LaFollette handled the in-game promotions, along with our interns. Promotions included a rubber chicken launch, with the contestant catching the chickens in a deep fryer basket. In Major League Pedro Cerrano wants to sacrifice a live chicken before a game, but the team brings him a bucket of fried chicken instead. Working with our sponsor, Mr. Chicken, we passed out 20 boxes of chicken from Mr. Chicken and each box contained a certificate good for a free 15-piece dinner. The next promotion was called Vision Chart, as one contestant had to read letters on the video board just like Ricky Vaughn did in Manager Lou Brown’s office before determining he needed glasses. This was followed up by the Willie Mays Hays race. Then, my favorite: Guess the Substance. We blindfolded two contestants and had them feel what was in a bowl in front of them and guess the substance. The substances included Vagisil, Vaseline, Crisco and jalapenos in honor of Eddie Harris. Our final in-game promotion of the night was an Austin Carr impression, where fans tried to do their best impersonation of the current Cavs TV announcer. His signature calls include “Wham with the right hand!” and “Get that weak stuff outta here!”
The dust finally settled around 11 PM; the game was over and the Captains had won by a score of 8-1. Starting pitcher Mitch Brown, who played the role of Rick Vaughn in the Captains Major League spinoff videos, pitched five scoreless innings. Nellie Rodriguez, playing the role of Pedro Cerrano, went 2-for-3 with a double, home run and three RBIs.
The 9,069 fans who attended the game (one of the top five crowds in Classic Park history) and every person involved in the planning of the night — from full and part-time staff to the Eastlake police and maintenance departments to our celebrity guests — contributed to making it an overwhelming success. The Captains’ “Cleveland Sports History Night and Major League 25th Anniversary featuring the Jobu bobblehead” was a grand slam for the organization and the highlight of my 15 seasons in Minor League Baseball.
Thanks to Neil Stein for taking the time to write this, and thanks to you for taking the time to read it. “On the Road” content resumes tomorrow. My next road trip begins on August 22 in Batavia. See you there?
The Lake County Captains staged a mammoth promotion on August 1, combining their annual “Cleveland Sports History” celebration with a wide-ranging 25th anniversary tribute to the movie Major League. The evening’s much-coveted giveaway was a Jobu bobblehead, with actor Chelcie Ross – who played junk-baller Eddie Harris in the film – throwing out a first pitch. Between-innings games and contests referenced Major League in a variety of ways, as a small army of Cleveland sports celebrities signed autographs on the concourse.
In order to shed light on the Minor League Baseball promotional planning process, Captains assistant general manager Neil Stein has written a series of journal entries detailing the work done by he and his staff in the week leading to August 1’s promotion. These journal entries are running in three segments.
Part one can be found HERE, in the latest edition of my Farm’s Almanac column. Part two can be found below. Part three will run on Monday, here on the blog.
The “Calm” Before the Storm – Planning the Promo of the Year (Part Two)
Day off! Yes, a day off during the season. Nonetheless, some work still needed to be done. I got two phone calls at home about our pre-game VIP Meet-and-Greet package, including one person looking to purchase 15 packages. I took time in the afternoon to check my e-mail and respond to several people about the night, including a celebrity who was e-mailing me to potentially cancel his appearance.
That night I needed to run to Walgreens to return a Redbox movie so I thought I’d cross a few items off my list for the Major League promotion while I was there. What items did I need? Nothing out of the ordinary, just a tube of Vagisil, Vaseline and Crisco. In the movie there’s a well-known scene in which Eddie Harris (played by Chelcie Ross, who was coming to our game) and Ricky Vaughn (Charlie Sheen) are talking in the locker room after practice. Sheen looks at Harris, who is shirtless, and notices some substances on his chest. Vaughn asks what’s on his chest and Harris responds with “Crisco, Bardol, Vagisil. Any one of them will give you another two to three inches drop on your curveball.” With Eddie Harris himself coming to the game, we knew we had to incorporate this classic scene into the promotion. Hence, the need to purchase Vagisil and Crisco. Later in the movie there’s a reference to a “Vaseline ball” by the Indians’ radio announcer, played by Bob Uecker, so that’s the significance of the Vaseline. After picking up the items, I checked out, got an interesting look and comment from the woman at the cash register about purchasing Vagisil, and called it a night.
Wednesday, July 30
When I arrived at the ballpark and opened my office door I was greeted by Jobu himself, sitting proudly on the corner of my desk! The biggest stress item and question of the week — “Will the bobbleheads arrive in time?” — could now be crossed off of the list. Thank you Alexander Global for getting Jobu to us on time!
I was then greeted by the Captains beat writer from The News-Herald, David Glasier. David was planning a story on the night and wanted to see Jobu. The News-Herald has been a long-time partner of the Captains and was the co-sponsor of Jobu along with our presenting sponsor Sysco. David and I staged a photo shoot in the office with Jobu and some other bobbleheads. I filled David in on some of the details for Friday, including the golf cart to bring our pitchers in from the bullpen and our plan for first baseman Nellie Rodriguez to play the role of Pedro Cerrano by using “hats for bats.” We also discussed one of our celebrities potentially backing out and brainstormed some potential last-minute replacements.
Then I walked through the concourse with stadium operations manager Josh Porter, so that we could finalize the placement of tables for autographs, sponsors, and the game-worn jersey auction. Josh has been helping with the logistics of the event, including police officers and crowd control for the night. Josh also put together Major League-inspired videos, with our Captains players assuming the roles of players in the movie.
During the afternoon it was time to pick up the phone and confirm more details. This included talking to the Browns to coordinate pickup of The Barge trophy, talking with Campy Russell to confirm Cavs guests, and, finally, at 6 PM, speaking with the representative for Stipe Miocic and Jessica “Evil” Eye (UFC fighters) to confirm t-shirt sales during the game.
That night, while lying in bed, I had a bunch of random thoughts go through my head about the night. This included the possibility of closing the 1st base gate in favor of giving away all of the bobbleheads at the main gate. Also, what happened to the balls we sent to Corbin Bernsen for autographs?
Thursday, July 31
It’s Jobu Eve at Classic Park. In the early morning I got an e-mail from one of our celebrity guests, former Browns and Lions defensive lineman Al “Bubba” Baker. He was inquiring about an in-game promotion involving his restaurant (Bubba Q’s), his barbecue sauce and his famous de-boned rib steaks, all of which were featured on the TV show Shark Tank. Previously we suggested giving out something for every Captains RBI (aka “ribby”) during the game. Bubba liked the idea and also wanted to give out a $50 gift card for every Captains home run.
After that I sat down with general manager Brad Seymour and stadium operations manager Josh Porter, to discuss the possibility of giving away all of the bobbleheads at the main gate. We determined that this would be best in terms of crowd control, and it would also make sure that one location didn’t run out before the other. I suggested routing everyone down the stairs and along the sidewalk in four lines, as we were anticipating long lines Friday night. After this Josh and I walked to the main gate to visualize how the lines would work. We made our best guess as to how long the lines might be and to see how we could safely route the fans along the side of the ballpark. Josh called the city of Eastlake to see if we could borrow traffic cones to help with this process.
In the office I checked the status of some final VIP orders to make sure they were fulfilled, so that there wouldn’t be any issues with this on Friday. (We sold out of VIP packages on Tuesday.) I talked to Josh Porter about our VIP event and how to keep season ticket holders out of the autograph area from 5:45 to 6:00 pm, when those two groups would be overlapping inside the stadium. We came up with a stanchion system that would divide the concourse, which be easy to remove at 6:00 pm.
I then went back to my to-do checklist. Items included working out the logistics of driving the golf cart onto the field, graphics for the video board, PA scripts and reads, and responding to e-mails from fans begging to buy Jobu bobbleheads.
During my lunch break I ran to Goodwill, Wal-Mart and Discount Drug Mart to get some props. We needed pajamas for our Willie Mays Hays in-game promotion, which was going to involve swinging a bat, doing 20 push-ups (like Willie Mays Hays every time he hit a popup during the movie), putting on pajamas and racing from home plate to first base (similar to when Hays was removed from the dorm during training camp, woke up late for practice and ran a 60-yard dash in his pajamas). At Wal-Mart I got red paper to make Red Tags to put under seats, signaling fans had won a prize (as opposed to in the movie, when a Red Tag in someone’s locker signified a player getting cut). Finally, I went to Discount Drug Mart to see if I could find a Pilot Flying J gift card at their Gift Card Center. Unfortunately, they didn’t have one. The plan was to allow anyone with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) to register for a chance to win a $50 gift card, as retribution for the well-documented issues the company owned by Cleveland Browns owner, Jimmy Haslam, had with trucking companies over the past several years.
Our staff held a meeting at 3 pm, where we discussed all the games of the upcoming six-game homestand. (The first game was tomorrow’s Cleveland Sports History Night and Jobu bobblehead giveaway.) We spent 45 minutes discussing details and logistics for Friday night, so that our staff was aware of how things would run and be able to answer any questions. We also conducted a competition among the staff, guessing the time that the first person would arrive for the giveaway.
My guess: 5:30 PM Thursday night.
Following the staff meeting I left to pick up postcards and ticket vouchers for the ticket package we were going to offer to fans who didn’t get a Jobu bobblehead (more about this later). I was also going to pick up a banner for our main gate and a life-sized Skipper cutout, but they weren’t ready so I made arrangements to pick those up Friday.
Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of Neil Stein’s promotion planning journal! Will Eddie Harris opt for the Vagisil? What time will the first fan get in line for the Jobu bobblehead? Will the Skipper cardboard cutout ever arrive? All will be revealed!
It’s time for another edition of “Why I Love”, in which Minor League fans explain just what it is they love about their favorite Minor League team. Today’s guest author is 21-year-old Lake County Captains fan Tyler Stotsky, a native of nearby Mentor, Ohio. Stotsky, a junior at Lake Erie College who is pursuing a sports management degree, has served as the team’s bat boy for the past four seasons.
If you would like to write a “Why I Love” guest post about YOUR favorite team, send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Northeast Ohio area, there are two options for Minor League Baseball: the Akron RubberDucks and the Lake County Captains. The Captains are situated in Eastlake, Ohio, playing their first season in 2003. I have been a fan since 2008, for many different reasons: the staff, atmosphere, promotions and the chance to see the Cleveland Indians of the future.
I love my hometown Lake County Captains.
I love the Lake County Captains because of the always friendly and hospitable staff that you see throughout the ballpark on a daily basis. The crowd is led by on-field host and ticket sales representative Andrew Grover, who who walks through the crowd during every game to ensure that every fan is having a great time. Grover is one of the many smiling faces you see when you walk in the ballpark, and he is the last one you see when you leave. Each and every one of the staff members is incredibly helpful and happy to be there.
