On the field, the River City Rascals could not have put together a better 2011 campaign. The O'Fallon-based team won 67 of 95 regular season games and reached the Frontier League championship series for the third year in row.
But off the field, it was the roughest season in the 13-year history of the franchise in terms of attendance.
Baseball by the numbers
River City finished the 2011 season last among the twelve teams in its league, averaging 1,564 fans per game.
That's a far cry from years past.
- 71,958 people attended Rascals home games last summer
- The Rascals drew more than 100,000 spectators in 11 of their 13 seasons
- In 2004, the team drew 185,333 fans--an average of 3,943 per game
What accounts for the drop in fans in the stands?
Team management believes an increase in concession stand prices played a role. Five years ago the Rascals sold concession rights to Aramark Sports and Entertainment, a company that supplies 150 stadiums, arenas and concert venues across the country.
Aramark, which serves 11 major league teams and seven minor league squads, charges slightly more than most stadiums. The River City concessions, under the national group, were among the highest in the Frontier League.
Back in the game
Now the team has regained control concessions at their games, according to River City Rascals Managing Partner Steve Malliet. The Rascals bought back the remaining six years of an 11-year deal with Aramark.
"We feel like we can do a lot more promotions now that the food and beverages are back to being in-house," Malliet said. "It's very important, especially in this economy, to put out a good product both on and off the field."
The days of dollar hot dogs and other similar deals are back, added Malliet. "We've got some new ideas that I'm excited about."
Eye on the competition
The Gateway Grizzlies, about 40 miles from O'Fallon in located in Sauget, Ill., has had among the cheapest concession prices in the Frontier League over the past several years.
The Grizzlies also came up with special offers, like a popular hamburger sandwiched by two donuts serving as the bun.
The Rascals plan to hire a chef to follow the Grizzlies lead and spice up the selections at the ballpark.
Malliet, who is also on the League's board of directors, hopes the concession change will trigger a spike in attendance. He hopes to draw at least 2,000 fans a game this season.
"I feel like we will see a drastic increase in the next two to three years," he said.
More changes to the lineup
River City was always one of the shining stars of the Frontier League. Up until last summer, the Rascals--along with Gateway and Southern Illinois--were among the league's top franchises.
After dropping from those heights, Rascals management is determined to put the team back on top.
Team President John Kuhn was not rehired after last year and General Manager Chris Franklin is moving on as well.
The team traded away two of its most popular and successful players: Josh Lowey, the Frontier League Pitcher of the Year, and Stephen Holdren, the league MVP.
In it to win it
Malliet told Patch the Rascals will remain a summertime staple for years to come.
"We're going to be here a long, long time," he noted. "We've cut back a little but all small businesses have to do that from time to time."
Malliet said the team would not have spent the money to buy out the concession contract if it intended to leave.
"We believe in this market," he said. "I'm proud of what we've done here, how we've become part of the community."
Aramark officials did not return phone calls seeking a comment on the buyout.
River City will open the season on May 18 against the Rockford Riverhawks at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.