by Sylvia Blair
On a lovely evening at a York Revolution home game with the Road Warriors, fun activities kept baseball fans engaged in between innings. When the players headed to the dugouts, two very excited youngsters chosen from the stands took their positions on the field to play air guitar to piped-in music. Fans cheered and clapped to determine the winner of the musical face-off.
Later on, two teams of children competed to see how many water balloons they could throw into a bucket placed strategically on their heads — without dropping the buckets or the balloons. In the outfield, a children’s playground and merry-go-round were welcome attractions to preschoolers and their parents.
Fans, and their engagement in games, are at the heart of the Revolution, an independent professional baseball team that was founded in 2007. The team’s home field is in York, and it plays its away games against other teams in the Atlantic League, a regional independent baseball organization.
The team is gaining popularity, thanks to low-cost tickets, a smaller-scale venue (with seats closer to the field than in the major leagues), and a swell of hometown pride since they became the Atlantic League champions in 2017. They also won championships in 2010 and 2011.
From its first season, the York Revolution has placed in the top half of the Atlantic League’s regular-season standings. The Revolution also has moved dozens of players to minor league and major league teams after their time in the Atlantic League.
Sports enthusiasts agree that passion for professional baseball with a local flavor draws them to games. What keeps the fans loyal and excited is the combination of special activities and community outreach, making the team a good source of popular entertainment.
Eric Menzer has been the team president since 2010 and shares the team’s vision and mission. “We are more than a sports company,” he said. “We are a hospitality company that plays sports. We are happy to give our fans a fun, enjoyable night out when they come to the PeoplesBank Park.”
Matt McDermott, founder of IndependentBaseball.net, a source of news about independent professional baseball leagues, said: “In 2017, announced attendance [at Revolution games] was over 3,000 fans per game. This is a terrific number, considering how many entertainment options people now have available to them since the 1993 inception of independent baseball — or even since the inception of the York Revolution.”
Keeping Fans Engaged
Menzer said that the team draws fans from the Susquehanna River to the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from Gettysburg to Maryland. “We offer a whole gamut of experiences, from Cannonball Charlie, who triggers a cannon sound with every York Revolution home run and each victory, to our big blue mascot, called Down Town, to our official team dog, who we call Boomer,” he said.
Keeping the experience engaging and fresh can be a challenge, as there are 72 games this year, including a doubleheader. Innovative experiences held this spring included “Star Wars Night,” in which fans met their favorite characters and participated in a costume contest. And a “Salute to Veterans” included free tickets for all veterans, a pre-game tribute, and an in-game tribute to all military branches.
A “Silver Sluggers” night offers a special ticket plan for fans age 55 and over. It includes a ticket to every Tuesday home game (11 in all). Participants are entitled to early admission and can walk the concourse before games. They also receive a membership card entitling them to 50 percent off a value meal and an exclusive “Silver Sluggers” hat.
Fan Loyalty and Commitment
Helen Bair is a loyal fan who has attended every game since 2010, thanks to her season tickets (She’s also a “Silver Slugger.”)
“I have always enjoyed baseball. One difference between York Revolution games and the big leagues is that fans can clearly see the ball in action. In fact, there is not a bad seat in the place,” she said.
“The caliber of this team is above and beyond most other teams,” said Bair, whose front-row seats between the bullpen and the dugout allow her to meet players, take their photos, and capture action shots when balls are in play.
“Games are so affordable. Families can even sit on the lawn. The players are fan-friendly and recognize their fans. The York Revolution games are the true kickoff to summer.”
Barry and Vickie Fissel attend as many games as they can, whenever their own grandchildren are not playing youth softball or baseball. “We have been to major league games, and the caliber of the York Revolution team is outstanding,” said Vickie. “We are loyal fans and enjoy the fan appreciation.”
Barry added that they have attended games since the team’s was founded. “This team does an excellent job of keeping fans interested and coming back,” he said.
Doug Eppler, director of marketing and communications for the Revolution, said, “The team is fortunate to have a foundation of devout fans. We use a combination of traditional advertising and digital communications to attract fans. We also reach out to our local schools with a Boomer’s Book Club presented by Harrisburg University, in which students receive bookmarks and list the books that they read for special prizes and giveaways. We also assist nonprofits who seek to organize fundraisers at the ballpark, with discounted tickets.”
About Independent Baseball
The current model of independent professional baseball was launched in 1993 with two leagues: The Northern League (several teams are now in the American Association) and the Frontier League (still operating, but none of the original teams exist).
Independent leagues give players another opportunity to play professional baseball and get exposure to the minor league baseball system. “These leagues have offered fans unique benefits,” said McDermott. “Benefits include celebrity involvement, MLB and NFL player ownership, promotions, fan interactivity and numerous fun stories about players, coaches and front-office personnel. These stories have been told in several books about independent baseball.”
McDermott continued, “Popularity will increase if owners and front offices continue to find ways to add value to fans in local markets with new promotions not yet even offered in minor league baseball. Teams add value to local business communities and give fans new ways to interact with players. With these activities, the independent leagues will have used their assets properly to give fans tremendous value. Fans will have a reason to become emotionally involved with the product, versus other entertainment options,” said McDermott.