I love the Lake County Captains because of the family-friendly atmosphere that the team promotes at Classic Park. one of the best atmospheres that I have experienced in my life. I can bring my girlfriend, brother, sister, parents and other friends to Classic Park, and we can all enjoy a game together. Last year, I took my girlfriend Kelli to her first Captains game. She had so much fun at her first game, she wanted to come back for more throughout the year! I always have an amazing time at the Captains games no matter who I bring.
The Captains are the low-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians, which means that fans could possibly be watching the future of the Tribe as they begin their careers with the Indians organization. 44 Captains alumni have reached the major leagues, and some of the notable names that I have seen and met include Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Preston Guilmet, Cody Allen and Jose Ramirez. Being able to see players develop at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario is a big reason why I love the Lake County Captains.
The Captains have a great slate of promotions every year, developing ideas that will make the fans come back. One of my favorite promotions from the last few years is “A Captains Story,” where everyone’s favorite mascot — Skipper — is featured in a bobblehead portraying scenes from the film A Christmas Story.
Other outstanding Captains’ promo nights include Cleveland Sport History Night, Star Wars Night and an assortment of ethnic heritage nights. I have had the opportunity to meet many celebrities at the ballpark, such as former WWE wrestlers Sgt. Slaughter & Ted DiBiase, Peter Ostrum (the original Charlie Bucket from Willy Wonka) and Cleveland Cavaliers play-by-play man Fred McLeod. The Captains try to get the fans involved with the promotions and it works!
These are just some of the the reasons why I love the Lake County Captains, and the fact that I get to be the batboy makes it so much sweeter!
Thanks to Tyler for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then send an email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Lake County Captains post from 2011.
Last month I featured a guest post on this blog by Gillian Richard, who wrote about her love for the soon-to-be-departing Huntsville Stars. In the wake of that post I took to Twitter, asking Minor League Baseball fans to write about why they love their hometown team. Wes Milligan was the first to respond to this challenge; what follows is his ode to the Memphis Redbirds. If you would like to write a “Why I Love…” guest post about YOUR favorite team, then shoot me an email email@example.com
You don’t get a second chance to throw out a first pitch at a Memphis Redbirds game.
There I was, just a few feet from the mound, a bundle of nerves as I prepared for my moment on the hill. To make matters worse, a few days earlier Carly Rae Jepsen had thrown out what could be the worst first pitch in Major League Baseball history, and her horrific bounce was playing in a loop in my head. I was so terrified that I hadn’t even told most of my FedEx co-workers about my impending moment in the spotlight. If I bounced it, I would never hear the end of it. Ever.
Right before I stepped on the mound, I asked a staff member which player would be catching the baseball. She said, “Oh, it’s Michael Wacha.” I went pale. True, Wacha wasn’t yet the NLCS MVP, but every die-hard St. Louis Cardinals fan knew the young prospect. He wasn’t going to be in Memphis long, and I didn’t want his last memory of AutoZone Park to be a slider in the dirt, 30 feet from home plate. And did I mention America’s Homecoming Queen was throwing another first pitch after me? So I have a future MLB star, a beauty queen and thousands of fans watching me. Nah, no pressure. No pressure at all.
When I moved to the Memphis area more than two years ago, I was more excited about seeing the Redbirds play than starting my new job at FedEx. As a lifelong Cardinals fan and former resident of St. Louis, being able to watch the young baseball talent move up the farm system firsthand was a great tourism attraction and on my baseball bucket list. It quickly became so much more than that.
My best memories of Memphis now involve the Redbirds: snagging a foul ball, tasting Rendezvous barbecue nachos for the first time, and taking in a weekday matinee game on an extended lunch break. The willingness of the team to support the Alzheimer’s Association, my charity of choice, has meant a lot to me. And who doesn’t like fireworks night?
There was also the time I beat my buddies during the fifth inning tricycle race. I never did tell them one of the Memphis RedHots gave me the inside track on how to win, but does that really matter? The Memphis Redbirds give us all a chance to wind down after a long day at work, catch up with friends – and make new ones – while watching quality baseball in the city we call home.
Minor League Baseball teams, like the Memphis Redbirds, are community treasures. The team gives us affordable access to the game we love so much, supports the community and local charities, and introduces children to America’s pastime in a close and intimate environment. For example, the Memphis Redbirds have supported the RBI Program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) for a very long time, raising thousands of dollars to grow the next generation of players and fans. That’s how I got to throw out a first pitch. Fans who donate to the program at a certain level can fulfill that baseball dream. Just don’t bounce it.
Well, if Bob Uecker was there that night, he would have called my pitch “just a biiiiit outside.” But I didn’t bounce it. Wacha autographed the baseball, I rejoined my friends in the stands and we all enjoyed yet another Memphis Redbirds game at AutoZone Park, my favorite place to watch baseball.
To the Memphis Redbirds: thank you for the memories and for the great times that I know are just around the corner. I’ll see you Opening Day — now pass those nachos!
Thanks to Wes for taking the time to write this and, again: if YOU would like to submit a post for this series, then email the address below. In the meantime, here’s my “On the Road” Memphis Redbirds blog post from 2012.
