Now that their first season is complete, it is apparent that the Bismarck Larks (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) were well received upon their debut. Over the course of their inaugural season, the Larks attracted over 54,000 fans and had nearly 30 sell outs—allowing a new era of baseball in Bismarck to start with a bang.
The expansion Larks came into their first season with reasonably high expectations. Larks general manager John Bollinger says that Bismarck offered some inherent advantages to the Larks, including a strong youth baseball scene and a desire for a family entertainment option over the summer months.
The Larks, however, realized that there had to be a plan in place for bringing fans out to the ballpark. “We were really excited for two reasons,” Bollinger recalls of the team’s planning for its first season. “One, Bismarck is a really, really neat community. It’s a very loyal community, and it was looking for a home town team and family entertainment. We also knew that we had to do things right.”
Among the club’s selling points were its ticket packages—including a seven-game plan—as well as an emphasis on the entertainment aspect of attending a game. “We knew that there would be interest because it’s a new team, it’s a good baseball town, and people were looking for summertime entertainment,” Bollinger said. “But the response to our marketing and our ticket packages blew it out of the water.”
In fact, as Bollinger explains, the seven-game package became a clear fan favorite early on, and exceeded his expectations for how they would sell when they began advertising them last fall. “I was hoping to sell 1,000 seven-game packs for the year, which was a pretty aggressive goal,” he said. “Before Christmas we sold over 1,100, and we ended up selling close to 2,000 for the season.”
The gameday experience was something that the Larks wanted to ensure was unique. Along with providing a comfortable environment for fans, the club wanted to bolster the entertainment aspect through a family fun zone that included among its amenities a two-story bounce house and a zipline.
“I think that was a real key to the success, that you couldn’t care less about baseball, but come with your family and you’re going to have a great time,” Bollinger said. “While some of those ideas are repeated from strategies in similar markets, we put those in Bismarck and people really responded to it.”
The numbers show that the Larks had a strong debut. The club drew a total of 54,600 fans over 36 home games, and sold out 27 of those contests. According to Bollinger, the Larks are expecting a strong 2018, as 1,000 of the seven-game packages have been renewed since August 1.
The club is also planning a 14-game plan for next year, will add onto its Tailgate Party package, and has a few ballpark upgrades in the works, including temporary seating in right field that will help bring the capacity around 1,800. Those developments were shaped by the 2017 season, which showed the level of support Bismarck was prepared to give to the Larks.
“Bismarck really said, this is our hometown team. We’re going to support it, and we’re going to make this work,” Bollinger said. “We’re really fortunate to play in an awesome community.”