Silver Knights success on and off field

NASHUA – It was a banner 2017 season for the Nashua Silver Knights.

On and off the field.

You wonder just how much better things can get for the local Futures Collegiate League entry. With the two extra playoff games, which drew about a combined 3,500-plus, the team ended up drawing close to 300 more fans per game than a year ago.

In terms of dollars and interest, it was clearly the franchise’s best year.

“Absolutely,” Knights general manager Ronnie Wallace said. “Just looking at the attendance numbers throughout the season.”

The Silver Knights averaged a franchise best ever 1,460 fans during the regular season, third in the Futures League behind Worcester (2,356) and Pittsfield (1,559). And, according to assistant general manager Cheryl Lindner, who handles most of the club finances, the team should finish in the black for the second consecutive year when all the incoming and outgoing dollars are finalized. Lindner said that accounting should be finished by the end of the month.

“Early estimates it looks good,” Lindner said. “There’s a lot of moving pieces at the end. It was very good. I was concerned about the rainouts and the impact they would have. But people came back and the impact of the playoffs was huge.”

Lindner could feel the difference even during the somewhat lackluster 26-27 regular season.

“The other thing was the energy and atmosphere here, it’s gotten noticeably better,” Lindner said. “I think part of it was this was a good group of kids that the fans enjoyed. … The likeability of the team and the experience people have when they come in here is more important than seeing them win every home game.”

The team had a handful of rainouts, and lost one key Friday night at the end of June as well as its last home game of the regular season on a Saturday. But Saturday night attendance, a problem in the past, was up by an average of 500 for three regulars season dates. The team started Saturday games at 6:05 p.m., an hour earlier than in the past. Giveaways, promotional events, plus the new time combined, in Wallace and Lindner’s opinion, for the big boost. “Isn’t it crazy,” Wallace said, “what an hour can do? And that doesn’t include that last championship game.”

Wednesday night’s average was about 880 fans, up about 60 from a year ago. But while still averaging over 1,000 a night on the dollar drink Thursday nights, the figure was down about 100 fans from last year and recent years past. Threatening weather for one hurt, plus the fact that a couple of them were before school was done, Lindner said, as opposed to a year ago when the team had the majority of those nights in July, starting in late June. “That was really the only night of the week when we took a step back,” Wallace said.

The Silver Knights will stay the course with what they’ve done, keeping giveaways and promotional events front and center.

“I don’t think you’ll see any major promotional changes,” Wallace said.

One of the keys for the team was the luxury suite sales. While group sales was pretty much even with a year ago, the sky suites after July 4 were sold out for the remainder of the season.

“The suites,” Lindner said, “exploded.” Having two playoff games also helped make up for the suite revenue lost from rainouts, Wallace said, as the rentals just shifted to those dates. The team also used tiered pricing, as the less popular nights weren’t as expensive.

Season tickets were close to 200, and perhaps winning a second straight FCBL title could produce more. Wallace said in addition to renewals, there have been many inquiries from first-timers.

On the corporate side, numbers were up, as the team was able to have several gift giveaway nights due to sponsorships. “We saw that it worked in 2016, so this off-season it was a point of emphasis,” Wallace said. “Everything was sponsored; the only thing we paid for was the team card set. And it’s already started for next year.”

There’s been a steady stream of fans coming by the team’s Holman Stadium offices, Wallace said, to purchase championship T-Shirts.

Thus, you can figure the team will try to capitalize once again on the championship, which was unlikely after the team finished as the fifth seed.

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Still speaking to the fan experience, Wallace was pleased with how concessions and ticketing went. Occasionally he would time how long it would take for the last person in line to make it to the food counter, “and the time was much more reasonable this year. You weren’t spending an inning and a half in line anymore. Max you were a half inning.”

Ticket lines were handled much better, both said, thanks to use of ethernet connections for credit cards, etc. In past years, Wallace would set up a manual cash ticket line next to the box office; that wasn’t needed this season.

Meanwhile, Holman offered a new feature this year, the video scoreboard — and that, Wallace said, will give the team more revenue a year from now than it did this past season, as they’ve learned how it works. Video ads would often run in between innings.

“We changed how we used it,” Wallace said. “We realized we weren’t going to run head shots of the visiting players. So we were able to give a lot more time in those slots, get more people involved in it rather than just thinking about 90 seconds in 27 spots.”

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What will change next season? Wallace said the team will try to get more involved in giving groups the option of having pre-game barbecue/picnics in the area down the right field line.

“We’re starting to get more groups who are interested in that,” Wallace said. “The big part of it is getting a tent. We can handle the catering side of it quite easily. But it’s just the protection.”

The team enjoyed a full season of the Kids Area in left field, and “that will continue to improve,” Wallace said. Lindner noted that it has moved a couple of times in years and was shut down in 2016.

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Right now, the plan is to keep the team as popular as it has ever been after seven years.

“Winning is very important in Nashua, I would say,” Wallace said. “And as frustrating as the team was at home this year, they still came out, which I think just shows the popularity of the team.”

But that last game, where some 2,400 fans saw a team win a title and stayed for well over an hour after to celebrate, could have a great effect on the franchise going forward, in a good way, obviously.

“The good will feelings toward us from everybody that was here, and from local businesses and City Hall, is off the stop, Lindner said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s been a lot of work the last few years to rebuild the relationship and rebuild bridges. But we definitely saw the return this year.”

While the team won the title in 2016, that took place in Worcester. The fact it happened at Holman should jump start things for 2018. It’s already had an economic impact; the team is on its second run of orders for championship shirts. In fact, team enjoyed its best season in club merchandise sales.

Wallace said that the work for next year has already begun.

“We’re not going to disclose anything right now, as far as some of the plans we have for next year,” he said. “We have a couple of things in the works that no one in the league has done yet, because it’s still new.”

The team is expected, Wallace said, to promote the 80th year of Holman Stadium, he said, with special guests and honoring some of the teams that have played at the facility.

As for the FCBL, the annual league meetings will be in late October or early November, site to be determined. It will be interesting to see if the home run extra inning derby and point system remain , or if the league stays at nine teams,tries to contract to eight or increase to 10. Scheduling for nine teams, Lindner said, was an issue.

But for the Silver Knights, as solid a franchise as any in the FCBL, would there be anything from the last year Wallace and Lindner would like to change?

“Weather,” came the reply.

Even so, after the last two seasons, it will be difficult for anyone to rain on the Silver Knights’ parade.

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