By TED CARTER
A Shucker uprising at the turnstiles requires a Shuck Nation.
So goes the thinking from the winter brain storming of the Biloxi Shuckers on strategies for filling up MGM Park, the baseball venue adjoining MGM’s Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. The idea is to make the product stickier.
In the Shuckers new world, you make “sticky” by keeping the faithful involved with the Shuckers after the last out in the team’s Southern League schedule. “It gives fans year-round access and experiences like never before at a very affordable rate,” general manager Hunter Reed said in an email.
Going into their fourth year, the Shuckers have erased the idea of a flash-in-the-pan in a tourist town. Last year they put enough fans in the stands for their 66 home games to occupy a middle ranking with average attendance of 2,430 for the Double A Southern League. They also earned a nod from the league to host its 2019 All Star game on June 18.
The Shuckers can draw from a strong visitor base as well as a coastal market spanning 60 miles, though the eastern end of the Mississippi market is likely populated by devotees of the Southern League’s Mobile Bay Bears.
This year’s Shuckers offer a truckload of promotions and discounted nights, many of them new, through the season. The walk-up fans drawn for the games and the promos are the very ones GM Reed and his crew want to make part of Shuck Nation.
Shuck Nation replaces season tickets as a prime offering of the franchise that arrived in Biloxi in summer 2015 from Huntsville, Ala.
“I think it’s a win-win,” Reed said, and noted the idea for Shuck Nation came out of conversations with Director of Ticket Operations Allan Lusk.
“We were asking ourselves how we can do more to help fans enjoy everything the Shuckers have to offer and make it all more accessible and affordable,” he added, referring to weekender memberships that start at $36 a month for six months.
Shuck Nation full membership will include the same seat to all 70 home games, while weekend memberships include the same seat for 35 home games for every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, plus Opening Day, July 3 and Fan Appreciation Day.
The team says full Shuck Nation members also get a Southern League pass, good for tickets to Shuckers’ road games, and a Shuck Nation bus trip to New Orleans to see former Shuckers at the Triple-A level take on the Baby Cakes.
The Shuckers describe the Nation as a revamp of the traditional season ticket into a variety of “exclusive experiences” that include “better access to the team.”
“The biggest thing we have gone away from is the traditional way people think of season tickets,” Reed said. “That’s where Shuck Nation comes in. Tickets are still there, but it’s only a part of the overall membership experience.”
Don’t call it a name change for the sake of changing a name, the Shuckers say. “Call it a membership,” the team said, likening Shuck Nation to a country club or gym membership.
“You’re going to get invited to quality events and be part of the team throughout the year,” the Shuckers said on the team home page.
Further, Reed and company have tweaked some nightly promotions to improve them or combined them with other offers, the general manager said.
“The main thing we want to do though is continue keeping the experience fresh and exciting for the fans,” said Reed, who is heading into his third season with the Shuckers and second as GM. He previously worked 12 seasons for the Appalachian League’s Greeneville Astros, including 10 as assistant general manager.
Giveaways, celebrity appearances and discount nights are all part of the Shucker’s promo plans.
Here is a sampling:
» Double Play Thursday. Fans get $2 hot dogs, $2 Yuengling beer, $2 sodas and $3 draft beer specials.
» Fireworks Friday. The skies light up over MGM Park after the game.
» Shuck Yeah Saturday. These include a salute to the 30th anniversary of the movie Field of Dreams followed a week later by a celebration of the former Biloxi Negro League team the Biloxi Dodgers jersey. Special Saturday events will follow throughout the season.
» Salute Sunday. Active and retired military can purchase $8 reserved level tickets or $10 dugout box tickets with a valid military ID.
Other game nights will include bring your pup to the park with Barks and Brews promotions.
“Whether you’re a die-hard baseball fan here for the game, a business leader entertaining clients or you just come out for the social atmosphere with family or friends, we have something for everyone to enjoy,” Reed said.
Coast business leaders, including casino resort executives and others in the hospitality industry, helped to get MGM Park built and the Shuckers relocated to Biloxi, viewing the team as an economic driver for the region. Their support has stayed strong throughout, according to Reed.
“We’re so proud to have the great partnerships we’ve developed and continue to build upon,” Reed said. “It’s truly a great business community. We couldn’t do this without them, nor would we want to.
“I certainly believe their continued support of the Shuckers shows they believe in what we’re doing as well and our presence in the community.”
Meanwhile, the Shuckers see the All-Star Game as “a perfect opportunity to showcase not only Biloxi and our beautiful MGM Park but also provides us a chance to put Coastal Mississippi in the regional and MiLB spotlight for a few days,” he said. MiLB is an Internet service that streams league games.
“The Shuckers led the league with eight participants in the game last year in Birmingham so hopefully we’ll have a similar showing this year,” Reed said.
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