Are the Rivercats Recession-Proof?


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(West Sacramento, CA)
Friday, April 10, 2009

If the Rivercats front office could have scripted Opening Night, this probably wouldn’t have been it.  The game started late; a light rain fell nearly nonstop from First Pitch to Last Out; and by the late innings, only the most die-hard fans were in their seats.  Still, as John Brassfield of Auburn pointed out:
 
Brassfield: “Never seen such an ugly, rainy night and so many people with smiles on it.”
 
Rivercats Opening Night is a tradition for Brassfield.  He, his brother and their friend have been to all 10 of them.  They’re regulars here – sometimes with their families, sometimes for Guys Night Out.  And even though they’re big A’s fans too, Brassfield says the recession makes Rivercats games more attractive.
 
Brassfield: “The economy would keep us closer to home.  We bought $7 grass seats tonight, and we’re gonna have three hours worth of entertainment.  A movie costs more than that and lasts an hour and a half.”
 
After all, those grass seats cost less than the beer, which they’re having as well.  That value – of the tickets, at least – is how the team hopes to keep fans filling the seats – especially with families watching their budgets.  Rivercats president Alan Ledford:
 
Ledford: “We’re in the entertainment business here.  We’re not relying on baseball fans.  Quite the contrary.  We’re relying on people who wanna come out and have a terrific evening with their friends, families, whatever the case may be, and if you happen to be a baseball fan, great.”
 
And the Rivercats think that strategy is working.  In their nine years in Sacramento, they’ve drawn more fans than any other minor league team in North America.  This year, season tickets and party packages are down.  But perhaps counter-intuitively, luxury suite sales are up.  And as for individual game tickets?  Ledford points to fans like John Brassfield.
 
Ledford: “We expect to see what we saw the latter half of last year, when the economic downturn became more prominent, and that is an uptick in those sales, because people are staying close to home.”
 
Ledford says the Rivercats try to walk a fine line between the baseball itself ... 
  
(sounds of the game)
 
... and the between-innings stunts. 
  
Announcer: "She's gonna have a chance to throw a pie in her dad's face!"
 
That balance works for Tony and Eneida Ochoa, who moved to the Sacramento area a few years ago from Los Angeles.  They brought their three sons to the game – big baseball fans all.  Eneida says Rivercats games are more family-oriented, cheaper and more relaxed than Dodger games.
 
Eneda Ochoa: “It’s something healthy to do.  There’s a lot of bad things out there for kids now, and if you keep them in more of a family environment, you have a better chance that they’ll turn out good.” 
 
The park was only around 70 percent full Thursday night – compared to a sellout on Opening Night 2008.  But that was on a Friday – a dry Friday.  The Rivercats won’t know for sure how well they’re drawing until the season gets into full swing.  Oh, and for those of you who didn’t stick it out til the bitter, soaking wet end, Sacramento lost to the Tacoma Rainiers, 9-4, in a rain-shortened eight inning game.