By Eileen Bien Calabro
For a complete list of this year’s SBC 50 businesses, see ‘The SBC 50,’ December 2001 SBC.
Location: Zebulon, N.C.
Principal: Dan O’Dowd, GM
Business: Minor-league baseball team
Tech: Technological renovation at its new stadium has improved customer tracking and increased fan interest.
The Carolina Mudcats may not have the attendance numbers of the New York Yankees or the Detroit Tigers, but this Colorado Rockies’ minor league affiliate has its own loyal fan following. The Zebulon, N.C.-based Mudcats employ 18 people at recently refurbished Five County Stadium. The remodeling of the stadium included the purchase of a completely new back end – including servers, desktops, and notebooks – and a new system of swipe cards and kiosks.The swipe cards, called TopCat cards, are given out to fans in exchange for personal information. When fans are in the stadium, they simply swipe their cards at one of the kiosks to earn coupons for concessions and points toward special Mudcat prizes. The kiosks also record attendance and store demographic data.
Eric Gardner, assistant general manager of the ball club, had heard about successful electronic fan loyalty programs used by the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, the Phoenix Suns, and the Atlanta Braves. ‘Major league teams from all over sports have used similar systems,’ Gardner says. ‘This was our chance to develop a fan loyalty program and move to a computerized ticketing system.’
A local business partner installed the SQL server-based system, but Gardner and others in the front office manage it. Gardner only has to work with the system 20 minutes most days. ‘Once it’s up for the day, that’s it,’ he says.
Thanks to the new system, success has been easy to come by. According to Gardner, the Mudcats have seen substantial increases in attendance and loyalty since the kiosks were installed in 1999. ‘We’ve seen a lot of people who were at two or three games start coming to six or seven games a season,’ he says.
The team’s Web site is also new, easier to navigate, and faster-loading. Fans can now buy tickets and souvenirs on line. ‘The Internet is now easier to use,’ Gardner says. ‘We don’t need a full-time programmer to design and maintain a fan-friendly site. And we do quite a bit of business directly on the Web.’ In the future, the Mudcats hope to build on these initiatives by adding virtual tours of the ballpark, the clubhouse, and the team bus, along with instructional guides for parents and coaches of kids’ teams.
Gardner says changes like those made at Five County Stadium can be made at other small offices, particularly retail establishments. ‘Customers are the backbone of everyone’s business,’ Gardner advises. ‘In this economy, every effort should be made to go that extra mile and make sure that customer comes back.’