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Slammers stadium should be moneymaker for city

Wayne Horne | 8/10/2016, 6:40 p.m.
In early 2012, Silver Cross Hospital pulled up stakes in Joliet and headed east to a new home in neighboring ...

In early 2012, Silver Cross Hospital pulled up stakes in Joliet and headed east to a new home in neighboring New Lenox and now yet another tie to the City of Champions is about to be severed.

This time, however, it’s a local sports organization responsible for the break-up.

Officials from the Joliet Slammers announced last week that effective next year they will not renew the naming rights agreement for the Joliet Baseball Stadium. The City of Joliet has the “sole and exclusive right to name or rename the Stadium and to retain all revenue generated from the sale,” according to the lease agreement with the Joliet Community Baseball and Entertainment, LLC., the legal name of the Joliet Slammers.

The Slammers organization is the exclusive agent for the City of Joliet in selling or licensing the naming rights. The city council has the final say when it comes to naming rights for the stadium, according to the lease agreement. The Joliet Slammers have one more season before the team’s current lease ends, so they will share 40 percent of whatever revenue is negotiated by them.

Allowing the tenants of the Joliet Stadium to act as exclusive agents for naming rights negotiations goes back to 2002 when the Joliet Jackhammers first occupied Silver Cross Field.

Any future lease should have a few caveats when it comes to sharing revenue generated via the naming rights. Since 2012, the team’s share of that revenue has been roughly equal to the rent paid by the Slammers equating to free rent for the team and a loss for the city.

Success on the field for the Slammers has, unfortunately, not translated into fans in the seats at home games. In all probability, the Slammers will make the playoffs and could potentially win the Frontier League Championship. Unfortunately, few will experience the thrill of that possible championship win based on the attendance at home games so far this year. The Slammers are averaging only 1,839 fans per game with nine home games left in the season. That attendance average is dismal at best, ranking 10th in the 12-team Frontier League. The league’s average attendance of home games for all teams is 2,369.

Two reasons are often cited for the lower than average attendance at Joliet Baseball Stadium. The first is competition for the entertainment dollar is substantial in a metropolitan area like Joliet. Most other teams in the league are in less densely populated areas, with the exception of Schaumburg which is up the road a few miles in a more “densely populated area.”

The Boomers currently average 3,783 fans per game and will probably exceed total attendance of 175,000 this year. That’s more than twice as many as projected for the Slammers this year. Ironically, it is unlikely the Schaumburg team will make the playoffs. That team has a losing record this year, while the Slammers are in first place. So, what gives?

Lack of any affiliation with Major League Baseball ranks second among reasons used most often for the Slammers’ low attendance at home games. No doubt that is a valid reason for weak attendance. That’s been the case since the stadium was built 15 years ago.

How about a little dose of a reality? According to a Wall Street Journal report from August of 2015, one step toward financial success is recognizing that baseball is only a fraction of why fans attend games. Games, stunts and good food all factor into the success equation. It has to be a family fun outing. That’s a given. There also needs to be a succession of events playing at the stadium when the team isn’t at home.

When the Slammer’s current lease expires next year the financial incentives included in the new lease should favor Joliet. There should be no naming rights revenue sharing until attendance exceeds a certain level, such as 100,000 or more.

Whoever manages the stadium in the future should be responsible for a certain number of events over and above the home games and any other events at the venue. Fifteen years of experience as the stadium landlord should have provided the city with sufficient negotiating skills that favor the owners of the ballpark, namely, the residents of Joliet. Stay tuned…

Contact Wayne at wayneswords@thetimesweekly.com