Earlier this month I wrote a post asking for suggestions regarding my 2014 road trip itineraries. Responses flowed in (well, perhaps trickled in) via both email and Twitter, but an email I received from one Gillian Richard stood out above the rest. Richard is a passionate fan of and advocate for the Huntsville Stars and their home of Joe Davis Stadium, and as I read her email it became apparent to me that hers is a perspective worth sharing. While this may have been addressed to me specifically, it can — and should! — be read as a message to all Minor League Baseball fans: Get thee to Huntsville in 2014!
Enjoy, and after reading get thee to MiLB.com and read this blog post’s companion piece, my interview with Stars general manager Buck Rogers.
I just wanted to add my thoughts about your 2014 road trip itinerary, on behalf of the Huntsville Stars. I’ve been a Stars Fan for a long time (since birth, actually. I’m from Huntsville), and I’m really sad to see the team go at the end of the year. However, since it is the last year for the team, I think they are very deserving of a spot on your itinerary.
While the team doesn’t have the best reputation within the Minors, it holds a special place in my heart. Being in the South, baseball usually comes second to college football, but it was never that way for me, and that’s largely because of the Huntsville Stars. I grew up going to games, and I worked at “The Joe” for two summers that went by way too fast. It was at Joe Davis Stadium that I fell in love with the game, and during my second season there that I realized all I ever want to do in life is wake up and work at a ballpark. I poured my heart and soul into that summer, and I was paid back tenfold because of the people who worked there and, of course, because of the game.
Joe Davis Stadium has a lot more to offer than it’s given credit for. Being the oldest stadium in the league has its perks, one of which is the great wildlife you can find inside the park! Gary the Groundhog was the subject of many conversations, and I think it’s safe to say he’s the unofficial mascot of the Stars. (He even has his own Twitter handle.) One of my cats was a stray I found running around after a game, so I took him home and named him Joe Davis. It just seemed like the right thing to do. There are countless other things that make the stadium unique, and I’m sure you could find several long-time season ticket holders who can share even better stories than what I’ve got. I can think of several people who feel the same way I do about this place, as a matter of fact.
So maybe the attendance numbers aren’t as good as they could be. Maybe I spent my 20th birthday spray painting a tarp to cover a hole in the batter’s eye because the stadium is outdated. But despite those things, I can’t think of a staff or a stadium more deserving of recognition. Isn’t Minor League Baseball supposed to be about the historic instead of these brand new, high-tech stadiums anyways? About spending an afternoon in the cheap seats, appreciating the simple things in life? Focusing more on the talent and the crazy promotions than on the stadium amenities? That’s what I love about the game, anyways. And that’s what I’ve gotten out of the countless nights I’ve spent at The Joe throughout my life.
If nothing else I’ve said makes you at least consider coming to Huntsville to help me say goodbye to my team, we have a sweet used record store that’s trip-worthy! I would be more than happy to show you all Huntsville has to offer, which is more than you might think.
I don’t know if you’ll be able to make time for it, but I would appreciate you considering it. Baseball is one of those things that gets in your blood and stays forever, especially for those of us who have chosen to make careers out of loving a game. The Huntsville Stars are definitely in my blood, and even though all my merchandise will become vintage come September, I’ll never forget what the team meant to me and what a difference it made in my life.
I think I wrote this letter partially to pitch the idea of you coming for a visit, but mostly it was for me to be able to express how I was feeling about the team leaving to someone who might understand. Thanks for reading, and thanks for writing this blog. You do a great job with it, and I appreciate every post.
While I have visited Huntsville in the past, Gillian’s email really got me thinking about how a “final” visit would be appropriate. While I am not ready to announce my road trip itineraries yet (i’s need to be dotted, t’s need to be crossed, blah blah blah), I have put together a trip that does include Huntsville on the schedule. I’ll be there in early June, God willing, chomping at the bit to visit that used record store.
But, more importantly, I hope that Gillian has inspired YOU to perhaps visit the Stars in their final season. You might get to meet Gary the Groundhog, and, who knows? You might get to go on the field after a rain out and watch the general manager use a bullwhip to pull a sword out of a guy’s mouth. That’s what happened when I stopped by in 2009.
Last Friday I composed an MiLB.com feature focusing on the annual Minor League attendance report written by David Kronheim (aka “The Number Tamer”).
The information contained in the feature, while copious, was a proverbial drop in the bucket when compared to the statistical largesse one can find in the full report. Therefore, I asked Kronheim if he would be willing to write a guest post in which he further expostulated upon MiLB attendance trends as well as the methods behind his numerical madness. He graciously obliged, and now my only hope is that you will be so gracious as to read it.
FOLLOW-UP ON THE 2013 MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE ANALYSIS ARTICLE
By David Kronheim, Numbertamer.com
Benjamin Hill provided a very good overview of my 2013 Minor League Baseball Attendance Analysis in his article on the Minor League Baseball website. He has asked me for my thoughts on the main points of the report, as well as information regarding how I compiled all of this data.
OVERALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH
Minor League Baseball is a great example of how a business that was dying in the 1950s and 1960s rebuilt itself very successfully. Its growth goes beyond ticket sales. Food and merchandise revenue has hugely increased, as have other income sources, along with the value of teams. The days of being able to buy a Minor League team by just assuming its debts are long gone.
