Change is often difficult, and that’s why Colorado Springs Sky Sox General Manager Tony Ensor has started marketing the team for 2019 — thanks to changes that could affect attendance and perceptions about the team.
Ensor knows how hard it is to market a minor league baseball team, and perhaps doubly so when three decades of tradition is set to change. That’s the challenge facing the GM, as the Springs has been home to a Triple-A franchise since 1988. But the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers will move to San Antonio following the 2018 season and a Short Season Class-A affiliate of the Brewers will move to Security Service Field on the Eastside of the Springs.
Some fans might be bothered that the more advanced players are taking up residence in San Antonio, and the newly drafted players fresh out of high school or college are coming to the Springs, or that scheduled home games will decrease from about 70 to 38 with the Class-A season starting in mid-June.
But Ensor said that’s all part of the game — especially in the Springs, where change has long been part of the professional baseball scene.
“We haven’t always been the Sky Sox, and we’ve had so many different identities, different affiliates, different uniforms, even different stadiums,” Ensor said. “The only thing that has remained constant, other than change itself, is Colorado Springs and professional baseball. Our future is now set and we couldn’t be more excited for the team’s next 45 years of professional baseball here in Colorado Springs.”
To honor the past and remind fans of how things change, the Sky Sox will wear replicas of the Colorado Springs Millionaires’ uniforms from more than a century ago for Friday home games in April. They’ll follow that pattern in subsequent months while wearing versions of the 1950s Sky Sox uniform, followed by four versions of the Sky Sox uniforms since the team moved to the Springs in 1988.
“It’s not just the uniforms, but we’ll ask the fans to engage and dress in period costume from that era,” Ensor said. “We’ll play music from that era, and put facts and history from those eras up on the scoreboard. We’ll invite people back from those eras — players and dignitaries.
“It’s all about showing that 2019 will be another progression of change for baseball in Colorado Springs.”
Since the Millionaires became the first pro baseball team in Colorado Springs in 1901, the Springs has had a professional team for a total of 45 years. The Millionaires played sporadically (1901-05, 1912, 1916) before leaving the Pikes Peak region without a pro team for more than three decades. The White Sox affiliate came to town in 1950 as part of the Class A Pioneer League. They left after eight years, creating another drought, until owner Dave Elmore brought the Hawaii franchise to the Springs in 1988, as the Cleveland Indians’ Triple-A affiliate.
When the Colorado Rockies were born, the Sky Sox became its Triple-A team from 1993-2014. When the Rockies abandoned the team, the Brewers picked it up.
“So we’re going to start our ‘Cheers to 45 More Years’ campaign,” Ensor said. “The concept behind this campaign is to educate our community about baseball’s amazing history in Colorado Springs. We want to celebrate this history and get everyone excited about what is to come in 2019 and beyond.”
One of the dignitaries who will be invited back, Ensor said, is Fred Whitacre, the general manager of the team when it moved from Hawaii to the Springs.
“Tony has done a great job of keeping the club out in front of the people and making it matter,” said Whitacre, who can often be found at the ballpark. “Tony has great respect for the past and for history. I think the fans go to the ballpark because they like baseball, and they want to be entertained.”
To that end, Ensor has marketed each day of the week for home games. Monday features free tickets through The ARC (a local nonprofit), while the best-known promotion is $2 Tuesday (tickets, parking, beer all cost $2 each). Wednesday offers Bark in the Park, school events and group celebration days, while Thursday is Thirsty Thursday, featuring craft beers. Friday Fireworks is a big draw, as are Saturday theme nights, which feature characters from movies like Star Wars and Harry Potter with fans encouraged to dress in costume. Sunday is 50-cent hot dog day.
“We have to stretch our marketing dollars, and they go further when people can identify a day with a promotion,” said Ensor said, who came to the Springs in 2005 after working for minor league teams in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Birmingham, Ala. He was in Birmingham when Michael Jordan played for the Barons.
Whitacre said the biggest problem for Springs baseball is attracting fans when the spring weather is unpredictable.
“They solved that problem with the Short Season team,” Whitacre said. “If I were to own a ball club these days, I’d like to own a Short Season A team. Fans are fans, and for most people, baseball is low-cost family entertainment.
“People go out to have a good time, and they’re going to see good baseball and great players in 2019.”
Ensor doesn’t expect to lose fans or money, as the team draws 72 percent of its total attendance after June 1, while 70 percent of its postponed games occur before June 1, so the team should have a higher average game attendance starting in 2019. Attendance was 265,095 in 2017 [average 4,208], well below the franchise record of 350,374 set in 2014, but about 40,000 higher than the year before Ensor arrived.
Andy Holloman has purchased a suite with the Sky Sox since 2007 and doesn’t plan to change that in 2019.
“It’s a great environment for us to advertise and to entertain,” said the longtime American Family Insurance agent. “We want to be identified with the values that go with baseball.”
Does Holloman think other advertisers will care that the Sky Sox will not be a Triple-A team in 2019?
“It might matter to some, but I think it’s still a great opportunity to be seen by the fans while supporting the local home team,” he said. “The Sky Sox have never been about just the game — the entertainment has always gone beyond the game to include the audience as participants. It provides the whole community with a sense of ownership and pride in a local sports team.”
Holloman said he’s looked at advertising with other sports teams but has remained with the Sky Sox only. His hope is fans will also be loyal and, ultimately, not care if the players are the Class-A version of Nolan Arenado or Clayton Kershaw or the more experienced Triple-A model.
“Baseball is a sport that we enjoy watching at all levels,” he said. “From T-ball to the major leagues, it’s fun to watch the game. I believe that once the  season starts, you will see the community begin to embrace its new team. It may take a bit, or it may be as if nothing has changed. In the end, I believe that the organization is committed to fielding a quality product on the field while entertaining their fans in new and diverse ways.”