11 October 2017

The Future of Baseball in Syracuse

On Monday, news leaked that my "hometown" team, the Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs, had been purchased by the New York Mets. Take a look around this blog and you'll see some throwbacks to the franchise and its significance to me, especially regarding the logo.

I use the term hometown loosely, as I grew up more than an hour away from Syracuse and identify completely with Western New York and the City of Buffalo. However, its where I live and the Chiefs are the team I have been watching since the early 1990s, so anything similar to what happened earlier this week gets me a little edgy.

Syracuse is not a baseball town, and it never will be. That's fine. Neither is Buffalo. But people here are fickle and miserable and find every reason to hate going to games, sometimes myself included. Attendance is poor, but it's getting better due to GM Jason Smoral's relentless spirit and unending promotions. Can the Mets affiliation save baseball in Syracuse? I'm not sure. But we can explore this a bit. In order to at worst - maintain - baseball in this city, here are some suggestions.

  • Retain Jason Smoral. Smoral has been GM of the Syracuse Chiefs since 2013, or since I've been living here permanently. Since he took over, the Chiefs have increased their attendance, mostly due to the aforementioned string of promotions, peaked by 2017's "What If" Night which featured the temporary re-brand of the Chiefs to the Syracuse Salt Potatoes. The promotion did so well, they sold merchandise to all 50 states and ended up finishing the season with yet another Salt Potatoes night versus my Buffalo Bisons. It brought something to the game that this area lacks entirely: community. I don't think any of this happens under any other GM, and that's why he needs to stay.
  • Go full re-brand. In the past the Chiefs have updated their colors (blue for Toronto, red and navy for Washington) and modernized their logos, but they've been the same since the 1960s (1950s?) and quite frankly, they've been left behind. Syracuse need to run with 2017's Salt Potatoes promotion and take the path of Binghamton, Richmond, Fresno, Round Rock and other successful MiLB teams have: get weird. 
  • Update the food options. The food vendor at NBT Bank Stadium is truly dreadful. When a city struggles to rise from the ashes of the Rust Belt, one thing usually emerges: food. This has happened throughout Syracuse, but there has been zero carry-over to the stadium. Local favorites? There's just one: Hoffmann hot dogs, which I will defend until the day I die. The stadium offers salt potatoes only on promotion days, and other than that...burgers, more dogs, chicken fingers. And they're all awful. Better food will bring more people into the seats.
Seems simple enough, right? Probably not. We still have the whole Mets affiliation...thing. 

In yesterday's interviews, Jeff Wilpon said something in regards to committing to the city and keeping baseball in CNY. Forgive me for not taking a Wilpon quote as gospel.

There's plenty of variables that might move the team out of the area, and none seem too far-fetched. The first is that CNY is NOT Mets territory. Aside from Queens, though, what is? The city and surrounding areas probably profile as such, in regards to fandom:

  1. Yankees (70%)
  2. Red Sox (20%)
  3. Mets/Blue Jays/Nationals/Braves (5%)
  4. Other (5%)
This will never, ever be a Mets town. They're front-runners. Just look at SU Football attendance. The Mets aren't winners. When their teams aren't competitive, the fans disappear and cry into their shitty Syracuse Pale Ale*. The Mets affiliation itself will not affect much, aside from subjecting this eyesore of a city to even more orange.

Will attendance drop? Probably not. But there's no way they're filling the stadium up on weeknights, regardless of any of my suggestions or the Mets' efforts to do so. The best we can hope for is sustain, be a short taxi service from AAA-MLB, and give the city something to do on summer nights. 

Will sustenance be enough for the Wilpons? Since they've already paid out millions in fines for their PONZI schemes, probably not. There aren't many other markets worth pursuing in New York State, though, especially upstate.

The city's main competition will be Long Island. Currently Long Island features the Ducks, but would those stadium owners outbid our locals after the stadium lease ends in 2025? Absolutely. Why have unaffiliated ball when you can have Triple-A? It makes too much sense, even if it would still be a 45 minute drive rather than a 45 minute plane ride between both options. 

I do believe baseball can succeed in Syracuse, but it will take something we just don't have here: community effort. In a city without an identity, its extremely difficult to support a Triple-A team playing in between a swamp and a swarm of overpasses located away from the populated area. The next eight years will be do-or-die for this franchise as a Triple-A affiliate. Baseball isn't getting any more popular here, and a best-case scenario might actually be Double-A in the somewhat distant future. 

Oh, and this is acard blog or something, so here's a Chiefs card:

*Okay, it's not that bad. 

1 comment:

  1. Living in Rochester , I think we have some of the same pains. The promotions dept. are constantly trying to find that golden promotion so atleast they are trying.Our team even ran with the foodie Rochester Plates for a night.
    Its scary to think that one day they might not be there to go have a dog and beer while the kids roam , trying like heck to get a ball or autograph.