BOISE — Thursday night it was Dollar Beer Night. Wednesday night and tonight, it’s postgame fireworks. Monday nights it’s all-you-can eat food. Tuesday’s it’s $2 for a ticket and a hot dog.
The promotions are endless for the Boise Hawks, but to this point they’ve done even more than what general manager Bob Flannery and his staff could have hoped for. The Hawks entered Thursday’s game with the Eugene Emeralds with an average attendance of 4,009 fans per game despite Memorial Stadium having a listed capacity of just 3,427.
The Hawks had sold out all seven home games prior to Thursday’s predictable and typical smaller crowd for the day after the 4th of July, and had sold out 11 consecutive games dating back to last season.
“By no means did we sit around and think we were going to sell out all 38 games, but we’ve been very pleased,” Flannery said. “We know that every night is Opening Night and we have new people coming to the park every day, so whether it’s a sellout or a smaller crowd, we still want to give them a good experience and make them want to come back win or lose. That’s where the truth lies.”
The Hawks rank third in the Northwest League in attendance, but both teams ahead of them have significantly higher capacities at their stadiums. Both teams, Spokane and Vancouver, are averaging well less than their capacity, while the Hawks are averaging more than 500 fans more than their listed sellout number.
The average of 4,009 fans is nearly double the average crowd of 2,303 back in 2014, which was the final year of the previous ownership group. In four years under new owners Jeff Eiseman and Agon Sports and Entertainment, the Hawks have seen a steady increase in attendance, culminating with a crowd of 4,758 fans for Wednesday’s 4th of July game, the biggest crowd since about 1,500 seats were removed from the right field line prior to the 2001 season.
In four years under the new ownership group — and in four years since the switch in affiliations from the Chicago Cubs to the Colorado Rockies — the Hawks have seen their average attendance rise from 2,893 in 2015 to 3,094 in 2016 to 3,196 last season. And that’s up from 2,303 in 2014, which was the lowest average attendance in more than two decades.
“It’s been awesome,” Hawks third baseman Danny Edgeworth said. “We’ve had a packed house every single game and it makes it a really fun environment to be part of. It’s awesome. These fans come out every day and cheer for us and it makes it a lot of fun to play.
“Our fans come out and they are into the game and most of them stay until the end of the game, so that makes it more fun.”
About 45 percent of the Hawks’ ticket revenue comes from the 600 season ticket accounts, and many of those accounts account for more than one ticket. Ticket packages range from 15 games to the 38 game full-season package.
The Hawks had 19 sellouts last season on their way to their best average attendance since the stadium capacity was decreased by about 1,500 seats in 2001. They are already at seven sellouts through eight games despite having just one home game on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday through the first three weeks.
After finishing off a 3-game series with just the second Friday home game of the year and postgame fireworks tonight, the Hawks will be back at Memorial Stadium for each of the next three weekends, which should mean more big crowds.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride but the interest is coming back, you can tell by the crowds, and it’s been great to see,” said Carl Krueger, a 71-year-old Garden City resident that has season tickets for the 13th consecutive season. “Full houses every night. It’s been good to see the enthusiasm towards baseball in Idaho and here in town.
“I’ve followed this great game for more than 55 years, it’s a great game, and they do a great job here with the fan interactions and games between innings. And they do a lot with charities and groups and the players will interact with them. It’s entertainment. You put your troubles at the gate, take a couple hours to re-charge your batteries and what better way than at a baseball game.”
The Hawks have a 12-9 record after defeating the Eugene Emeralds 8-5 Thursday night. The Hawks trailed 3-1 before scoring one in the fourth, four in the fifth, one in the seventh and one in the eighth. Luis Castro led the way for the Hawks, going 3 for 5 with two RBIs and a run scored.
Some on social media have questioned whether the ticket numbers are legit or being inflated some to help with the Hawks’ push for a new downtown stadium. Flannery denied any cooking of the books and said announced attendance numbers each night are in fact the number of paid tickets for that game.
The Hawks rarely give out free tickets — only those on the players’ pass list — and Flannery stressed that the ticket numbers each night are an accurate number of how many tickets were purchased for that game.
“There’s no advantage for us to do that,” said Flannery, who added that the owners’ “bank account doesn’t lie” when it comes to reporting ticket numbers and revenue. And for the Hawks, the bottom line is all they are worried about.
Flannery and assistant general manager Mike Van Hise pointed to improvements within the ball park and enhancing the fan experience as reasons for the increased attendance. Something as simple as adding a fryer to the concession stand down the right field line has allowed them to start selling fries there, which has helped keep lines down at the main concession stand near home plate.
The Hawks also went from four full-time employees in 2015 to at least 13 full-time staff members this season. Add in five seasonal full-time employees and the Hawks have nearly four times the staff during the season as just a few years ago.
“It’s all about customer service and the one thing we’ve invested in is people,” Flannery said.
Season tickets and group sales packages, which often come with pregame buffets, are the primary focus for the Hawks. But walk-up ticket sales on the day of the game are also important, and are the reasons for the nightly promotions such as Thursday’s Dollar Beer Night.
Selling domestic drafts for $1 Thursday helped the Hawks still draw 2,344 fans despite a game-time temperature of 101, a Kenny Chesney concert in Nampa and the game being on a night that typically has smaller crowds anyway because it’s between fireworks shows after Wednesday and tonight’s games.
The Hawks may ultimately have plans of moving into a new, modern downtown stadium, but for now, they seem to be doing just fine in their current digs.
“We’ve kept growing since 2015 and every year we’ve surpassed what ownership and the investors have put in front of us,” Flannery said. “There’s always more we can do, but we’ve probably exceeded expectations so far this season. We’re very happy with the response from the community so far.”