The Minor Leagues had a big attendance boost following World War II, but then suffered a very rapid decline. Attendance went from nearly 40 million in the late 1940s to less than 10 million by the early 1960s, with most lower level leagues and teams going out of business. Run-down ballparks, home air conditioning, and easier access for many fans to Major League ballparks were among the causes of this drop in attendance. But the introduction of television was by far the biggest factor.
The Pacific Coast League was good example of this. That league had the highest caliber of Minor League players, good ballparks, and large markets. Between 1946 and 1949, the teams in this league had an average attendance of 475,006 per team, per season. Just a few years later, from 1954 through 1957, Pacific Coast League teams averaged only 212,226 per team, per season, a 55.3% decline. Major League attendance was down 16.9%, when comparing these same 4 year periods.
The PCL still had teams in the biggest markets on the West Coast before the Dodgers and Giants moved to California in 1958. The closest Major League teams were over a thousand miles away, in St. Louis and Kansas City, yet P.C.L. attendance plunged, mainly due to the availability of television.
Now, Major League Baseball attendance is at near-record-high levels, with teams all over the mainland United States, plus a team in Canada. Baseball and other sports are available on television and other devices every day. Yet Minor League Baseball attendance, with far fewer teams than 65 years ago, has been approaching 50 million fans a year (including the independent leagues). The basic causes of this attendance growth are simple: new ballparks and effective marketing.
Many of the newer Minor League ballparks offer the same comforts, conveniences, and amenities as a Major League park, just on a smaller scale. Re-branding of teams and gameday promotions certainly helped grow attendance. More importantly, Minor League Baseball has promoted itself as low cost, fan-friendly, family fun in a safe and pleasant environment. It works! Just look at how many kids you see at the games.
MINOR LEAGUE ATTENDANCE IN MAJOR LEAGUE MARKETS
The return of Minor League Baseball to some of the largest markets in the U.S. is one of the more striking changes in this industry.
For years it was thought that a Minor League team located near a Major League team could not survive. In 1976, only 4 Minor League teams were located with 60 miles of a Major League team. In 2013, there were 60 Minor League teams (including the independent leagues) located in the same TV market as a Major League team. Or, if they were in a different TV market, they still were within 60 miles of an MLB team.
20 years ago there were no Minor League teams in the New York TV market. In 2013 there were 10, including two (Brooklyn, Staten Island) within the borders of New York City itself. Some Minor League Baseball teams draw quite well even in this market, which has nine teams in the four major sports leagues.
Near Philadelphia, the Reading Fightin’ Phils were drawing under 85,000 per season as recently as the mid-1980’s. Now they have topped 420,000 for 16 years in a row, despite playing in an older ballpark and being just 60 miles from Citizen’s Bank Park (home of the Philadelphia Phillies). Plus, there are now Minor League teams in much newer ballparks, in nearby cities such as Trenton, Allentown, Lancaster, and Harrisburg. They all draw well, and even more competition in Reading comes from a modern indoor arena that is home to a minor league hockey team. Yet none of this has hurt the Fightin’ Phils at the gate.
Meanwhile, in Ohio, there are the Dayton Dragons. This Midwest League club, located 60 miles from Cincinnati, have had 983 playing dates in their 14 year history and have officially sold out every single one of them!
MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL ATTENDANCE GROWTH COMPARED TO GROWTH IN OTHER LEAGUES
My research found that, over the past four decades, Minor League Baseball attendance has increased at a much faster pace than almost all other leagues. Comparing 2013 to 1999, the only U.S. pro sports league that has grown faster than Minor League Baseball is Major League Soccer.
I looked at total and average attendance per team for 2013 vs. 1999, 1989, 1979, and 1969, and compared the growth rates in those categories for Minor League Baseball (affiliated leagues only) and for MLB and other sports.
The 2013 vs. 1999 comparison covered MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, WNBA, MLS, and Minor League Hockey. Minor League Baseball average attendance per team (up 18.1%) increased by at least double the pace of any of these leagues except for Major League Soccer, which was up 38.3%.
For 1989, 1979, and 1969, the comparisons were made with MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. In 2013, the Minor League Baseball average attendance per team was 67.6% higher than in 1989. The NHL, up 21.6%, had the next best growth.
Comparing the 2013 vs. 1979 growth rate shows that Minor League Baseball’s average per team attendance rose 119.6%, more than double the pace of any other sport. The 2013 vs. 1969 increase was 250% for the Minors. The next best increase was 191.5% for the combined NBA and the old American Basketball Association. (If you look at NBA teams only, their average per team rose 129.2%.)
HOW THIS DATA IS COMPILED
I also compile and write a report covering Major League Baseball attendance. Both analyses can be found on the ‘Baseball Reports’ page of numbertamer.com.
I have no inside information, and I’ve never been employed by any sports league or team. I began to keep track of sports attendance when I was a radio sportscaster in college, because I knew that teams often made personnel decisions based, in part, on attendance. I also worked on sports-related accounts in my advertising career, so I had to keep up with the business side of sports. These reports are part marketing analysis and part journalism. Most of the news regarding Minor League attendance is positive. But I also make sure to report on those teams that don’t draw well.
All of my data comes from sources that are available to the public and to the media. The charts and tables in both reports were all originally done by me; often, quite a few calculations were needed to create them. But the raw data I used can be found by anyone.
In addition to what you see in my reports, I have created huge databases of both Major and Minor League Baseball attendance information. For example, I have listings of each current Minor League city’s yearly attendance going back to at least 1947. My Major League data goes back to 1900 and has each team’s yearly total attendance, their yearly average attendance per date, and much more.
