PAWTUCKET – “Champions Rise” is once again en vogue at McCoy Stadium. This time, though, the popular slogan is not directly paying homage to the building’s primary tenants.
Last year, “Champions Rise” was synonymous with the Pawtucket Red Sox and the franchise’s 2012 Governors’ Cup title. As patrons passed through the main entrance at McCoy, they were greeted by a colossal banner that proved a fitting salute to a fitting champion.
The photo arrangement that properly captured the meritorious feat included a group shot and, of course, the silver goblet that was presented to the PawSox upon earning the distinction as the International League’s best. Undoubtedly, your eyes became fixated on the two words in bold lettering – “Champions Rise.”
The catchphrase has returned for the 2014 campaign – those who flock to McCoy will once again come face-to-face with an insignia that provides a tip of the cap to a title winner from the previous season – albeit with a different twist.
This time, the champions referenced play north of Pawtucket. Not to completely spoil the banner that was unveiled last week, but the artistic composition features Red Sox players with firm PawSox ties and the World Series trophy.
“It all plays into our theme from a year ago of trying to build off our championship,” points out Mike Tamburro, president of the PawSox. “The fact the Red Sox won one of their own makes the theme even stronger.”
It’s not fair to sit here and say that the PawSox are riding the coattails of the Red Sox. Both are independent operations that tend to cater to different breeds of baseball clientele. Boston routinely lays claim to owning the highest ticket prices in Major League Baseball while Pawtucket prides itself in keeping costs down so that a family can enjoy the game without having to worry about the wallet taking a beating.
Still, there’s no denying the trickle-down service the PawSox potentially stand to reap simply by latching onto the gravy train and branding themselves as the Triple-A affiliate of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. From spikes in attendance and merchandise sales to even more word-of-mouth discussion, the local outfit stands on the threshold of a windfall that comes with the parent club riding high.
“There should definitely be a residual benefit,” notes Tamburro. “Is it easier (to promote PawSox baseball) this year as opposed to last year? Without a doubt. Coming off (Boston’s last-place disgrace in 2012), Red Sox baseball was not what it is right now. People are excited about the major-league team and seeing the kids here.”
The paid attendance figures for Pawtucket the year after Boston captured the World Series in 2004 and 2007 offer an interesting case study of how winning can prove to be a box office bonanza.
In 2005, the attendance at McCoy Stadium was 688,421 – up from 668,259 in 2004. Fast forward to 2008 when 643,049 fans passed through the turnstiles. In 2007, the amount was 611,379. Interest was piqued to a point that the phenomenon commonly referred to as Red Sox Nation appeared limitless.
What ensued beginning with the 2010 Red Sox season was a string of three consecutive non-playoff seasons where fan appeal took a tumble. The PawSox felt the pinch with attendance dropping those same three years that Boston was home after 162 games were in the books.
To be fair, the PawSox rebounded at the gate in 2013 with an announced paid amount of 559,933. The year before, it was 531,473.
“There’s no doubt that we want the major-league club to win because when they win, that permeates up and down the organization,” Tamburro expressed. “When they’re losing, it’s not that important and what we’re doing here is not as magnified as much.
“There was definitely a dark cloud and it hung around through the middle of last season because I don’t think people expected that ballclub in Boston to succeed to the level that they did,” Tamburro continued. “Everyone was kind of waiting for the fade, but it never came. It ended up being a likeable bunch.”
To place Pawtucket’s downward attendance spiral from 2010-12 at the feet of the scuffling parent club doesn’t paint the entire picture. The sagging economy was just as influential along with the hindrance that was the construction to the Pawtucket River Bridge, which wrapped up late last summer.
The confluence of all the aforementioned events and circumstances has only driven the organization to work harder and come up with new and creative means to get the word out and, more importantly, get people inside the stadium. Tamburro lauded the PawSox’s presence on social media while a number of initiatives and promotions – ones that weren’t in place prior to the Red Sox’s fall from grace – were brought to his attention.
“Since the economy went to heck, we’ve all had to work a little harder,” Tamburro acknowledged. “Before people spend that dollar, they are very reflective in what they want to do with it. We have to make sure that our value is what it has always been – the best value in the entertainment marketplace.
“You want to give them something that they might not ordinarily get,” he delved further. “Wherever the fan is, we need to be.”
The best promotion the PawSox can stage has nothing to do with bobbleheads, discounted concessions on select nights, or allowing dogs the chance to wander in the outfield grass after a game. Simply put, the talent that takes the field still rates as the undisputed number one factor in attracting paying customers.
Counting rehabbers such as David Ortiz, Shane Victorino and Clay Buchholz, the 2013 Red Sox featured 27 players who at some point suited up for the PawSox. The list also includes 20-somethings Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks and Brandon Workman, three players who enjoyed strong supportive roles during Boston’s quest for October glory.
The success of players such as Bogaerts and Workman on the big stage only enhances the PawSox in the following regard: If they came through Pawtucket, who’s to say that there’s not another future piece to Boston’s puzzle plying his trade in Triple A? That’s the kind of buzz you simply can’t quantify with a price tag.
“The success of the 2014 Red Sox will likely depend on 55 guys, 30 of whom will probably play here at some point,” Tamburro feels. “(Boston General Manager) Ben Cherington has done a great job in building an extended roster. He looks at a major-league club at being 40 players deep and we get to play a prominent role.
“Every year there’s one or two guys who surprise you and one or two that disappoint,” Tamburro added. “You don’t know who those guys are right now, but the stories are going to get told.”
A smile appeared on Tamburro’s face when the subject turned to mentioning his PawSox in the same breath as the world champs from Boston.
“It’s got a great ring to it. Nothing beats winning,” said the longtime front office executive. “To see kids you nurtured holding up that championship trophy, it’s very special.”
So too are the perks that figure to come based on Pawtucket’s affiliation with a MLB team that enters the 2014 season with an aura of distinction next to its name, the kind that simply reads “Champions Rise.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03