Things are looking up for the Reno Aces (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League), as attendance has spiked over the past two seasons under team president Eric Edelstein, resulting in one of the better turnaround stories in Minor League Baseball.
To trace the origins of Reno’s turnaround, one would have to go back to 2013. In their fifth season since relocating from Tucson, the Aces were on their way to a franchise-low 349,364 fans—the continuation of a trend in which the Aces’ attendance dropped in each season after they drew 466,606 to Aces Ballpark in 2009.
As the Aces tried to work through their issues, Edelstein was leading a steady operation for the Northwest Arkansas Naturals (Class AA; Texas League), overseeing the team’s move from Wichita and setting up operations in a new state. The Naturals’ Arvest Ballpark hosted its first game in 2008, putting the club in a position to keep fans in the early phases of the great recession.
“I’m sure it was really hard, but at the same time whether the expectations are high or low, you’re always trying to get better,” Edelstein said of the experience. “It probably helped me, because it very quickly broke me of any honeymoon syndrome that might have been there and made us more proactive.” He also said that his career was enhanced by Rich Baseball Operations, the “supportive” owners of the Naturals. “Working with the Rich Family and Jon Dandes (Rich Baseball President) gave me tremendous opportunities at a young age. Nothing else happens if they don’t give me that chance.”
Those factors helped the Naturals, who under Edelstein’s watch—and even since his departure—remained one of the Texas League’s steadier draws. That apparently caught the eye of the Aces, who spent several months recruiting Edelstein before he joined the club in May of 2013.
“The timing, while a little bit odd, worked out very well,” said Edelstein. “I had no preconceived notions, and got to look at it with very fresh eyes. “
Edelstein used the remainder of the 2013 campaign to gain an understanding of the Aces’ operation, and begin formulating a plan for the future. While he operated under the belief that it was “important to come in and not judge,” he found over time what made the Aces vulnerable as a franchise. “Once I got involved, I could really see that we were set up to take care of people, but not to attract more people and get those who are coming to come more often.”
The strategy from there became one of reengagement. Edelstein’s first plan of action was to require 50 phone calls a day from his sales staff, which has grown from just a director and four full-time employees to a 10-person operation. The calls—which were directed at a variety of prospective clients, including non-renewals (past season ticket holders) and groups—were part of the engagement strategy that “put the emphasis on sales and service culture, and making sure that we were talking to more people.”
For 2014, the Aces finished among the minor’s most improved teams in terms of both average and total attendance, finishing among a group that included a large number of teams with either new or renovated stadiums. Those numbers have been stable in 2015, a year that has included a franchise-record 10,441 fans on July 4 and over 9,800 fans for Star Wars Night in May.
This success owes to a management style that devotes consistent attention to even the smallest of details and encourages consistent feedback from the fans. According to Edelstein, interaction with the fans has helped establish the Aces’ calling card: the game-day experience. “There are the promotions that you do that drive traffic to the ballpark, and then there’s the thing that you do to enhance the experience when the fans are there,” said Edelstein. “The overall ballpark experience—the cleanliness, the safety, the sound and the video—is what ultimately drives the repeat visits.”
At every level of the Aces’ operation, Edelstein believes that his staff has been successful in maintaining an important ideal: “Control the controllable, and make sure that what you have a positive impact on what you have an impact on.” Furthermore, staff members are encouraged to take bold chances, even if there is risk involved. “I’m really not going to beat you up if you fail, so long as you try hard. There’s no harm in failing, as long as we tried hard and can learn from the effort.”
Edelstein was clear that Reno’s success has been a team effort. “I’ve also had the good fortune of tremendous professionals on my team,” and said that without them, “nothing positive can happen. The great challenge now becomes holding onto our top team members and continuing to add new talented professionals as we graduate our team to bigger and better positions.
For his part, Edelstein makes it a point to engage with fans not only at the ballpark, but even when the Aces are not in action. He is an avid user of Twitter (you can follow him at @EricBaseball), which he joined in 2009 to help jumpstart the Naturals’ social media efforts.
“There are people who now have a direct link to me, and if that’s make them feel closer to the team, great,” he said. One of the key components of his use is the interaction with fans, as Edelstein takes time to respond to customer inquiries and build connections.
While all of these pieces will be in place as the Aces strive to build on their positive momentum, there could be a new and very tantalizing endeavor in their future. As we wrote late last month, the Aces are working to bring a professional soccer team to Aces Ballpark by 2017. While that effort is ongoing, Edelstein believes in its viability. As an operator and a soccer fan he is “thrilled” by the possibility and that he is “happy to do the legwork and start trying to understand it.”
With their upswing, the Aces are in a good position going forward. Though his influence has been undeniably positive, Edelstein is quick to credit his staff and sees them as a big part of the team’s future: “They’re doing the job. What we have done in baseball with the revenue growth and to be able to add soccer in, I think we’re doing our part for a great future and I look forward to being a part of it.”