Three years ago the Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts of the Class A Midwest League sold 300 tickets on their Web site all season. In 2000 the Cubs affiliate is selling 300 on-line each day, including 40% of all game-day tickets sold. Moreover, this season 99% of Lugnuts mail-order merchandise sales are Web transactions. All of which illustrates baseball's newest truism, as stated by Michael Baird, the man who as the team's marketing manager launched lansinglugnuts.com. "It doesn't matter whether you're the Seattle Mariners or in A league ball," says Baird. "You need to have a presence on the Web."
Baird has since moved on to become assistant general manager of the Lugnuts' Midwest League rivals the Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs, in which capacity he's responsible for that club's site, chiefsnet.com. (Five years ago none of the league's 14 clubs had a Web site; today all do.) The Lugnuts' site, maintained by Baird's successor, David Prout, deserves a call-up to at least Double A. It receives an average of 10,000 visits a day during the six-month season and 4,000 daily during the off-season. At the click of a mouse fans can purchase tickets (box seats: $7) and merchandise from the Nuts and Bolts on-line store (sweatshirts: $54 to $60). The link to Oldsmobile Park, the Lugnuts' five-year-old, 11,000-seat home field, provides 3-D computer-generated stadium views from nine positions. In their first 40 dates in 2000, the Lugnuts averaged 6,034 fans, fourth highest in the league but down almost 900 fans a game from '99. Last year the Lugnuts got a boost by being first-half champions of the Eastern Division; this year's club finished third in the first half. Thus, says Prout, in a slightly down year, the site "helps maintain where we are." Just as important, he adds, It saves money. We no longer have to do mailings for tickets or make up catalogues for merchandise."
Prout is hands-on, updating his site by himself daily. "It's a staff of one," notes his predecessor, Baird, who takes particular pleasure in an ancillary Web benefit: "You wouldn't believe how much it means to the parents of our players to be able to keep tabs on their son each day."
Minor mishaps are part of minor league charm. So empathize with Lori Clark, public relations director of the Lugnuts' rival West Michigan Whitecaps, who lost the on-line diarist for her team's site, whitecaps-baseball.com, when pitcher Casey Rowe was sent to the Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League. Go easy on Baird, who on the Chiefs' merchandise page listed a souvenir 1998 photograph of Mark McGwire (of the parent Cardinals) hitting his "historic 63rd home run." "Does it really say that?" asked Baird, before going off to correct the caption. "Oh, well, that one was pretty historic, too."