Sounds plan a whole new ballgame

Thursday, April 2, 2009 at 12:00am
The Nashville Sounds new owners are not only giving Greer Stadium a multi-million dollar facelift, they are shifting back to their primary focus to providing quality affordable entertainment to families.

By the time Thirsty Thursday reached its sixth year as a Nashville Sounds fan-magnet promotion, Greer Stadium was no longer a prime entertainment destination for Nashville area families on Thursday nights.

Some fans were willing to look past the paint peeling off the concourse walls, the rickety plastic seats and the non-functioning guitar-shaped scoreboard in exchange for cheap libations. The draw was the $1 beer and Greer was merely the cheap old neighborhood pub that happened to have its baseball being played live instead of on plasma screen televisions.

As the promotion grew more popular, fans spent more time in beer lines than in the stands watching the Nashville Sounds battle their Pacific Coast League foes. Two years ago during a Thirsty Thursday promotion, there were two separate incidents where apparently inebriated fans ran onto the field and within striking distance of Sounds players.

Sounds centerfielder at the time, Tony Gwynn Jr., said his fists were clinched and ready to swing if the college-aged fan came any closer.

And it’s with that perspective that the new Sounds ownership made the tough, but symbolic, choice to scrap the Thirsty Thursday promotion for the upcoming season, which begins April 9 at Greer.

Instead, the Sounds are instead shifting back to their primary focus — providing quality affordable entertainment to families.

“It was not an easy decision,” said new Sounds co-owner Frank Ward, who has taken the lead on the team’s day-to-day operations. “We talked about it for a long time. We came to the conclusion that we didn’t want Thirsty Thursdays. In place of that we’ve added eight promotions on Thursdays all geared to the kids. There’s bat night, hat night, backpack back-to-school night. [And] we’ve also brought in some live entertainment.”

Greer gets facelift

Not long after MFP Real Estate reached an agreement to purchase the Sounds last October, it immediately began negotiations to rework the Greer Stadium lease with Metro government.

Pursuant to the new terms of the lease, MFP promised $1.75 million in improvements at Greer, which will begin its 32nd year of baseball on opening day. Instead, the new owners have gone above and beyond what was contractually required and have actually spent more than $2.25 million in improvements.

Fans will immediately notice a new paintjob as a sharp charcoal color scheme now covers Greer’s concourse level. The old guitar shaped scoreboard is still in place, but for the first time in recent memory, the electronic screen will actually function correctly thanks to a replacement board.

Broken seats around the stadium have been removed and replaced with seats from the Chicago White Sox’ U.S. Cellular Field, as well. For the first time in years, Greer Stadium will have concourse restrooms that don’t resemble something offered at a truck stop.

“I drove over [to Greer Stadium] last week because I had heard that they were improving some stuff and dumping a couple million bucks into it,” said Chris Blaney, a father of four from East Nashville and a Sounds season ticket holder. “It’s looking good over there. I have four kids so I bring them a bunch. It will be nice to have some clean bathrooms and stuff like that for the little kids. It’s amazing what some paint can do and some chairs that aren’t broken.”

Continuing with the trend of maintaining the focus on family entertainment, the new ownership group also installed a Fun Zone directly inside Greer’s opening gates. The Fun Zone will include baseball-themed activities for kids. And, of course, team mascot Ozzie will return for another season.

“Coming in, we knew we had to get our fan base back,” Ward said. “And that’s our focus right now, it’s the fans. Everything we’ve done other than what was required by baseball, has been geared to the fans to make their time at the stadium enjoyable and wanting to come back.”

Affordable entertainment

Besides the stadium upgrades, the Sounds have brought back many of their most popular promotions. Most notably, the Sounds will once again offer their Faith Night promotions for Friday home games.

Faith Nights seek to lure church groups to the stadium by offering a concert by a Christian pop music artist and faith-based giveaways like Biblical character bobbleheads.

The promotion has received attention from national media outlets like ESPN and The New York Times.

And while the Sounds look to bring families to Greer in record numbers, they’ll being doing so at an affordable rate. Despite the $2 million-plus in stadium upgrades, the team elected not to raise ticket prices, which come as low as $6.

“It costs less than a movie does these days,” Blaney said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”

Ward said it was his hope that with families watching how they spend their entertainment dollars, the Sounds would be viewed as a desirable option.

“I just want a good crowd on opening night,” Ward said. “I want people to see the amount of work we’ve put into this and how committed we are to improving the fan experience here.”

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