Not only did the Cardinals win the Appalachian League championship, the franchise set a single-season record for ticket sales and raked in a tremendous amount of revenue thanks in large part to a major stadium renovation. The addition of The Perch, a party deck situated along the left-field line, was wildly successful, especially with younger professional types who added evening baseball to their itineraries last summer.
Johnson City Cardinals General Manager Tyler Parsons said The Perch was largely responsible for dropping the average age of the fanbase by nearly four years, adding that the banner year at TVA Credit Union Ballpark is indicative of a larger revival of the entire downtown district.
“I tell people I think we’re doing great things here, but a lot of it is that we’re at the right place at the right time,” he said. “To see Johnson City keeps growing and revitalizing, especially in the downtown district and the area right around the ballpark, I think the sky’s the limit. I really do. I think we have something special at that ballpark.”
The financial success the organization enjoyed last season can be attributed partly to the success the Cardinals achieved on the field. As Parsons puts it, it’s easier to sell tickets when you’re winning than it is when you’re losing.
But at the Rookie League level, filling the grandstands isn’t as dependent on the on-field product as it is at the Major League level. Johnson City is merely the first stop on a long journey for players dreaming of a shot at superstardom in the big leagues. So while St. Louis can market its stars to sell tickets, Parsons and his staff don’t have that luxury.
“We have some high-level prospects, but they aren’t household names yet,” Parsons said. “They haven’t been hyped up yet. For us, it’s all about entertainment. We have to promote a good time at the ballpark, promote the atmosphere where you can come out there and have a good time.
“You’re socializing and there’s a baseball game going on in the background. We have our diehard baseball fans, and we love them, too, but the fact of the matter is just baseball is probably not going to sell that stadium.”
As Boyd Sports moves forward, there are plans in place to further improve Cardinal Park while finding ways to generate more revenue at the facility. Some of those improvements have already come to fruition, and others are looming in the very near future.
At the end of last season, the entire infield was replaced with field turf. Not only will the likelihood of rainouts decrease this season, but less man hours will have to be dedicated to field maintenance. Also, the durable surface will open the door for several non-baseball events to be held during the Appy League season on days when the Cardinals are out on the road.
“Right now, we have 17 events scheduled at the ballpark starting really next month and going all the way through September that don’t include baseball at all,” Parsons said. “We have everything from a jazz festival to an adult kickball tournament to an adult field day to a tug of war to our nonprofit charity events. Having that turf down really makes it easy for us to transition in from a baseball game to another event without having to worry about damaging the field.”
Parsons said that Boyd Sports is also analyzing the feasibility of extending the artificial surface to encompass the entire playing field. By September, chances are good that Boyd Sports will have finalized a plan with the city to install new lights and light poles. The three-year plan also calls for more renovations to the stadium in the same vein as The Perch.
“The Perch exceeded expectations in the sense that we didn’t know it was going to be that popular for all of our fans,” Parsons said. “It’s really helped us identify the blueprint moving forward for what we want to do with this ballpark. We’re going to shy away from adding more seats and renovating seats. We’re going to put more hospitality areas, more group areas, more bar areas, spots where people can come hang out and socialize.”
As the downtown revitalization continues to expand toward the ballpark, Parsons sees great things ahead for the Cardinals, Boyd Sports and the city.
“Everyone’s working together to make Johnson City a great place to live and a great place to have fun,” he said.