It would be far too cumbersome to publish all of this data, but I’m always willing to share it for free. All I ask is that you list my name or numbertamer.com as the source of this information if you use it.
My major sources for Minor League data have been the Sporting News Baseball Guides (no longer published), the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (edited by Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff), independent league websites, and the office of Minor League Baseball (with special thanks to Steve Densa, their Executive Director of Communications.)
For the Major League report, my main sources of information for recent years are the Major League Baseball Information System which reports all Major League statistics, and the team media guides. Much historic data is from Total Baseball and from the ESPN Baseball Encyclopedia, both edited by Pete Palmer (among others). Retrosheet.org is a very valuable source, especially when it comes to determining how many home dates each Major League team played every year. I have many other sources of information, and they are listed near the front of the Major League Analysis.
If you are a baseball fan who cares about attendance records and statistics, I hope you find my reports interesting. After all, attendance is the only sports statistic created by the fans.
Thanks to David Kronheim for taking the time to compile these reports every season, they are an invaluable source of information for fans and the industry alike. At least one more post will appear on this blog before the week is out, and all I can tell you is that it will contain considerably less information than this one. That’s a guarantee.
Mike Lortz is a freelance writer from Tampa, Florida. He is currently working on his MBA and finishing his first baseball fiction book, but briefly took time off from those pursuits in order to attend the Baseball Winter Meetings in Orlando. 2013 marked the third time he’d made such a pilgrimage, but was it a charm? In this guest blog post, he describes his latest Winter Meetings experience.
“You will never find a more reported hive of rumors and ability.” – Unsaid at the Baseball Winter Meetings
Most baseball fans know the Winter Meetings as the annual gathering of agents, players, and front office folks to negotiate trades, signings, and other personnel decisions. Fans of this blog and of Minor League Baseball might also know the business meetings and Job Fair side of the Winter Meetings. But for me, the Winter Meetings is something different. For me, the Winter Meetings is a chance to be part of the baseball scene and peek into the guts of the machine.
The 2013 Winter Meetings, held from December 9-12, marked my third venture to the Swan and Dolphin Hotel since moving to Tampa in 2006. During my first visit, I was a fly on the wall, watching people and scrapping up the courage to shake hands with Ozzie Guillen, Cal Ripken, Jim Leyland, and others. My second trip in 2010 was less star-studded, but I did talk briefly with Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner and met a few people I conversed with on Twitter, including an NBC Sports writer. I was still a fly on the wall, but I was learning how the room was arranged.
Since 2010, my writing career has grown quite a bit. Not to the point where I am a multimedia hero or a trending topic on Twitter, but to the point where I have a network, albeit small. Most of this network would be at the 2013 Winter Meetings. This time I might actually feel like I fit in.
So for a third time I traveled over the river (the Hillsborough) and through the woods (the somewhat barren ruralness of Knights Griffin Road) to the Baseball Winter Meetings. In the weeks prior, I contacted some of my small network to see if they were interested in meeting face-to-face. To my surprise, they were open to the idea.
As I did in 2006 and 2010, I parked in the guest lot at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. Little known fact: guest parking at the Winter Meetings has increased from $9.50 in 2006 to $15 in 2013. I guess the folks at Disney realize people like me are showing up and want to make a few bucks. But after an hour drive, I would not be deterred.
Walking around the Swan and Dolphin lobby, I was immediately struck by how many more media people seemed to be there. During my first year, there was no news desk near the lobby’s giant Christmas tree. In 2010, ESPN started broadcasting live from the lobby. In 2013, MLB Network joined ESPN with a desk. The media presence down the media hallway had exploded as well. SNY, NESN, and several other regional sports media had tables, desks, and other broadcast equipment assembled. If there was a transaction, or the rumor, thought, or idea of a transaction, it was going to be talked about right there.
I also saw a group at this year’s Winter Meetings who I had never seen before: autograph seekers. I was shocked to see several guys (isn’t it always guys?) trying to get signatures from Dodgers manager Don Mattingly and network analysts Ron Darling and Dan Plesac. Although I understand autograph seeking, the Winter Meetings just doesn’t seem the place for that.
Another popular group at the Winter Meetings were job hunters. Unlike the autograph seekers, job hunters are expected, encouraged, and embraced. The easiest way to identify a job seeker is to look for the young person in a suit jacket. Most media and baseball people dress well, but forego the jacket.
After reorienting myself with the lay of the Swan and Dolphin, I met with Minor League blogger Jessica Quiroli of the blog High Heels on the Field and had a great discussion on Minor League reporting, prospect analysis, and brand building. Even better, she knew who I was. I also talked with a writer I knew from the Tampa Bay Rays blogosphere and another former Baseball Prospectus writer. Three people!
Through wandering the halls of the Swan and Dolphin, I also met and shook hands with the ownership of the Tampa Bay Rays. I told them I had been a part-season ticket holder for several years and thanked them for their product. I think it’s important to tell people that you enjoy the entertainment they provide.
Another little known fact of the Winter Meetings through the years: in 2006 a bottle of Bud Light was $5.50. In 2013, a bottle of Heineken was $7.50. And a can of Diet Coke was $3.50. I guess those making $60 million over five years can afford more than one, but I sure couldn’t. Maybe the high prices are to keep the job seekers from mingling with the millionaires. I am not sure where the media personnel fall on that spectrum, but many of them congregate near the lobby bar alongside the baseball lifers.
