The Savannah Bananas have sold out every home game at Grayson Stadium since 2017 – no mean feat for a team which only formed the year before.
As the self-proclaimed ‘Most Fun Team in Baseball’, the Bananas’ fan-centric approach has proven to be a winner with the local community in Georgia and supporters further afield – so much so that the team will embark on a six-city world tour in 2022.
The Bananas play in the Coastal Plain League. The team won the league in 2021 but going to watch the Bananas is as much about the entertainment experience as it is supporting a successful team.
“There is a consistent drive to add to the creativity of the entertainment experience,” Bananas president Jared Orton tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.
“Initially, it was just on the field, but it has now grown to multiple ‘stages’ of the plaza, concourse, seating bowl, and more. What started as dancing players has turned in to the Banana Nanas dance team, Man-Nanas Dad Bod Cheer Squad, Dancing First Base Coach, Princess Potassia, a full 15-piece pep band, a full character parade pre-game to open the gates, multiple DJs, and more.”
The Bananas’ journey began in 2015, when the Savannah Sand Gnats, a former Minor League Baseball affiliate of the New York Mets, left the city and Grayson Stadium.
“The story was that the stadium was too old, the city unsupportive, the fans unwilling to come,” explains Orton. “When we arrived as the new folks in town, people were extremely concerned that we were not an affiliate of a Major League Baseball organisation.”
The Bananas had only sold about 100 season tickets by January 2016. The team’s owners, Jesse and Emily Cole, decided to go “all in” on Savannah after selling their first house, and the ‘Bananas’ moniker was announced in February 2016 following a fan suggestion.
A comprehensive branding process then commenced and the Bananas started to gather attention from locals. “Tickets started moving and people started talking about what was to come for the new team,” says Orton.
“We were fortunate to sell out opening night in 2016 which shocked the community. Almost immediately, word spread that Bananas tickets were the hottest in town. Soon, every weekend and big night in 2016 was sold out and since 2017, every game at Grayson Stadium has been a sell-out.”
The Bananas offer an “all-inclusive” ticketing experience for fans, inspired by the cruise and resort experience. General seat tickets are priced at just $20 (£14.69/€17.58), which includes fans’ ballpark fare and non-alcoholic beverages.
The approach has been a success, with thousands currently on the waiting list for tickets. The structure was made possible after the Bananas acquired start-up company iSportsTix, which the team renamed Fan First Tickets.
In a recent post on LinkedIn, Jesse Cole reflected on the acquisition, which allowed the team to adopt a fully fan-first ticketing approach.
Orton admits that there are “countless” fan activations that have not worked for the team, with some ideas simply “flopping out”. He insists, though, that fans rarely remember the initiatives that do not work because the team is trying so many different things.
Like every sports team, the Bananas were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and the attendance restrictions this imposed. The team operated at around 30% capacity in 2020, when it played a limited number of games and opponents.
“It caused us to truly get creative on a variety of fronts,” says Orton. “We really thought about who our fans are and who we are for them. It inspired us to get narrowly focused on what we do best – entertain our fans through the most fun baseball games.”
The team remained at reduced capacity to start the 2021 season before restrictions were lifted towards the end of the campaign. Last year also saw the launch of the Banana Ball World Tour, which travelled to Mobile, Alabama to play in front of back-to-back sell-out crowds.
Orton adds: “We were back to building new fans. As we go into the 2022 season, between our home games in Savannah and the six-city world tour, we will play in front of nearly 200,000 fans this year.
“Bananas fans are back and new ones are coming from all over the world almost daily. I can only begin to imagine what the next 12 to 18 months will look like for the growth of the fan base.”
Grayson Stadium has a capacity of 4,000 but the team has no plans to move away despite the ever-increasing demand for tickets. The stadium celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2026 and the Bananas are actively working with the City of Savannah to map out its future.
“It won’t just be some extra seats here and there,” says Orton. “We want to think creatively and boldly about what the fan experience should be for Bananas fans of the future. It’s a monumental challenge, but we believe it is what Bananas fans deserve.”
Images: Savannah Bananas