The Sugar Land Skeeters want Roger Clemens to pitch more than just baseballs this weekend.
Officials with the minor-league baseball team are counting on the hype surrounding the 50-year-old Texas native’s appearance to help sell not only tickets but their garbage- munching mascot, carousel, swimming pool, picnic area, bullpen car and playground, too.
“It’s an opportunity to showcase what we do,” Christopher Hill, the team’s vice president of business development, said in a telephone interview from his Sugar Land, Texas, office. “We’re trying to develop a plan to get the most exposure.”
Hill said he’s called “anyone and everyone,” including Walt Disney Co. (DIS)’s ESPN, in an effort to get the Aug. 25 game against Connecticut’s Bridgeport Bluefish on national television. Locally, the team’s radio broadcast has been moved to an FM station so it reaches a larger audience and two television stations are working to show the game live.
The appearance of a marquee player, whether it’s Washington Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg in a rehabilitation start or a retired All-Star like Clemens, can be a marketing boon for a minor-league club like the Skeeters, an independent team managed by former big-league All-Star Gary Gaetti.
Hill said the Skeeters are moving up their team photo to this week to include Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards over a 24-year big-league career tainted by allegations of steroid use.
The inclusion of Clemens in the photo allows the club to sell a $10,000 sponsorship to a local company, Hill said.
The team’s home ballpark, Constellation Field, has a capacity of about 7,800. The club sold about 1,200 tickets in 90 minutes after it was announced that Clemens had joined the team. The Skeeters’ average attendance this season is about 6,700, Hill said.
“Hopefully, we’ll get some people who’ve never been here before,” he said.
The club gets no revenue from the secondary market, where the asking price for standing-room tickets ranges from $76 to $100.
“I should have printed some extra,” Hill said, chuckling.
Clemens in June was found not guilty of lying to Congress about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. A federal jury of eight women and four men in Washington acquitted Clemens of all six counts he faced. Over a nine-week trial, 46 witnesses testified, including former teammate Andy Pettitte, Clemens’s wife, and his chief accuser and decade-long trainer, Brian McNamee.
The right-hander has denied using steroids and human-growth hormone since a 2007 report by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell accused him of using the drugs in 1998, 2000 and 2001.
Clemens pitched until he was 44. He left the game after the 2007 season with a 354-184 record, a 3.12 earned run average and 4,672 strikeouts, third in major-league history behind Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson.
Randy Hendricks, Clemens’s agent, said in an e-mail that his client’s pitching for the Skeeters is “a one-game thing.” Whether Clemens pitches again depends on how well he does, the agent said.
Hill has his fingers crossed for a second start, which would enable him to secure additional sponsors and media for the event.
Either way, the team won’t stop promoting its association with Clemens.
“I have a feeling I know what our bobble head will be next season,” Hill said. “It’s the mascot this year.”
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