On a rainy Wednesday in Jacksonville, game attendance was low for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, but that didn’t appear to bother General Manager Harold Craw. Although today might be an off day, he knows he has outreach efforts every game of the week to fill seats at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville.
“The owner of the Charleston team where I used to work said, ‘A baseball team can’t function without its community, but a community can function without a baseball team,'” Craw said. “That’s deep, that’s really true.”*
Craw has worked in baseball for 16 years, and although he originally had dreams of managing a team in the NFL, he found he loved the variety of things he could do in the minors.
“Once you get to that level in the NFL or the MLB,” said Craw, “you get locked into one of the departments and can’t really do as many things. I love it here, as well.”
Today, the Jumbo Shrimp are really focused on maintaining community connections. On my way to the stadium, an uber driver mentioned that I had to check out a new local brewery, Intuition, which was only a block away from the stadium. Once I got inside, I saw that Intuition was already available on tap at two different locations inside, and found out there was even a special Jumbo Shrimp brew from Intuition as well.
“Just in general we’re really focused on this whole local thing,” said Craw. “Whatever we do, whether it’s stadium improvements or renovating the former press box… It’s just an opportunity for us to making sure we’re spending money in our own city.”
Their community outreach spans from the fun Thirsty Thursday games where beer is only a dollar, to the more serious Charity Begins at Home Mondays where the team highlights one or two local charities each Monday and give those charities a portion of ticket sales.
As General Manager, Craw realized both he and his team wanted to strengthen connections with their community. At a team meeting before this season, he had everyone present three ideas that were important to them about how they could support the community, and together everyone voted on the three values the Jumbo Shrimp could carry into the next season. In the end they voted to support the military (Jacksonville has a large military community), education & local schools, and the senior citizen population.
“What was tough was we wanted to help everyone and the city is big,” said Craw. “We thought, ‘How do you help everyone?'” said Craw.
As Jacksonville grows, so does attendance, but that can also bring new challenges. The Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville is located in Jacksonville’s Sports Complex, which includes TIAA Bank Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars play, and Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, where arena football and minor-league basketball teams play, as well as other concert venues. Already this has caused parking issues, in one case three concurrent events meant 100,000 attendees were vying for only 50-60,000 parking spaces. Although the various management teams within the complex meet weekly to discuss needs, eventually something has to be done to prevent traffic nightmares such as that. Craw envisions a transportation system in which he doesn’t have to cross the St. Johns River, which borders the complex to the south.
“I would like nothing better if I could drive to Regency Town Center and park and I didn’t have to cross over the bridge,” said Craw. “I’m sure more people would do that because it just allows you that freedom of not having that stress.”
Craw says other business leaders would like to see more transportation too. Although, according to the JTA, commuter rail may still be another decade out, plans have already been made to accommodate that sort of system if and when it arrives, with connections to the new Jacksonville Regional Transit Center pre-planned and an expansion of their people mover system due to debut within the next five years.
That’s all well and good, but until that time it’s up to the Jumbo Shrimp and the other sports teams in the area to come up with their own solutions to keeping crowds happy. For Craw, that’s all in a day’s work.