If you are a TikTok fan, you’re probably familiar with the dancing baseball team the Savannah Bananas. They have gone viral with their choreography to modern hits while they play the game. Batters have to keep their focus on the pitcher while he and the team performs, waiting for the unsuspecting pitch to be thrown. Fans in the stadium, regardless of their team allegiance, enjoy the atmosphere and shenanigans, causing the Savannah Bananas to rake in close to $286,000 per game, not including streaming rights, merchandise and other revenue streams. They have been able to change their fate by simply focusing on the fans.
According to the team owner, the goal has always been to “make baseball fun” by “celebrating everything”. Jesse Cole, the team owner, is known for being the ring master and always clad in a bright yellow tuxedo.
Since their debut in 2016, the Savannah Bananas have sold out every game and have set multiple Coastal Plain League attendance records, and it is all because Jessie Cole wants to make baseball fun. The team, now made up of 120 men, has sold out every game since its inaugural season, and has a waiting list for tickets exceeding 60,000. The Bananas have welcomed more than one million fans in the past 10 years, and they have been featured on MSNBC, CBS Sunday Morning, Access Hollywood, HBO Real Sports, CNN, and ESPN. After going into a stadium that has hosted pro teams who failed to make it in nearly 100 years, the Savannah Bananas baseball team has sold out every game and has gained recognition nationally, with ESPN, CNN, and MSNBC all featuring their stories.
How does he do it?
- One of their videos showcasing a dancing pitcher who threw a strike has been viewed over 42 million times on TikTok.
- He’s turned the game into social media frenzy with crazy audience games, dance moves on the field and amazing baseball.
- The team has more fans on TikTok than any other baseball team.
- Every game is a sellout with a waiting list of 51 thousand people.
Jesse Cole had dreams of becoming a professional player before he suffered a career crushing injury. He was offered the job to become a general manager at the age of 23 and began testing some of his ideas to draw more crowds to the stadium. He visited his current stadium and noticed the emptiness in the stands. He bought the franchise that was losing money and almost bankrupt. He invested all of his personal net worth into the team and began shifting the focus to answer one question: what would bring more fans to the stadium.
In a game setting that normally lasts three hours, he noticed fans would leave after the fifth inning because of boredom. When they were there, they were watching the games only when they weren’t looking at their phones. To call more attention to the game, he and the team began thinking differently.
He began by not renewing his sponsors-an idiotic idea when you’re already losing money. He also decided to pay all of the taxes fans normally paid on drinks and merchandise. To make up for this $500k in lost revenue, he changed ticket prices to include basic meals while at the game. This counter intuitive move increased the fan attendance. Rather than paying the ticket price, the taxes and then paying for meals on top of it, fans could pay one ticket price and have access to the game, a show during the game with all the antics and some of the common meal items they would normally purchase. This was one of the first steps towards a fan-first model.
So with a $20 ticket including a meal, the team sees an average extra $8 dollar spend on food and drink. If you add the average $16 dollar spend fans pay for merchandise and multiply it by a sold-out crowd, the spend per fan per game averages $44. At a capacity of 6,500 fans in the stadium, the team can clear north of $286k per game.
Thinking of baseball from the fan’s perspective is what the Savanah Bananas do best. It’s created a cult-like following of fans and an incredible, palpable engagement level on the team.
What can we learn?
Much like baseball, the recruiting process has become long and boring. Candidates are often an afterthought as processes are built out and systems are put in place. The Bananas started their transformation by changing the rules and putting a time limit on the game. This is one of the easiest, low hanging fruits talent leaders can address to transform the candidate experience. I like to take the design thinking approach and ask:
- Where is the process taking too long? Is it necessary?
- What clears the path for a candidate to get from “Hello” to “I’ll sign the offer now”?
- What mindsets on my team need to change to accomplish this task?
The next portion to review is how you are engaging your candidates. Stock photo videos with professional lighting doesn’t engage candidates who are now accustomed to entertainment at their fingertips. Find ways to engage your candidates with out of the box ideas, graphics, iconography and videos. Remember to keep your marketing brief, to the point, but entertaining and memorable. I saw a job description video a year ago where the manager was riding a scooter through the office showcasing the various amenities while detailing what he was looking for in a successful team member. (Think about that, I saw it a year ago and still remember.)
The biggest lesson we can learn is to put the fan first, or in our case, create a fan out of a candidate by putting them first. You don’t have to change everything overnight, tackle some quick wins and test the results to iterate. The Bananas took years to get the notoriety they have today so don’t lose hope.
What are some ways you’ve enhanced the candidate experience by focusing on your fans?
and Sprint Recruiting
I joined the HR industry in 2004 after working as a sales leader in the Financial Services Industry for eight years. After spending his first couple of years in HR trying to fit in, I found my voice. Now I leverage all of the things I once hated about HR to become a consultant and invaluable partner to the businesses I support. I contribute to the HRGazzette and to DataDrivenInvestor on Medium. WARNING: my writing style is raw and in your face, not what you would expect from an HR executive.
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