Caught in the economy: Northern League battles difficult economy, but RedHawks are in better shape than some
FARGO - The combination of poor early-season weather and a sluggish U.S. economy has the Northern League in a financial slump this season.
However, the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks have been one of a handful of teams in the league who appear to still be hitting a home run with fans and corporate sponsors despite the forces working against them.
"We knew we would be affected before the season started," said Harry Stavrenos, the Northern League's Director of Operations. "I think what happened is that we're just getting hit like other businesses. ... Hopefully, the good stuff can make up for the bad stuff."
The Northern League's six teams have averaged 4,164 fans a game through the first half of the season.
That's down 312 per game from last year's final season average.
Stavrenos said Northern League total revenues are down 10-15 percent from last season.
The RedHawks are one of four Northern League franchises below last year's attendance pace.
But Fargo-Moorhead is down just 104 fans per game through the first 24 home dates.
Joliet has been the six-team league's biggest attendance loser, dropping off 986 fans per home game from last year's average.
Kansas City is 933 fans per game off last year's pace and Gary is down 95 per game.
Winnipeg and Schaumburg are slightly ahead of last year's numbers.
A hot ticket for several years, Winnipeg leads the league with 6,043 fans per home game. Schaumberg is second at 4,332.
RedHawks executive vice president Brad Thom said the team is on pace to make a profit this season.
"We anticipate having about the same success as last year," said Thom, who monitors the team's financial progress closely throughout the year. "I would say we are two to three percent up in ticket sales from last year and concessions are about right on."
Thom said the RedHawks have stayed profitable in the midst of a recession by negotiating good deals with local concessions vendors and by maintaining a good relationship with corporate sponsors.
The RedHawks have kept food prices stable and have held the price of beer to $4.50 the last three years, Thom said.
"We've done as good of a job as we can in the past few years to hold our prices down," Thom said. "... We're not out to make a million dollars a year."
Thom said the RedHawks' corporate sponsorships are up from last year, which would help offset any minor losses in attendance and concessions at the year's end.
"Fargo, in my mind, is a great little operation," Stavrenos said. "I admire the way they run things so different than some people run things."
Bad weather in the Midwest in May and early June ate into attendance numbers at almost every ballpark in the Northern League, Stavrenos said.
But Stavrenos said the league office is optimistic attendance numbers will bounce back after the All-Star break.
"The Northern League is getting to where it's almost 40 years old," Stavrenos said. "It's a good brand of baseball and it's still affordable. ... The franchises are worth too much money and the league is too good for it to go away.
"It's not going to happen."
RedHawks owner Bruce Thom said he's been encouraged by what he's seen at Newman Outdoor Field this year that the Northern League is on solid ground.
"We are part of the entertainment package of Fargo-Moorhead," Bruce Thom said. "... We think the good news is that the RedHawks are doing very well in a very tough environment. I would say that everyone is guardedly optimistic about this year."