TERRE HAUTE —
Earlier this season, I was told that minor league teams shouldn’t expect to make a profit until their second season of operation. Most won’t escape red ink until their third season.
According to ISU Foundation President Gene Crume, the Foundation owns the team via Sycamore Holdings, the Terre Haute Rex were profitable this season and will be able to add money back to the ISU endowment.
That’s fairly remarkable. Though plans were in the works long before the team was publicly announced in late 2009, the franchise essentially had less than a half-year to market the team from birth to Opening Day in June.
The Rex averaged 825 fans per game — ahead of preseason projections by the team — and Crume also said merchandise sales significantly exceeded preseason projections. For Saturday’s finale, the Rex drew a whopping 2,178 fans, a record crowd by a large margin.
“We wanted to shoot for between 650 and 700 fans, so we’ve exceeded that significantly. I would bet we’re in the top third of the league when it comes to tickets sold versus fans at the game. It’s been outstanding,” Crume said.
“The biggest thing has been how well the merchandise has sold. The team members who put that package together did an exceptional job. They picked merchandise that resonated with people. How quickly and well it sold really exceeded my expectations,” Crume added.
Clearly, all of it is a credit to Crume, owner Kevin Hoolehan, general manager Roland Shelton and the rest of the Rex’s Foundation staff, who did yeoman’s work to make baseball return to Terre Haute a runaway success.
But really, the credit goes to you.
The only way this team was going to be a success was if the people of Terre Haute made it so. Organized baseball as a spectator sport hadn’t been an option in Terre Haute since 1956, so while optimists like me thought it would work, no one really knew until local fans showed support for their local team.
“We’ve exceeded all of our expectations. The best part about all of it is how warmly this team has been received by this community,” said Crume before a game that would see a record crowd file into Bob Warn Field.
General manager Roland Shelton and manager Brian Dorsett thanked the fans in a pre-game ceremony for their support.
The success is gratifying because I heard plenty of Rex naysayers as the season approached and at the beginning of the campaign. I had several people tell me that baseball will never work in Terre Haute, that the Rex are a novelty that will fade and fail.
I’ll never understood why people think this way. Why expect failure and be surprised by success when you should expect success and be surprised by failure? Too often success isn’t expected in Terre Haute — whether it be an athletic endeavor or not — and there’s no reason for anyone in this city to feel that way.
And anyway, the Rex have avoided the trap of being a novelty act if attendance is any indication. Attendance at Rex games increased as the season went along, as good an indication as any that fans were liking what they were seeing.
The attendance increase went right down to the finale. Though the Rex were eliminated from playoff contention after they were swept in a doubleheader at Nashville on Friday, the team had to resort to selling standing room only tickets for the Saturday finale against Danville. The 2,178 attendance figure was no trumped up total either. The crowd was so large there were fans standing in the Rex bullpen to watch the finale.
Crume pointed out the way Terre Haute embraced the team in the community beyond just showing up for games went a long way.
“Terre Haute has been complimented over and over again. That was one of the first things the Commissioner noticed when he visited. The folks in Nashville complimented our fans about our game atmosphere and how much our fans get into it,” Crume said. “Our host families, the players love them. They’ve been lobbied by players on other teams wanting to come play for the Rex. Hospitality goes a long way from the entire community.”
The success of the team should have a tangible benefit fans (of both the Rex and Indiana State baseball) should see next year. Crume said there are plans to enhance the Bob Warn Field facilities. To what extent that will be won’t be known until Crume and the Foundation meet with the ISU athletic department.
“Improvements are a priority. We need to talk about what’s next. What can we add? The most important criteria is what can we do to enhance the experience of the fans who come and watch the games?” said Crume, who mentioned a new scoreboard, more chairback seats, outfield seating area and enhancing the corporate deck area as potential options for improvement.
There are other improvements that can be made to enhance the game experience. Fans would be a lot more comfortable if there’s something that can be done to give them shade from the brutally hot sun and the elements (it rained at approximately half of the home dates, which makes the Rex attendance all the more impressive).
Perhaps improvements down the left field line could include another set of bathroom facilities and a concession stand that would be closer to the fans on that side of the field.
No matter what’s added in the future, the bottom line is that the Rex were a big success in Terre Haute in the present.
Give yourself a hand for that.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.