Smell the Change.
Laugh. Cheer. Oink.
Bacon is Better.
These are all mottos that Kurt Landes has embraced while bringing the zaniness of minor league baseball into the mainstream during his tenure as president and general manager of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. Landes has established himself as one of the preeminent promoters in minor league baseball, beginning as a young GM with the Daytona Cubs and Hagerstown Suns before launching the IronPigs franchise in 2008. He has since become a trendsetter, building the IronPigs into one of the top draws in the minors while pushing the limits with creative promotions.
What follows is my conversation with Landes about his quick rise through the minors, how he approaches promotions and his philosophy for building a successful brand. His insight should be useful for anyone involved in marketing—whether in professional baseball or elsewhere. The transcript has been edited in spots for length and clarity.
When did you decide that you want to work in minor league baseball? What about minor league baseball appealed to you as a career?
Like many high school kids, I was really involved in sports growing up, so I wanted to be involved in sports but I didn’t really know what that meant. I ended up going to Bowling Green State University in Ohio and doing a lot of different internships and practicums in different areas of sport, and one of those was with the Toledo Mud Hens. And I really enjoyed it and really gravitated toward using sport and entertainment collectively. I enjoyed that a lot.
The following year they asked me to come back full-time. And that was back in 1995. I cut my teeth and got my start with the Mud Hens in Ohio. I really understood how baseball and sport was a vehicle for entertainment and I really enjoyed that cross-section, and minor league baseball kind of hooked me at that point in time.
It was a busy weekend of minor league baseball and we’re here to help you get caught up by presenting the top draws from Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
First, a few highlights:
- Fans turned out for baseball in the heart of Texas, as the Frisco RoughRiders topped the 10,000 mark on back-to-back nights.
- The Albuquerque Isotopes put up the biggest number on the board by drawing 12,330 on Saturday night, well up on their season average of 7,614. It was Little League Night at Isotopes Park, complete with postgame fireworks.
- Rochester doubled its season average on Friday night when Dustin Pedroia came to town with Pawtucket for a rehab start.
- Tim Tebow was in New Hampshire over the weekend, as were Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio.
Now, on to the stats . . .
It was a big day for the International League on Thursday, with four IL clubs drawing the biggest crowds in the minor leagues. Toledo, Columbus, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Rochester led the way on today’s attendance tracker and followed a familiar theme, as three of the four hosted Education Day promotions.
The Lexington Legends created a bit of a Twitter controversy late last week when the South Atlantic League franchise announced their Millennial Night promotion in a poking fun kind of way that is a tradition in minor league baseball. The event, held Monday night at Whitaker Bank Ballpark, included free parking, participation ribbons for showing up, nap time, selfie stops and faux-outrage petitions.
Millennial defenders, at least those responding on Twitter, were neither amused nor the saw irony in their outrage. After all, a promotion intended to lightheartedly mock millennials for taking themselves too seriously resulted in them, well, taking themselves a bit too seriously.
Education Days ruled the day at minor league ballparks on Wednesday. The Toledo Mud Hens topped all teams in attendance by recording their third sellout of the season on “School Celebration Day,” which featured $5 tickets for students and teachers, and optional $4 bag lunches. The Bowie Baysox packed them in as well, drawing 7,825 fans and finishing second on “College Fair Day” for middle school and high school students.
In total, eight of the top 10 teams yesterday opened their gates in the morning to welcome schoolchildren for some form of an education day promotion—the Hartford Yard Goats, for example, featured an anti-bullying day for school children. Education Days make for a long day at the ballpark for players and staff, but seem to be a consistent draw for teams and are a staple of spring schedules.
Below is a list of the top 20 attendance figures in the minor leagues.
Steve Gliner didn’t think much of the tornado warnings that buzzed across his phone as he sat in his office at Dutchess Stadium yesterday afternoon. The Hudson Valley Renegades president look outside and saw nothing but clear skies—a seemingly perfect day for a ballgame a month from now when the New York-Penn League season begins.
That all changed a few minutes later.
Renegades employees took shelter in their offices early yesterday afternoon as a storm battered the ballpark for about 10 minutes, knocking down a portion of the outfield wall, tearing down much of the stadium signage, overturning equipment on the concourse and toppling trees in the parking lot. No determination has been made if a tornado passed by the ballpark, but at the very least Gliner said “it was probably the strongest thunderstorm to ever come through here.”
Red Sox veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s minor league stint was put on hold Tuesday night when the Pawtucket Red Sox’s game against the Buffalo Bisons was rained out. The teams are scheduled to play bright and early this morning at 11:05 as part of a “Student Day” promotion.
Last night’s rainout was certainly a blow to Pawtucket, which is trying to make the most out of the Red Sox hero’s time in Triple-A. The team has promoted Pedroia (aka Captial Grille for his generous postgame spread Monday) on its social media platforms, and while his presence is hardly equivalent to “Tebow Mania,” he would likely have helped the PawSox draw a larger-than-normal crowd Tuesday night if the weather had cooperated.