English economist John Maynard Keynes once said, “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones.”
Many in the baseball world can relate to this quote, as it is a sport notoriously stuck in its ways and slow to change. To many outside its core fans, the game of baseball is:
- Too long
- Too boring
- Too old
- Too traditional
What would happen if a baseball team threw those negative perceptions up against a wall and did the opposite?
Enter the Savannah Bananas.
Before the Bananas, Savannah, Georgia had the Sand Gnats, a Class-A affiliate of the New York Mets. In their final season in 2015, the Sand Gnats averaged 1,962 fans per game, ranking #144 out of 176 MLB-affiliated teams.
The Savannah Bananas, a member of the Coastal Plain League (a collegiate league not affiliated with any MLB club), has sold out every single game since their inaugural season in 2016, doubling attendance with nearly 4,000 fans. Every. Single. Game.
They did it by changing the game.
You think baseball’s too long? The Savannah Bananas play “Banana Ball,” billed as the world’s fastest and most entertaining brand of baseball. There are no bunts, and no visits to the mound. If someone in the stands catches a foul ball, the batter is out. Games have a two-hour time limit. And that’s just for starters.
You think baseball is too boring? The Bananas play in kilts. Or stilts. Players may get escorted to the plate by a pep band. They have The Banana Nanas, a senior citizen dance team, and the Man-Nana’s, a Dad Bod Cheerleading Squad.
You think baseball is too old? The Bananas have 2.7 million followers on TikTok. They have their own Savannah Banana Beer and specialty alcoholic drink, The Slippery Banana.
You think baseball is too traditional? The owner, Jesse Cole, wears a yellow tuxedo at every game.
Players sign autographs before the game, and let fans sign autographs on their stuff. Instead of typical postgame interviews, players may be interviewed in the shower, in the bathroom stall, in an ice bath, in a massage chair, or in their own bed.
Before you say, “sounds like the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball,” you need to recognize that the Savannah Bananas are intensely local (though, like the Globetrotters, they also tour) and the entertainment level and variety is way deeper. And before you dismiss it as a circus sideshow, the Bananas have legit talent. Their website lists seven Bananas alumni who were drafted into Major League Baseball.
Perhaps to best understand the reasons behind the Savannah Bananas success, start by looking at the mission statement, as referenced by Cole: “We exist to make baseball fun.” Everything the Bananas do must fit the mantra. So, explained Cole, “We looked at every boring play. And got rid of it.”
Fun influences every decision made regarding the team, from the fan experience to the merchandise to the rules of the game itself. In Savannah, Georgia, The Savannah Bananas are literally redefining the very perceptions of baseball…a 146-year-old game hampered by old, traditional images. To do that, the Bananas understand what any successful brand attempting to shift deeply held perceptions understands…Go Big or Go Home. Subtle changes won’t cut it. Consider reading Cole’s new book, “Fans First: Change The Game, Break The Rules, & Create An Unforgettable Experience.”
Hey, can you think of a medium that was also invented in the 1800s that is hampered by old, traditional images that’s being challenged more than ever in 2022?
Wouldn’t it be fun to take a ratings-challenged radio station, throw some negative perceptions up against a wall, and do the opposite?