Giger: Pirates’ success this season benefits Curve
Marketing a minor league franchise after 15 seasons has inherent difficulties, but the Curve have been given a great opportunity with the Pirates’ current and projected future success.
The Curve’s arrival in 1999 brought with it the simple slogan of “future Pirates play here.”
But that was those Pirates. The losers.
And even though a slew of former Curve guys made it up to Pittsburgh, let’s be real, many of them stunk it up and were big reasons why the Bucco losing streak reached 20 years.
Now it’s the lovable, feel-good, capture-the-heart-of-America, small-market success Pirates, who just so happen to have a bunch of young stars – including likely MVP Andrew McCutchen – who once played for the Curve.
The slogan “future Pirates play here” now has much more appeal at the Double-A level, and if the Curve are smart, they’ll milk the connection for everything it’s worth in a region filled with devoted, passionate Pirate fans.
“For us,” Curve general manager Rob Egan said, “it’s always about trumpeting our alumni who have been successful with the Pirates.”
McCutchen. Pedro Alvarez. Starling Marte. Gerrit Cole. Neil Walker. The faces of the Pirates franchise should be plastered all over everything the Curve do in the coming years, reminding fans that they can catch a glimpse of the next wave or waves of major league stars at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
All in good taste, of course.
“You never want to do things that are so overboard trying to completely capitalize on that and not have any connection to it at all,” Egan said.
“Yes, there’s a fine line and you don’t want to cross it, but at the same time we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t say, hey, we’ve got the Pirates of the future right here, right now, and we’ve got living proof in the big leagues.”
The great thing about watching all of those former Curve guys now with the Pirates – and there were 11 on the team’s final 25-man playoff roster – is the sense of ownership every Altoona fan gets to feel by recalling, “I remember him when …”
What all of this really needs to boil down to for the Curve is putting more fans in the seats at PNG Field. A great sense of pride is one thing, but that doesn’t pay the bills.
There are only so many new ways to attract fans to minor league games after 15 seasons that even the most creative front office staff can hit a wall. The Curve staff had a fine year coming up with good promotions, giveaways and entertainment acts in 2013, but attendance still fell slightly, by 2 percent to 4,209 per game.
That is and always will be a strong number playing in a city with a population of only 46,000. But to avoid a further slow and steady decline, the Curve must find ways to keep fans interested even after they’ve already been to hundreds of games over the years.
The best way to do that, as radio broadcaster Mike Passanisi pointed out, is frequently reminding everyone that McCutchen, Alvarez and others played here, while also continuing to look forward.
“There’s always new names,” Passanisi said, mentioning young guns such as Cole and Jameson Taillon.
One potential drawback in the Pirates getting so good is that fans who come to a lot of Curve games could decide to cut back and go to Pittsburgh for games instead. Egan, however, hopes the opposite will be true – that fans throughout the region are so excited about baseball again that they’ll go to more games everywhere.
“Anything that can help people be even more interested in the baseball that’s good for us, it’s good for the game, it’s good for the future of the game in our area,” Egan said.
For everyone who loves baseball, that’s really the ultimate benefit of the Pirates’ long-overdue return to prominence.
Follow Giger on Twitter @CoryGiger.