Before leaving, I had one more writer e-migo to meet, the illustrious king of reporting on Minor League gimmicks, fashions, and trends, the one, the only bloglord of Ben’s Biz, Ben Hill. During a break in his busy schedule, I told Ben to look for the only person in the lobby wearing a Santa Claus hat. Accompanied by other Minor League front office folks (Ben is a very popular guy!), we chatted about travel, the career of writers, Florida’s minor league parks, and death metal. Next thing I knew it was past 11pm. I still had to drive back to Tampa.
I bid adieu to Ben and the other folks in our conversation and made my way to the exit, another Winter Meetings under my belt. I’ve made progress in the seven years since my first Winter Meetings. Maybe next time the Winter Meetings comes to Disney World, people will be asking for my autograph. Or at least I’ll be able to expense the cost of parking.
For more from Mike, follow him on Twitter @JordiScrubbings. For more from me, just visit bensbiz.mlblogs.com and keep hitting refresh. Something’ll come up eventually. See ya in 2014!
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and with Thanksgiving comes the official start of the holiday season. What better time, then, to turn this blog over to the Holiday League?
Yes, the Holiday League — a theoretical three-team (and growing) circuit whose logos are entirely real. The “HL,” as I just decided to call it, is the brainchild of artist/designer/baseball fan John Hartwell, who established Hartwell Studio Works in 2006. In this post he talks about his professional background, how the Holiday League came to be, and, most importantly, shares his collection of HL primary and alternate marks. This should gave you logo fiends out there — you know who you are — a lot to talk about, but even casual fans should enjoy perusing an imagined sporting realm which has room for zombies, reindeer, and anthropomorphic evergreens. Get ready to read John’s words now, as this italicized intro has run its course.
I’ve been working as a creative professional for the past 20 years, first as an illustrator and cartoonist, adding graphic designer to my description for the past ten. I cut my sports teeth on the Nolan Ryan-era Texas Rangers and absolutely feel in love with minor league baseball in the mid-to late 90‘s with the San Antonio Missions. Games at the Wolff with Henry the Puffy Taco and Ballapeño are not to be missed.
When Hartwell Studio Works launched as in independent sports design shop in 2006, one of my very first clients was Jonathan Nelson and the Birmingham Barons, doing a variety of marks for the team, including a team rebrand in 2008. As the studio’s client list grew, I knew marketing and self-promotions needed to be part of the regular project mix.
The Holiday League started as last Christmas’ North Pole Reindeer studio promo. The Reindeer were, if nothing else, a clever idea that made me laugh. It could have fallen flat on its face, but at least I would have fun doing it.
The overwhelmingly positive response to the Reindeer, however, led to the idea that this “Holiday League” could have real legs as a studio promotional campaign. The “Holiday League” name was a throw-away line in the Reindeer promo, but through the Huggers and Creepers promos and the league website and store launches, the whole thing has taken on a life of its own. It’s proven to be a great creative exercise, giving me a chance to try out new ideas and stay fresh.
Arborville Huggers “traditional” logo option for fan voting. (Extra points to whomever can identify the Monty Python reference in the original email promo.)
The Arborville “hippie” option:
The Huggers logo option for “today’s modern hipster.”
The Amityville Creeper primary logo. I briefly considered hailing them from Crystal Lake, but thought that might be too obscure:
Don and Doug the Doubleheader. The Creepers were an exercise in making bad baseball + Halloween jokes.
Credit for Bat Boy goes to a designer buddy of mine who, when I told him about the Creepers idea over lunch, blurted out “Bat Boy!” as a name for one of the mascots. I literally stopped in mid-chew, smacked my forehead, and realized it was a far better idea than the vampire character I originally had in mind. He was kind enough to let me use his much better idea!
I’m a big fan of The Walking Dead, so Wally the Walker was a no-brainer (get it?) for the Creepers. I laugh every time I look at him.
This year’s Christmas promo is already teed up with a return trip to the Reindeer. It will be a bit different from what has gone before, but I think folks will get a kick out of it. Next year’s holiday teams have already been determined, and I’m already looking forward to Christmas 2014.
So there ya have it, folks: John Hartwell and the Holiday League. Thanks for reading, enjoy your Thanksgiving, and see you in December. Oh, and that reminds me: The Winter Meetings are almost upon us! Please get in touch if you’re going be there and/or have any Winter Meeting content suggestions or article and blog post pitches That’s what I’m here for.
Last week I received an email from Brad Lawrence of Fox Virtual Tours, “the leading provider of Google Business Photos 360 Virtual Tours in the [Illinois] Fox Valley.” Brad, a certified “Google trusted photographer,” had recently created one such tour for the Kane County Cougars and as such thought that I might be interested in the potential of this technology for Minor League Baseball teams in general. I was, which leads us to this: a guest post by Brad in which he extols the virtues of Google tours. Perhaps this technology, as utilized by Kane County, will soon be coming to a team near YOU.
I had worked for the Cougars during college, in the early years of the franchise. Typical of Minor League Baseball, I wore multiple hats—answering phones during the day, and manning the Customer Service booth during games. (I was in my booth the night of OJ’s infamous slow-speed chase in 1994, and I’ll never forget the bizarre scene in the adjacent press box, as all the guys huddled around a TV.) Little did I know that almost 20 years later, I’d be back at that very same spot shooting a virtual tour for this new company called “Google,” which in ’94 did not exist.
