The Blue Coats are here, and they hope they can come close to duplicating the success of their new neighbors, the Blue Rocks.
The Blue Coats is the new name for the 87s, who are the G League affiliates of the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA. In other words, they are the Sixers’ minor league team, much like the Blue Rocks are a minor league baseball team of the Kansas City Royals.
The 87s/Blue Coats played the last two seasons at the Bob Carpenter Center at the University of Delaware and they didn’t draw flies. Despite various promotions and gimmicks to draw more fans to Newark, people just didn’t care. And for any professional sports organization, there is nothing worse than being ignored.
The recent moves the 76ers have made regarding their farm team show that they want people to care. They’re building a fabulous new facility near the Christina Riverfront and they got rid of that cumbersome nickname — only history buffs know or care about the significance of 1787 – and wisely hooked into Delaware’s fascination with the color blue.
Now we’ll find out if they learned anything from the success of the Blue Rocks. The zeal for that team has cooled over the years — ten years ago, the Rocks averaged 4,574 fans per game, which led the Carolina League; last year, they averaged 3,845, which was fourth — but Frawley Stadium is still a nice family destination that draws good crowds
So, the Blue Coats would be wise to follow in the Blue Rocks’ marketing footsteps. And the No. 1 rule is make sure the product on the field – or in the case of the Coats, the floor – has nothing to do with it. That’s because the team doesn’t control who’s on its roster and that roster is constantly changing, so fans can’t really get attached to players like they do with major league teams.
That’s a fact in life in professional sports. Nobody stays on a minor-league team for long – they either move up or move out. Either way, player development is the key, not winning games. And that’s something the Blue Rocks recognized immediately. Under the direction of the late, great Matt Minker, who owned the team, the Rocks focused on the experience of being at the game, not the game itself, although the always-competitive Minker pushed for the best players he could get. But the Blue Rocks’ success at the ticket office was due more to their assortment of whacky promotions, free parking and decent concession prices (at least compared to big league parks).
That has been evident around the seventh inning of every game at Frawley Stadium, and it doesn’t matter if the score is 1-1 or 10-1 – that’s when the tired, stuffed-on-concession-food fans head for the exits and home, especially the ones with kids.
That fun-filled atmosphere should be the Blue Coats focus, as well. So far, their marketing approach has been to really push the Revolutionary War angle, including this YouTube clip, which is a tad dramatic, to say the least. I’ve never liked it when people – coaches, media, fans and front office – compare sports to war and this promo seems a little heavy-handed.
Anyhow, to be successful, the Blue Coats will have to appeal to kids and their parents and the overall experience, and not to their desire to see great basketball. Occasionally a big name will suit up for Delaware on a rehab assignment or something like that, but for the most part the Blue Coats’ roster will be filled with players you’ve never heard of, and people aren’t going to line up for tickets to see that — the 87s’ current 11-man roster has nine players who weren’t even drafted by the NBA.
That’s not to disparage those guys. They’re all good players who were stars in college, and players from the G League get promoted to the NBA every day. But they’re not going to put fannies in the seats.
The Blue Rocks knew that from the start and tailored their marketing approach accordingly, and they’ve flourished ever since. The Blue Coats must also appeal to families and not just hard-core hoop junkies to be as successful as the Blue Rocks have been for a quarter of a century. That would be a victory for the Blue Coats, the 76ers and the state of Delaware.