Packing the Park for a Record

By Staff

Coaching Management, 13.7, September 2005,

What did 3,683 people in Pueblo, Colo., have in common one Friday evening this May? They attended a Colorado State University-Pueblo baseball game, setting the all-time NCAA Division II single-game attendance record for the sport. The turnout was a great success for the program, but it didn’t happen by accident—CSU-Pueblo billed the event as “Pack the Park” night, luring spectators with a host of special attractions and giveaways.

Head Coach Stan Sanchez, who orchestrated the effort, says other schools in his conference have run similar promotions, but he decided that breaking the record would be Pueblo’s primary goal. “We knew that if we were going to set a record, we would need to find some different ways to get people interested,” he says. “So one of the first things we did was think about what would get the community to come out to the game.”

One major step was getting local youth baseball programs involved. Sanchez presented the idea of conducting a youth baseball clinic before the game to Art Gonzales of the Art & Lorraine Gonzales Youth Clinic, which offers baseball instruction to area children who can’t afford expensive summer programs. Gonzales liked the idea and offered to hold a clinic at the event, setting up hitting, pitching, and infield training stations for young ballplayers. Sanchez contacted all the local youth baseball coaches and encouraged their teams to take part in the record-setting attempt.

“We ended up having over 600 kids show up with their bats and gloves, all wearing uniforms from their various teams, and that was really neat,” Sanchez says. “We planned it so that no youth league games were scheduled for that night.”

Members of the CSU-Pueblo team also participated in the clinic, which was followed by a speed pitch contest for players ages six to 14, with prizes furnished by a convenience store that sponsored the event. Participants re--ceived free T-shirts, hot dogs, chips, and sodas, and teams paraded around the park before the game. “I think giving all that free stuff away attracted a lot of people, and I know the kids had a great time,” Sanchez says.

Fans were entered into drawings for 15 prizes of pro baseball memorabilia, including jerseys autographed by Steve Carlton and Goose Gossage, and baseballs autographed by Ken Griffey Jr., Harmon Killebrew, Brooks Robinson, and Tommy Lasorda. The grand prize was $1,300 in free gasoline. Afterward, fans were invited to stay for a fireworks display.

With average attendance for a CSU-Pueblo baseball game hovering around 300, the night was a huge success. In fact, the game garnered the highest total gate revenue of any event in the athletic department’s history. It was held at a community baseball complex, since organizers knew the team’s regular facility wouldn’t be large enough to accommodate the crowd.

Sanchez credits an organized and aggressive promotional campaign. Sponsor donations allowed him to advertise “Pack the Park” night in the newspaper and on local radio and television, and posters went up around the community and in area elementary and middle schools. Players even spent four days handing out information in front of the Pueblo Wal-Mart.

So what did Sanchez learn from the experience about getting people out to the ball park? “I guess it’s a minor-league approach, where you’re putting on more of a show,” he says. “The baseball game is part of it, of course, but people like to be entertained, and like to win things and get stuff for free. I spent some time in minor league baseball, so I know how their promotions work and what it takes to get people out to the park. The truth is that college baseball is no different.”

The evening’s only disappointment was the outcome of the game, with CSU-Pueblo falling 5-4 to rival Mesa State College. But Sanchez says his players loved playing in front of a huge crowd, and he’s already planning to make the event even bigger next season.

“It was a magical night for our team, and our sponsors were overwhelmed with positive publicity from being involved with our program and doing something for the youth of the community,” he says. “We’re committed to breaking the record again next year.”