Affiliates vie to be the most popular

Everybody wants to be popular and minor league teams are no different. Fans can cast their vote for their favorite minor league teams and Phillies fans have a special interest, since the Phillies minor league clubs are doing so well in the voting.

Marketing is a part of any business, but nowhere is it more of an integral part of a business than in minor league baseball. After all, most teams don't just take the moniker of their major league parent club and they also tend to stay away from simple team nicknames like the Eagles or Hawks. No, minor league baseball looks for names like IronPigs, Threshers, BlueClaws and CrossCutters.

Marketing helps build a fan base, which helps build ticket sales, which helps build merchandise sales, which... well, you get the idea.

BaseballPosts.com has come up finding out just how popular minor league teams are with their fans and with fans across the country. They've got their own version of a field of 64 - actually, it was a field of over 220 - and they're slowly narrowing it down to find the most popular minor league teams in the country. The tournament matched up teams from each level of the minors and included independent league baseball.

The Phillies lost one of their affiliates in the first round of the tournament when the Clearwater Threshers lost to the Charlotte Stone Crabs in what was deemed an upset, with Clearwater coming in ranked 12 and Charlotte at 21. The Threshers have one of the more popular logos in the minors in terms of marketing, but didn't perform well in the tournament with on-line voting. To their credit, Charlotte went on to another upset knocking off the Winston-Salem Dash and are now matched up against the Lake Elsinore Storm, who they eventually lost to.

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs are also popular in terms of marketing and have marched their way through the first two rounds of the tournament. The 'Pigs - ranked 25th - knocked off the Las Vegas 51's in the first round and the Portland Beavers in round two. In the third round, the 'Pigs were matched up against the Toledo Mud Hens, who have been around for some time and have gathered a bit of a following, but the 'Pigs - perhaps used to dealing with mud - were able to knock off Toledo and now face the ever-popular Durham Bulls.

When it comes to upsets, the Lakewood BlueClaws pulled off a biggie. After an expected win over the Hickory Crawdads in the first round, the 'Claws beat out the number one seeded Peoria Chiefs, who had a first round bye. Lakewood was ranked as the 16th most popular team in the Class-A region. Lakewood then went up against the ninth ranked Savannah Sand Gnats and swatted them to move on to a final four meeting with the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

"We feel ready to roll as we move into the final stages of this tournament," said Greg Giombarrese of the BlueClaws. "We've led the SAL in
average or overall attendance in all eight years of our existence, and with kids eating free this year, the sky's the limit."

The Williamsport CrossCutters have been one of the more popular short-season teams around and have had great success in both attendance and marketing, especially since a bit of a touch-up was given to the logo last year.

Williamsport has taken the same path to success that Lakewood has in this year's brackets. After an expected win over the Auburn Doubledays in the first round, the 'Cutters cut down the number one ranked Brooklyn Cyclones in round two by a convincing margin. In fact, the CrossCutters knocked off the Cyclones by collecting over 90% of the votes in round two. Now, Williamsport then took on the eighth ranked Lowell Spinners and spun them out of contention to head to the final four in their regional where they're up against the Oneonta Tigers.

"We are overwhelmed by the support we have received from Cutters fans in this tournament thus far," said Gabe Sinicropi, the CrossCutters Vice President of Marketing. "We have not only defeated our opponents by wide margins but have been the #1 or #2 vote-getter among all the teams in every round. That is something we never expected. We garnered over 90% of the votes in our match-up against the Brooklyn Cyclones. Who would have ever thought that?"

For Sinicropi, the contest shows the bond that teams can build with their fans through today's technology.

"I honestly think it's a testament to the power of social networking sites today. We posted messages and voting links on our Facebook and MySpace pages and our "friends" have come through each and every time"

Matt Schweitzer, the creator of BaseballPosts.com believes that Sinicropi is right about bonding with your fans.

"The main theme among the teams remaining in the tournament is that the majority of them have taking advantage of their marketing power. They have used their websites and Facebook groups to communicate to their fans to rack up as many votes as possible. It's a popularity contest!: your fans won't vote for your team if they don't know about the tournament. In a way, the tournament is almost proving which team has the most passionate front office and fan base."

Schweitzer, who has worked in the front office of a couple of different minor league clubs before leaving to further his education, is the one who came up with the idea to coincide the opening of the baseball season with college basketball's March Madness. For Schweitzer, any sort of poll, whether it's on mascots, logos or anything else, is basically a popularity contest and that's unabashedly what his site is featuring. The brackets were set up in a way that would help to generate discussion.

"The teams have been seeded based on the city population that their stadium is in, with a few exceptions. An example of an exception is that while the Charlotte Knights play their home games in Fort Mill, South Carolina, we seeded them based on the city size of Charlotte, North Carolina. We could have seeded the teams based on 2008 attendance numbers, but that would have saved some of the debate that comes along with March Madness," said Schweitzer.

The Final Four voting goes through Thursday April 9th and fans can cast their votes at BaseballPosts.com. The region championships take place starting on Friday April 10 and the winners will then be re-seeded for the Championship round.

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