Campaign Aims to Boost Minority Attendance at Baseball Games

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The St. Louis Cardinals have started a marketing campaign to increase the percentage of African-Americans attending their baseball games from 2.8 percent to more than 10 percent.

The Cardinals commissioned the Olin School of Business at Washington University, St. Louis, to study their relationship with the minority group. Research found that the number of black 1996 attendees fell short of the already paltry national average of 3.5 percent of big-league ticket holders.

Some African-Americans thought the ticket prices were too expensive, and others said night jobs prevented them from attending, according to the study. The majority, however, said they didn't feel welcome at the games, which draw a nearly all-white crowd.

"We thought the first thing we would try to do is bond with the minority community," said Cliff Franklin, president of Fuse Adverting, St. Louis, an agency that is working with the team on the campaign. "It's one thing to try to sell them on something, and it's another thing to try to create a relationship. We tried to create promotions that were near and dear to their heart."

Although the Cardinals plan to use direct mail programs aimed at blacks in the area, they started the campaign by renting two dozen billboards in primarily black neighborhoods. The billboards, many of which had featured cigarette and alcohol ads, now carry photographs and inspirational quotes from such black players as Brian Jordan, Willie McGee and Delino DeShields. Similar posters are on buses, and print ads are appearing in black-oriented newspapers. The team is giving away tickets, caps and T-shirts on local radio stations that have a primarily black audience and is sponsoring African-American-oriented days at its stadium.

"It's important to show that the same attributes it takes to make it in the baseball major leagues are the same attributes it takes to make it as an American," Franklin said. "[The campaign] is a process, and we are going slowly. It's about building a trusting relationship where the black community can bond with the Cardinals."

The campaign was led by Ted Savage, the team's director of target marketing and a former player for eight major-league teams, including the Cardinals from 1965 to 1967. Savage has noticed a decline in the number of blacks interested in baseball since the 1970s, when he retired from pro ball and became athletic director at a local college.

"As I moved around my hometown, I looked at the baseball diamonds and they were all empty," Savage said. "At one time, they had stopped playing baseball even in the high schools."

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