by John Bach
Drew Weber may own the most successful losing team in America.
Despite the fact that the Lowell Spinners consistently lose more baseball games than they win, their 5,000-seat stadium sells out game after game. So why do fans beat a path to Lowell, Mass., to watch the Boston Red Sox minor-league affiliate?
Weber, BusAd '66, says it is a combination of a terrific baseball market, a beautiful new stadium and a staff that loves to have fun. The fans say it is the family friendly experience. Judging by the media play that the mere Class-A club receives (not an easy task, particularly in the Boston press), the key ingredient to the team's success appears to be Weber's marketing genius.
Unlike the major leagues, the hallmark of the minors is that taking in a game is often less about balls and strikes and more about what takes place outside the foul lines. For example, a typical night of "Spinnertainment" includes sumo wrestling in the stands, magic acts and mascot races. And that's just between innings. Before the game, fans will find players signing autographs, clowns making balloon animals and a border collie catching Frisbees. The Spinners roll out zany, off-beat promotions nearly every home game. And that's the part Weber enjoys most.
"When I bought the team, it wasn"t for the baseball," he says. "It was the marketing. I was a marketing major at UC. It is that total freedom -- the entertainment, the promotions and all the things you can do to bring families in -- that I like."
This past season wouldn't have been complete without Hercules, the world's heaviest dog; stadium-style Simon Says; and the world's fastest man on two hands. The experience is often characterized in the press as a circus, and Weber does not deny his role as ringmaster.
Past antics have included a wedding ceremony at home plate, "Bald is Beautiful Night," "Twins Night," "Shirt Off Our Back Night" and the time $1,000 was hidden in hot-dog wrappers. One of the seasonal favorites is the money drop. Twenty fans get to run onto the field and dash for hundreds of dollar bills.
None of the giveaways or wacky promos, however, have compared to the international attention that Weber's "Birth Night" received in '99. The team handed out free pairs of tickets to local expectant mothers. The first to go into labor won a year's supply of free diapers. About 30 mothers sat behind home plate as a childbirth coach led the entire crowd in breathing exercises. Though a baby's cry wailed through the speakers and a dozen ambulances idled outside, the eventual winner (Lisa Armstrong) didn't deliver until four days later.
From the beginning, Drew and Joann Weber have kept the turnstiles at Edward LeLacheur Park (The Big Ed) clicking by adhering to two very simple principles: Put the fan first and keep it fun. It is a distinctly different postulate than that of most professional sports teams.
Nothing is exactly what you would expect at the ballpark because the Webers aren't typical owners. They don't watch the game from a skybox. When they aren't manning a souvenir booth, they sit in the stands or stroll the concourse. And after the game, they position themselves near the exits shaking hands, thanking their patrons for their business and inviting them back.