WORCESTER — Baseball has become deep-rooted in the analytic world. The glossary of analytical terminology could be described as Bible-esque. Sometimes the numbers can be overwhelming.
However, there’s one metric that’s never misleading — popularity.
The Worcester Red Sox have exceeded every expectation in the team’s inaugural season at Polar Park and the numbers are off the charts. Worcester’s website led all minor league teams with unique visitors (211,519), visits (376,947) and page views (768,810) in July. The team was second behind Triple-A Durham in MiLB TV daily views with 12,355.
In fact, the WooSox are atop the minor league list in all year-to-date categories with 784,227 unique visitors, 1.3 million visitors and 2.9 million page views.
“We’re pleased that the metrics across different fronts — television, website, in-park attendance, tickets sold – have all been so strong,” said WooSox executive vVice president and general manager Dan Rea. “That’s a testament to the quality of the ballpark, which is one big part of it, but the quality of the market and the fan base has been overwhelming, even more than our initial expectations.”
Team prepares for future challenges
Of course everyone likes new and shiny things, and nothing sparkles more than the jewel of the Canal District. Eventually when the newness wears off, it will be a challenge to sustain the current popularity and success. History indicates the popularity and success of the parent club helps minor league numbers, and the WooSox are well aware of future challenges.
“Continued diligent customer service, as far as the in-park experience is key for us,” Rea said. “We want people to have a great experience when they’re here, regardless of the game result, regardless of the weather, so it’s service, service and more service.”
The WooSox also are involved heavily in the community aspect. Despite the wet July and numerous postponements and delays, fans did not shy away.
Josh Maurer has been calling Red Sox Triple-A games for seven seasons, beginning in Pawtucket and now in Worcester. He lives a sacrifice bunt away from Polar Park in the Canal District and has witnessed the city transform itself into WooSox central.
“It’s unbelievable,” Maurer said. “I’m stunned what the level of civic pride seems to be for the people who live in Worcester. You have people who don’t look like they’ve watched a baseball game in their life, walking down Water Street wearing a WooSox T-shirt. I smile when I see it, because it’s the coolest thing in the world.”
The WooSox Team Store is always packed, even during non-game days. The No. 1 sale item is the team program, followed by Smiley Plush Mascot Dolls. Different style WooSox hats are Nos. 3, 4, and 6, while ponchos are No. 5 (for obvious reasons this spring and summer).
It’s impressive, especially given the fact that the WooSox launched their official on-field caps and jersey nearly one year ago, on Aug. 17. The amount of fans and locals wearing the team’s colors is pretty cool. It’s been a challenge for the team to keep items in stock even though the store is open year-round.
“They are now identifying their city with the Boston Red Sox,” Maurer said. “They’re buying hats. They’re buying shirts. They’re buying jackets, and they’re wearing them. Again, these aren’t just sports fans. These are the people who are native Worcesterites who want to show their pride in their city by wearing WooSox stuff. I’ve been blown away by the amount of merchandise that I’ve seen people wearing around town the last four, or five months.”
Visibility a key to early success
The WooSox’ social media accounts have been nonstop keeping fans updated with everything relating to the team on and off the field, too.
It helps every WooSox home game is on either NESN or NESN+, along with being on the same network as the parent club has helped immeasurably for the branding of the team, the exposure of the players and new ballpark.
“I can tell you anecdotally, I’ll be around restaurants in the Canal District and have somebody who works at the restaurant tell me ‘Hey, we saw you on NESN+ tonight. We had the game on — are you that guy broadcasting?’ I think that’s so neat, and you don’t get that in minor league setups — ever,” Maurer said. “I’ve been around a lot of minor league setups, and there aren’t a lot of places where people can be in a local restaurant, watching the game every night like they can here. It’s phenomenal.”
WooSox president Dr. Charles Steinberg understands there was a time when baseball owners did not want games televised because it could have a negative effect on attendance. It was an archaic way of thinking, and sports broadcasts have been extremely successful, especially with the latest technology.
“There’s a saying we have: Show the product,” Rea said. “That’s been a mantra. When we were in Pawtucket, we tried to get the team on (television) more often, but since we’ve moved to Worcester, and working closely with the folks from NESN, there’s been a real sense of partnership to get the team on air.”
From a player’s standpoint, they’ve been blown away by the state-of-the-art facilities, along with the fan support in Worcester and New England.
“It’s unbelievable,” said the WooSox’ Ryan Fitzgerald. “I thought it was pretty good in Portland, but it’s been unbelievable here. My buddy, (Syracuse’s) Mark Payton even said, ‘Dude, this is big league here.’ He’s been in the big leagues, so he knows what that’s like. He says this is the best place to play in Triple A.”
The only thing missing this season due to all the rain is a retractable roof over Polar Park.
“That was taken out of the budget early on, but we’re probably going to revisit that after the last month and a half,” Rea said with a laugh. “At this point I would say at any price. I’ll take it out of my salary if I have to.”
—Contact Joe McDonald at JMcDonald2@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoeyMacHockey.