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Why Baseball Clubs Are Resorting to Feather Boas and Booze

Even if they risk striking out

Nine Major League Baseball clubs will market Ladies Nights during the 2015 season. Illustration: Elias Stein

In a bid to attract more female ticket buyers, nine Major League Baseball clubs will market Ladies Nights during the 2015 season: the Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, Miami Marlins, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.

By TV numbers, NFL is still No. 1 with female fans. Super Bowl XLIX drew 54 million female viewers vs. 23.1 million women for the Oscars, according to Nielsen. But baseball has the edge over other rival sports at the live gate thanks to its 162-game regular season. According to a Scarborough survey, 14.3 million women (18+) attended MLB games last season. That was more than the NFL, NBA and NHL combined, per the consultancy. Women now account for 46 percent of baseball's total fan base, according to an ESPN Sports Poll.

MLB is "on the right track" by trying to attract more female fans, said Mike Sundet, director of sports and entertainment for IPG's Momentum Worldwide. The balancing act is to market to women without "patronizing" them or "alienating" current consumers.

Yes, Ladies Night sounds a bit cheesy. But teams can only give away so many free T-shirts, key chains and bobbleheads before fans tune out. With more women attending baseball games than ever, teams are going out of their way to attract this audience.

The Braves, for instance, will offer a Girls Night Out on May 1. For $45, fans get a seat in the outfield plus a feather boa and an Alex and Ani silver bracelet with a Braves charm (that normally sells for $32). There will also be a pregame party with music by an '80s cover band. The ticket buy includes an automatic donation to the Rally Foundation for Childhood Cancer Research.

Other clubs are touting the chance to sip Chardonnay while watching a ballgame. Not to be outdone, the Twins are advertising "Wine, Women & Baseball," and the Marlins are marketing "Wine Down Wednesday Ladies Night."

The Braves believe it's smarter to market to subgroups of fans rather than take a one-size-fits-all approach, said Derek Schiller, Braves' evp of sales and marketing. "When we look at the female audience, which is a very strong and important audience for us to have, we feel like it's also important we reach out to them specifically," explained Schiller.

Ladies Nights are just one way MLB teams are reaching out to female consumers. Over 18 clubs and counting will offer ballpark promotions geared toward moms and families this season. The Braves will offer both "Mother-Son" and "Father-Daughter" days. The World Series champion San Francisco Giants are planning "Girl Scout Day" and "Giants Slumber Party."

The New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and other clubs will offer "Family Day" Sundays where kids can run the bases after the game is over. "We do a lot of group-themed nights toward specific audiences—but we're not going to do Ladies Nights," said Lou DePaoli, the Mets' evp and chief revenue officer.

But as Sundet noted, clubs better make sure they don't patronize women. The hapless Houston Astros were torched on social media last season after they advertised an event where ladies could "learn about baseball."

A female baseball fan blasted the Astros and the event's sponsor, State Farm, on Twitter: "Eff both of you," she tweeted to @Astros and @StateFarm. "Baseball was the first game I learned about as a kid. Used to keep score at games. #Misogyny."

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals are scheduled to open the 2015 season on Sunday, April 5 at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The 28 remaining clubs begin play the next day.

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