Next idea to boost baseball in Portland may come from abroad – Bangor Daily News

PORTLAND, Maine — The next idea to boost ticket sales for the Portland Sea Dogs, the Eastern League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, might come from a group of students who are largely unfamiliar with baseball.

Through a four-week program focused on international entrepreneurship, 40 high school students from the northeastern European Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania arrived in Portland in early July. One of their first stops is Hadlock Field, home of the Sea Dogs.

“They got a crash course on baseball,” Dennis Meehan, the team’s director of sales, said.

The students landed here because the Portland-based Council for International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, runs the summer program for the Baltic American Freedom Foundation, which began after the fall of the Soviet Union to encourage cultural and economic exchange between the U.S. and the Baltic states.

The program wrapped up last week, with the students pitching to a panel of judges their ideas for businesses to start on the streets of Portland.

Jenna Hendrickson, who wrote the curriculum for the summer program, said the lessons intended to have a practical application.

“The goal is for them to take what they’ve learned … back to their communities and to create new businesses there,” Hendrickson said.

In the course of learning how to do that, CIEE arranged for the students to ply their trade by giving a fresh perspective on the business of baseball, which Meehan said is difficult to change after the Sea Dogs’ more than two decades as a franchise.

“When you’re a team that’s around for 22 years, you have a hard time of changing the product without changing the brand that made you successful,” Meehan said.

As a result, he said, changes happen “very carefully,” particularly in regard to rebranding the team, which could include updates to the team’s logo or colors and other Sea Dogs basics.

With fewer than a dozen games left on the 2015 schedule and ticket sales on pace with last season’s 359,427 paid attendance Meehan said the team had the students focus on specific areas in which he felt the team could do better, such as social media promotions.

“Lots of teams do things where for the next hour it’s buy-one-get-one on social media,” Meehan said. “We don’t do those types of flash marketing things.”

Those ideas will all be aired in September, Meehan said, after the season winds down and the organization ramps up for the 2016 season, for which it starts selling tickets in early November.

Meehan said he’s not had time yet to hear all of the proposals from the students, who pitched their concepts to different leaders in the Sea Dogs organization. Meehan heard directly from the group pondering how they could sell more all-you-can-eat seats.

He said many of the ideas were to change the marketing of those seats away from the food toward a “premium” or “deluxe” seat package that might include exclusive events or contests.

Meehan said suggestions for changes to the Sea Dogs organization were one thing, but the approach the students took was to address the team’s marketing challenges.

“They went out and approached it like they were us,” Meehan said. “I could use some of their surveys and send them out to 10,000 fans.”

The students broke into teams with specific tasks.

“It was amazing the stuff that they came up with in a short amount of time,” Meehan said. “We told them, ‘don’t think this about as baseball, but an entertainment venue that features a sports team.’”

Some of the students came at the problems with real-world business experience, like Priit Norak, who founded the company Shaperize in Estonia, which distributes 3D printers in the country and offers related prototyping services throughout Europe.

One group of students took on the challenge of baseball’s aging fan base by finding ways to get special offers and the idea of taking friends out to the ballgame in front of younger eyes.

“About 77 percent of students said they use Snapchat daily. And, when we asked, about 70 percent said they would like to receive promotions on Snapchat from brands they like,” Justas Jasevicius, a rising high school senior from Latvia, said.

His group won the pitch contest for a social media plan with an ad campaign for the Sea Dogs on Snapchat, a photo-sharing network.

And which of those ideas make it past the drawing board for next season, Meehan said, will wait for their true test in September.

“They were able to pull up some unique thoughts and processes,” Meehan said. “Sometimes when you’re working on your business, you’re too involved.”


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