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M-Braves savor second-half success with more in store in ‘09

Everybody loves a winner, and the Mississippi Braves are arguably having their best season since coming to Pearl. The M-Braves went 43-26 and won their division by eight games, and at press time last week, were tied 1-1 in their best-of-five first-round playoff series with the Birmingham Barons.

Success on the field is a key component of the team’s revenues, says Steve DeSalvo, general manager of the M-Braves who is his 22nd season with the Braves organization and a 28-year veteran of professional baseball. Having a championship contender has been good to the team’s bottom line.

“What we have learned here is that people come out to Trustmark Park to see the game,” DeSalvo said. “In other markets, promotions and giveaways are what draw people in. Here, people come to see the game. The fireworks or a free bat is just gravy to them.”

Slumping economy

The M-Braves’ success has been a godsend for the front office. DeSalvo said the economic woes and high gasoline prices could have meant a rather bleak season at the box office. While DeSalvo says the M-Braves would not match last year’s attendance, considering the economy, it has been a good year, and attendance should not be off too far from last year after the regular and postseason games are tallied. The Braves making the playoffs means another six potential home games depending on how long they go in the postseason.)

The M-Braves revenues are three-legged — tickets, food and beverage and promotional. The team continues to get healthy support from the business community in terms of advertising and promotions, which has helped ease the pain of fewer tickets sold. On its website (www.mississippibraves.com), the M-Braves list numerous “Championship Sponsors,” which include Entergy, Let’s Go Walkin’ Mississippi, Coors Light and AT&T, to name a few.

Also doing well is the team’s meeting and special events amenities. The Braves recently put renewed focus on these sales, and the results have been outstanding, according to the team. Whether a small business meeting in the 12-seat conference room, a cocktail reception in the Crystal Springs Ford Cafe, a company picnic with activities or a wedding at home plate, Trustmark Park can accommodate.

In fact, special events have done so well this year that the M-Braves are changing course on the café. The team recently opened up the café for diners even when the Braves were not playing. DeSalvo said traffic was never outstanding. However, worse still were the times the café was rented out and off-the-street diners found it closed. So, the café will no longer be open on non-playing dates, and, instead, will be available for special events on off days.

Another factor in this decision is the that Alumni House Sports Grill in Ridgeland has opening a second metro area location in the new Holiday Inn adjacent to Trustmark Park. Nearby Bass Pro Shop also offers a restaurant, and that might slice the restaurant pie a little thin, DeSalvo said.

Scoring with promotions

While giveaways and “special” nights are not big draws at Trustmark Park, they are still important. For instance, on August 12 Tom Glavine, the Atlanta Brave who is rehabilitating from injury, pitched at an M-Braves home game. The park was packed to the rafters. On August 25, the M-Braves offered Dale Murphy Night, with the former Atlanta Braves slugger on hand.

The front office is working on other promotions for the upcoming year. The team is working with the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame to have some of its members recognized during M-Braves games, DeSalvo said. And, the front office is exploring bringing in other former Atlanta Braves to boost attendance.

However, DeSalvo said promotions can be risky. As example, there was a Christmas tree sale in 2007, which, though well received, did not sell out, leaving the team to “eat” some trees. DeSalvo said concerts with name acts is attractive, but also risky — a little rain can wash away any profits. Still, DeSalvo and his team see more promotions in the future.

Winning ways
Indeed, DeSalvo said he is already getting excited about the 2009 season. Hopefully, the economy will improve. And, this year’s success on the field should be a solid springboard for next year, boosting season ticket sales and general enthusiasm about the Minor League Baseball team.

In August, DeSalvo said he has been working on a major plan to improve the park’s amenities. He was not at liberty to discuss the details and had not yet received the go-ahead from the Atlanta Braves organization. All he could say was it would be big, and should be an effective draw.

In the mean time, the M-Braves staff, which swells to more than 300 on game days, are busy during the playoffs.

“If we could win a championship, or just get close to a championship, it would be great for us this year, obviously, as well as next year,” DeSalvo said. “It’s been a long year, and the staff is tired. But this is what it’s all about. I’m just excited about the future.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at wally.northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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