Honkers hitting it out of the park with revamped game day experience
A local sports cornerstone is back swinging for the fences after some shakeups to the front office, mirroring the success fellow Rochester sports teams have found in recent years.
After ranking near the bottom of the Northwoods League for the better part of the 2010s, attendance at Rochester Honkers games is climbing. According to the league website, over 13,000 people have crossed the turnstile for a Honkers game this summer — good for an average of 1,029 people per game.
That’s good for 14th-best in the 22-team summer league and still below the league average of 1,483 per game (although that number is inflated by the league attendance leader Madison Mallards, which averages nearly 6,000 fans per home game), but it’s a 60 percent increase from last year’s average at this point in the season.
It’s the first year at the helm of the Honkers for Bases Loaded Entertainment, a five-piece ownership group which also owns Northwoods League franchises in Mankato and La Crosse. First-year general manager Jay Fanta said the new owners are one of the many driving forces behind the uptick in attendance.
“Whenever you make an ownership change, you have the ability to make some big day-to-day changes as well,” Fanta said in an interview this week. “With the new owners being involved in La Crosse and Mankato, they had a good idea of what needed to be done.”
New nightly programming at the ballpark has proven successful for the new ownership. A change-up in concession items (a fan favorite, according to Fanta: the beef brisket mac & cheese) and ticket deals have also been popular, and weekday game times were moved from 7:05 to 6:35 p.m. to allow families to get home a little earlier.
Fanta said the new offerings came partly from successful experiments at Bases Loaded’s two other Northwoods League franchises, but were tailored to the Rochester fans.
“Every market’s different, and we try to provide an experience based on what we feel the people in Rochester want when they take in a ballgame,” said Fanta.
The rise comes as new sports teams begin to carve their place in Rochester’s entertainment landscape. Rochester United FC, a women’s amateur soccer team, is halfway through its inaugural season in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, with one more home game July 7 at Mayo High School.
Med City FC in unbeaten (6-0-3) in league play this year, which helped them rise to No. 10 in the NPSL’s national power rankings. The two Rochester sides square off Friday night in a friendly at RCTC.
With the first half of the season coming to a close — and the Honkers two games out of the division lead — the club has one more full month of home games left in the season. With Rochester’s entertainment options growing by the day, Fanta said his team provides an experience anyone can enjoy.
“I think it’s more than just a game,” he said. “A lot of people don’t necessarily love baseball, but they love the atmosphere of Mayo Field. You pair that with good food, good on-field entertainment, and that’s how you get the non-baseball fan there as well.”
Isaac Jahns is back in Rochester this summer reporting for Med City Beat. The Mayo High School grad studies journalism at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories.