The Savannah Bananas (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League) did not suffer a sophomore slump in 2017. Following a stellar debut season in which they shattered Coastal Plain League attendance records, the Bananas came out with strong results in year two.
The story of the Bananas was one of the more intriguing in baseball last year. In its debut season, the club drew 91,004 fans, breaking a previous Coastal Plain League record of 77,171 fans that was set by the Peninsula Pilots in 2014.
The success in year one was a major milestone for the Bananas, but in the aftermath of that season, the club knew that it wanted to accomplish even more in 2017. “We thought we had a huge responsibility,” says Jesse Cole, owner of the Bananas and founder of Fans First Entertainment. “After the first year, selling out every game but seven and winning the championship, I thought what can we do to make it bigger and better.”
Ultimately, the club reached new heights in 2017. The Bananas broke their 2016 league attendance record by drawing a total of 108,498 fans, with a per-game average of 4,173. The team also has a 32-game sellout streak that dates back to 2016.
For Cole and the Bananas front office, the strategy was to “go over the top with everything.” Specifically, the club wanted to place an emphasis on the entertainment aspect of attending a game, and push their content through social media. Whether it was the Banana Baby or “The World’s First Break Dancing First Base Coach,” the Bananas established their identity online, and the team employs Ben Sheffield as a full-time director of film and production. According to Cole, the Bananas strategy with video is not just about baseball highlights, but “producing things that are fun and entertaining.”
While this helps the Bananas receive coverage on a national level, the team first and foremost considers how its fan base will respond, as it plays a key role in helping to spread that content. “Our number one goal is the greatest impact and the greatest on the amount of people,” Cole said. “If you can create content, you can market it and make it valuable, but our decisions are based on what our fans will want to see.”
The Bananas also have worked to deliver a unique atmosphere at the ballpark, and include offerings such as all-you-can-eat tickets. At Grayson Stadium, the club wants to make sure that it is providing an experience that stands out in Savannah, a city with no shortage of entertainment options for residents or visitors.
“There’s obviously lots of thing to do in Savannah—there’s the beach, the bar scene, and a lot of other options,” Cole says. “It’s a balance of things for the families and young professionals, so we just try to be fun. We are 100% an entertainment business that has a baseball team.”
Blending entertainment with baseball has proven to be a solid strategy for the Bananas. Every weekend game for 2017 was sold out by April, while Grayson’s Stadium ABR Stadium Club also sold out and now has over 200 accounts on its waiting list.
“Fortunately, the community responded,” said Cole. “We had scalpers at every single game, and we had to turn away about 25,000 people at the gate over the season,” a number that includes phone calls to the ballpark.
As they plan for their future, the Bananas want to ensure that they continue to build on this success. “There’s just so much going on at the ballpark, and that’s the key thing,” Cole said. “We take that as a responsibility, and we look every year to see how can we make it better.”