Silver Knights cashing in on third crown

What’s the dollar, excitement and good will value of winning a wooden bat summer league championship?

The Nashua Silver Knights, after recently winning their third title in the six years of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, are hoping it’s pretty high.

"I think we saw huge dividends from not only a championshp but a nice playoff run as well," Silver Knights General Manager Ronnie Wallace said. "Getting three extra playoff dates was crucial to the business. As much as you don’t expect it, or expect it – you don’t count on it.

"From there, how it’s helped us since then, it’s kept us relevant for longer. It seems like almost every day one person has come in here to buy (championship) T-shirts. And it’s probably going to pick up again in November and December."

The team averaged 1,397 fans for the three playoff dates, and finished fifth overall in attendance for the season, averaging 1,334 fans – up about 130 a game from a year ago.

Team owner Drew Weber was in town earlier this week to go over all the accounting for the 2016 season and the plans for 2017.

There’s a good chance Weber – who has said he has no immediate plans to sell the team until he sees an offer that would keep the franchise and its personnel basically in place – liked what he heard from Wallace. The team, according to the GM, was up in everything across the board from a year ago with the exception of group sales, and in all likelihood will finish in the black for the second time in the last three years.

In explaining the group sales slight decline, Wallace said the emphasis on corporate and suite sales, where there was a huge increase, may have taken away from groups. Also, some groups were, in the accounting, put into the corporate/suites category.

"So that’s a little skewed," Wallace said. "We did lose a couple of 300 or 400 person groups, so that’s a point of emphasis. We have to get more large groups in here. We’re not talking 20 or 30-person groups, but 200-300 person groups. That’s where we’re going to see a lot (of value)."

And Wallace says he knows who to target to make an increase happen.

"We need to crack some of these bigger companies in the area for outings," he said. "Not just organizational outings, like youth leagues. We need to get some of the big dogs in here."

A championship could help with that.

"I think a championship will help us in multiple ways," he said. "There will be that much more excitement for the season to start. And if you were here for those playoff games, there’s no reason why you’re not coming back.

"I’ve been around organizational baseball for a while and I can never remember being around a week of baseball that is quite like that."

There’s no doubt the Silver Knights will use that title to springboard into improvements for next year.

First, Wallace revealed, plans are in the works, with an outline of funding details through lease money and other groups using Holman, for a new scoreboard for next season.

"There’s been a deal in place with several parties to make it happen," Wallace said. "We’re looking for a new scoreboard and sound. If we go with the one right now, sound (speakers) would be in the scoreboard, instead of (the stands), which would make the viewing pleasure better for everyone.

"Once everything’s been approved (by the city), we’ll go into detail."

Wallace said the board might contain video, depending on the cost, "but definitely a nice sizable message center."

Talks with the city, he said, include earmarking money from the team’s lease payments over the years to go toward what he said would be an estimated six-figure cost.

One thing that may have slightly impacted attendance in a negative way was the fact the team could never get the usually popular left field Kids Area off the ground. It had relocated it from right field back to its original spot down the left field line for this year, but permit, electrical and safety issues with the city kept it unusable.

Wallace said by the time those were resolved, it was too late. Thus, a new concept for next year, which would make the area more of a carnival area with games, etc., is in the works.

"We’ll probably get rid of that big (inflatable) slide," he said. "We would use the kind of stuff where you can win a prize. When you can win a prize, people are more apt to play.

"If we could put together a small mini golf course, a few holes, or four or five other things, where people have to pay to play, I think their kids are going to love it, a place where they’re going to want to hang out."

Concessions were vastly improved under the direction of manager Tim Ferguson. Things moved quicker in lines. "He had it so when the gates opened, we were ready to go," Wallace said.

Walk-up ticketing had been slow – a problem due to internet and credit card machine issues – but Wallace used a cash line to cut down on the waits.

Merchandise sales were also up.

"We’re definitely using that concourse space the best we can," he said.

Wallace also said there will be an effort to get some "extra events, non-baseball" into Holman.

"There are some things we’ve already started meetings for," he said. "The city’s already working with us, and there’s some things we can’t say yet, but that’s going to be good stuff."

A previous Holman baseball tenant, the ill-fated American Defenders of New Hampshire, held a concert at Holman in June of 2010 that did not draw well.

But the Silver Knights draw has never been a problem. The team saw attendance boost from a mediocre June once the schedule became Thursday-Saturday heavy in July, away from several Tuesday-Wednesday dates earlier in the season. Wallace said former team president Tim Bawmann’s work to get that from the FCBL will be missed.

"Tim was huge," he said. "I hope we can get that same kind of thing going on.

"Personally, the way this league is set up with the top five teams doing so well and the bottom four or five, it doesn’t matter (for the bottom clubs) whether they play on a Tuesday or Friday. … But I can see where some of those teams might say it’s not fair."

The league meetings will be held in early November, and Wallace is lobbying for Nashua and the Holman suites to be the site. That’s usually when scheduling and playoff issues are discussed. Wallace said he isn’t sure if there is going to be any FCBL expansion.

"The fan support we got this year was incredible," he said. "Seeing fans that went on the road, it was amazing."

And he feels those who got on board with corporate sales and sponsorships will stay.

"The way this business is growing, I can’t see them wanting to go anywhere," he said, acknowledging economics always play a role. "We lose a couple a year, but as long as we gain more than we lose, it’s OK. We’re going to have some unique opportunities this year that come with winning a championship, some promotional giveaways we can do. We have three or four giveaway ideas that we’re working on already, now we just have to find sponsors for them."

In Wallace’s view, 2016 was the best year of the franchise.

"Every year it gets better and better," he said. "The season’s been over for over a month, and we haven’t slowed down."

Winning a championship will do that.