I presented the idea to the Cougars in late August, and they were enthusiastic. Their Google tour would be the first of its kind in Minor League Baseball. It would showcase the ballpark 365 days per year on Google properties, and it would be a valuable resource for both fans and team alike. When fans bought tickets, they could sample views from around the stadium—even the lawn area or the “Leinie Lodge” right field deck. The Cougars had added an impressive Upper Deck since my stint with the team, and we were excited to show it in the tour. We would include the Super Suite, both party decks, and two standard suites in the tour. Fans could see the spectacular views from the balconies. At field level, fans would be able to take a “virtual” trip around the bases on a picture-perfect day.
The Cougars gave me the green light and I began shooting just after the season ended. We had an ideal window where the weather was great and the ballpark still looked “game-ready,” but there were no games to work around. After a few trips to the ballpark, I had all the individual “panos” I needed to assemble the tour. I then began the final stage of connecting them all to create a seamless tour of the ballpark. It all came together nicely, and I was thrilled to publish it and see it live on Google. The Cougars were thrilled, too.
I enjoyed my rendezvous with the Cougars. I think the moment is right for Google’s virtual tours, which are offered in the Google Business Photos program. With fast Internet and widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, the tours look great on a variety of devices. They engage fans with interactive content on Google, and can be embedded on the team’s website and Facebook page. Sales staff can keep a spreadsheet with links to various locations in the tour, and simply share a link to show a section, suite or party deck. It’s a tremendous marketing resource. And with some of the finest views in all of sports, a baseball park makes a wonderful subject for a Google tour.
And now, a brief addendum from Kane County director of public relations Shawn Touney:
Just a couple of weeks in, this has been a great resource for us. I have personally used this for a couple of sponsorship meetings I’ve had. I actually spoke to a college class last week and they asked me about the tour before I had even mentioned it in my presentation. And our ticket sales team has used this as well to facilitate new business for company outings. For several of the group picnic areas at our ballpark, we have embedded code on their corresponding web pages. Here’s an example from our Party Suites web page.
And that, as they say, is that. Thanks to Brad (firstname.lastname@example.org) for writing this post (which, by the way, was #997 in Ben’s Biz Blog history). If you are interested in writing a guest post then, by all means, get in touch. I’m all ears, figuratively if not literally.
As you may be aware, I embark upon yet another Minor League road trip this Friday. While on the road I strive to have a set of established routines, so that my content remains consistent from location to location. Blog posts, MiLB.com stories, photo galleries, hotel room reviews, player interviews and Designated Eater Vine videos will be provided this next time around, but for one reader that’s not enough. This reader, he wants more.
And what does this reader want, specifically?
Cupdates — as in, information regarding the specifics of each team’s collectible plastic drinkwear accompanied by corresponding visuals.
This cup-besotted reader is Peter Golkin, last seen on this blog advocating for the “Universal Rain Check” (a guest post that resulted in a series of very thoughtful comments, though “the powers that be” didn’t see fit to respond). This time Golkin’s agitating is directed at me specifically, however, and I may accede to his demands if it is demonstrated that they do not occur in a vacuum. I now give this virtual floor over to Golkin, so that he may make his case.
With the new season well under way and Minor League Baseball still heatedly debating the concept of a transformational, good-at-any-park Universal Raincheck (OK, that idea was completely ignored), attention now shifts downward–under the seats amid the soggy post-game detritus.
What Minor League Baseball fans want to know is: Which teams will bring forth the great stadium soda cups of 2013?
Besides the potential jackpot from a killer cap, ballclubs have no more alluring canvas on which to paint their identities than the 16- or 24-ounce plastic vessel now given by architects its own seatside suspension system.
Beer cups tend to be clear and generic for the benefit of security. But an illustrated soda cup begs for a collectable’s afterlife. Perhaps a spot next to the backyard hammock or snug in the minivan’s console. Even as a dipper’s cuspidor, the ballpark cup suggests longevity like few souvenirs can.
So what is the state of the MiLB soda cup in 2013?
Are teams going with thin, delicate models with high centers of gravity and pastel logos like those from Churchill Container Co.? Or are they opting for the thick and litho-friendly Dynamic Drinkware tumbler, like Greensboro did last year with its memorable “Grasshopper Gone Big Time” series? (Yes, they still called Giancarlo Stanton “Mike” but that’s what his superimposed signature reads and the cup was a keeper nonetheless.)
And unlike with official team headwear, money does not have to be a factor in the preservation and study of stadium soda cups. All that’s needed are patience and a willingness to touch someone else’s moist refuse. That’s why ballparks have bathroom sinks and free napkins.
As Rougned Odor continues to make his way toward Arlington and Eastern League clubs keep adding rival logos to urinal strainers, let us also pay close attention to those graspable plastic works of sports art and history.
We want pictures and we want stats (capacity, price of cup with drink, manufacturer, ads/no ads, dishwasher-friendly? etc.) Perhaps this is why Twitter was invented.
Regardless of the ultimate format, a regular MiLB Cupdate is long overdue in this, our unprecedented Information Age.I’ll drink to that and to memories of the man once known as Mike Stanton, Big Grasshopper.
So what say YOU? Should “cupdates” become a regular part of my road trip coverage? If the people speak, I shall listen.