Any season in which a team posts a new attendance record is generally a good one. While that was the case for many teams in 2016, the Tennessee Smokies (Class AA; Southern League) continued to further their success under team president and COO Chris Allen.
For his role is overseeing the Smokies and the fan experience at Smokies Stadium, Allen is being recognized as Ballpark Digest’s Executive of the Year for 2016. “This is a tremendous honor,” said Allen. “It ranks up there with any honor I’ve received in this industry.”
This year, the Smokies welcomed a total of 293,694 fans to Smokies Stadium, shattering a record of 283,038 that was set in 2014. Allen, who joined the Smokies in 2013 as vice president and COO before being promoted to his current role in December 2015, is not only tasked with overseeing the Smokies operations, but has also had a hand in the recent upgrades to Smokies Stadium.
Under Allen and owner Boyd Sports, Smokies Stadium has been improved in recent years, with many of the renovations leading to enhanced group space at the ballpark. Allen says that making these upgrades has been key to the team’s success.
“It’s a team effort,” Allen said. “Our owner believed, just like I believe, that you have to invest in your product. If you don’t invest in your ballpark, how do you expect fans to invest in the ballpark?”
One of Allen’s key focuses in the team’s operation is on group outings and hospitality. As part of that objective, Allen says the Smokies want to create an experience that is both affordable and accommodating to all fans. Smokies Stadium—which we gave high marks to upon a visit in 2015—is billed as America’s Friendliest Ballpark, a mantra that Allen and the front office looks to live by. “We take pride in what we do, and we have a lot people working really hard.”
That work extends beyond the team’s robust sales efforts. While the Smokies have taken extra strides to increase ticket sales and group outings, Allen knows that the Smokies must do more to ensure continual interest from their fan base.
“At the end of the day, we can sell you a group outing,” he explained, “but if you come out and don’t have a good time, you’re not coming back. We want you to have a good time, and then the product sells itself.”
Allen’s win is based largely in his role with the Smokies, but it should be noted that he also is involved in the Johnson City Cardinals (Rookie; Appalachian League), a team that is managed by Boyd Sports. The Cardinals previously claimed a Ballpark Digest award for 2016, as The Perch—a beer garden/group space that improved the team’s hospitality offerings—received recognition in one of our Best Ballpark Improvement categories.
Image courtesy of Chris Allen.
Previous 2016 Award Winners:
Charity Award: Omaha Storm Chasers
Promotion of the Year: My Big Fat Fresno Wedding Show
Best New Logo/Branding: Columbia Fireflies
Best Ballpark Renovation (Over $10 Million): The Outfield Apartments
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1 Million): The Choctaw Lazy River
Best Ballpark Improvement (Under $1 Million): The Perch
Broadcaster of the Year: Sean Aronson, St. Paul Saints
Ballpark of the Year: Spirit Communications Park