(WTNH)–With all of the hype surrounding the Hartford Yard Goats and the opening of Dunkin’ Donuts Park (which is pretty stunning), it’s easy to forget that there’s another minor league baseball team in Hartford County.
You almost feel bad for the Bees, who don’t have a brand new stadium, parent major league club, or the LOUD NOISES social media campaign that the Yard Goats have. (That may change under their new owner, a mobile advertising CEO).
They haven’t gotten nearly as much publicity—positive or negative—as the Yard Goats have since they crash-landed their franchise in Hartford.
First, it was the name and logo that earned the ‘Goats national recognition, then it was their (er…interesting) theme song, and then the fact that their stadium didn’t open in time, and the city called the FBI on the developer.
The fact that the Yard Goats played all of their games last season away from home only served to build the anticipation this year, and it felt like a state holiday when Dunkin’ Donuts Park finally opened earlier this month.
Now the Bees, who enjoyed their first season competition-free, will go head-up with the Goats and their marketing machine in their first year in Hartford.
Under those conditions, you’d have to expect a little bit of a dip in attendance, right?
“I actually would expect the opposite,” said Bees general manager Gerry Berthiaume. “If fans want to go out to Hartford and see a game, maybe it’s their first time doing so, we would hope that they make their second choice to come here.”
Berthiaume said about 214,000 fans came through the gates at New Britain Stadium last season. He believes the team will do better this year.
There are a number of reasons he’s confident. The team just took control of its own concessions, which means they can offer deals like “$1 Day Mondays” or “Family 4-Pack Wednesdays” more so than last season.
They’ve also got an investment from the city, which spent thousands to help improve New Britain Stadium last season. Mayor Erin Stewart has been a vocal ambassador, helping the city land the Atlantic League team, which moved from Camden, New Jersey in 2015.
“The stadium has never looked better,” Berthiaume said. “We’ve got the branding everywhere, the black and white, the honeycomb logos on the walls and signage. The Red Sox grounds crew was here helping get our field ready.”
He says the team is counting on fans from Southington, Rocky Hill, Newington and Wethersfield to continue to fill the stadium.
Of course, the Bees will have plenty of fans in the New Britain area who grew up going to Rock Cats games, some of whom have sworn they’d never set foot in Dunkin’ Donuts Park, or buy one of those sweet-looking hats with the munching goat on it.
“We just ask our core fans to be our ambassadors, to spread the word about Bees baseball,” he said.
“With all that has gone on in Hartford, we feel that look, we’ve been here in New Britain for 35 consecutive years of professional baseball,” Berthiaume said. “It’s nice to have that core of fans that regardless, they’ll be here from Game 1 to Game 70.”