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Day 105: Jam Session

November 20, 2010

One of my professors who I used to work with during my time in minor league hockey asked me if I was still interested in being involved in broadcasting.  My unwavering response was twofold: “I don’t think I could stay in a field where I could be replaced by someone with twice my qualifications and pay him half as much” and “Sports is kind of like ground sausage: you really enjoy it at face value but you don’t want to see how it’s made.”

Maybe that’s why I’ve found a happy medium as an official scorer for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Developmental League.  It affords me the chance to work at the professional level for a full season while having the freedom to focus my goals on the field of education.

The students are also impressed that I’m one of the “priviledged few” who gets to see the Jam in action.

There’s a lot of attention paid locally to the Jam’s new affiliation with the Los Angeles Lakers, so much so that they’ve had to expand capacity in their arena.  To 500.

That is correct, there are no zeros missing.  Seating capacity at the Jam Events Center is 500.

Here’s the story: When the team began play about five years ago, they played their games at the city’s 8,000 -seat Rabobank Arena.  The affiliations weren’t that attractive to the locals: Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors.  The games were scheduled around the buildings primary tenants, the hockey team.  There was very little promotion on local television.  Long story short: after a few seasons of drawing in the hundreds the team announced it would cease operations.

Team ownership found themselves stuck with a dead franchise and a half-built practice facility…both of which were still assets of considerable value.  The practice facility still had room to change before completion, but could still hold an extremely limited capacity.

One of the foundations of business says that if you’ve got a limited supply of something, you need to find ways to increase demand.  The Jam offered each and every one of their seats as season tickets, converted some to “courtside suites” (tables with wait service) and included bonuses such as free memberships at gyms and country clubs.  It was your basic corporate sports marketing plan without the “hassle” of standard ticket sales.  The Jam branded their games as networking events with greater access to the professional game than any other team in town.  Critics complain that this strategy effectively shuts the “average fan” out.  If the average fan was truly interested in the first place, the Jam would probably still be playing at Rabobank Arena.

To start their 5th season of operation, the Jam defeated the Tulsa 66ers in front of a sellout crowd of 500.  Every game this season is a guaranteed announced sellout.  The revenues from this strategyshould allow the team to continue operations on its own terms.

The question now becomes: what other struggling franchises will make a similar move?  We’ve seen the ECHL shrink from membership in the high twenties down to a barely functional 19 this season; minor league baseball clubs are constantly in a state of flux.  Diminished interest and ticket revenue coupled with vanishing corporate sponsorship is across the board.  Teams are starting to recognize the supply of their brand of entertainment is too high.

The Jam model might be the only logical step.

DR

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