By THOMAS ADAMS
The number of International League baseball games played at Frontier Field will increase by nearly 50 percent this season, and the number of workers at the downtown ballpark will rise by at least 20 percent, thanks to 37 "home" games for the New York Yankees' Class AAA affiliate in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
The 37 games are intertwined with 72 home games to be played by Frontier Field's chief tenant, the Rochester Red Wings. Eight of the Red Wings' 72 home games are against the Yankees, and the Red Wings will be the visiting team in eight of the Yankees' 37 home games. "They needed a place to play," Red Wings general manager Daniel Mason said this week. "They couldn't find a ballpark that was dormant or empty which still would fit into the confines of the International League and not intrude on anyone else's territorial rights."The next best option they had was to play the majority of their games in New York State because that would be the best travel options."Rochester, which opened its season Thursday in Syracuse, plays its home opener Saturday against Buffalo.
The Wings will be the visiting team in a four-game series against the Yankees on April 16-19 and again May 1-4. Rochester will be the home team against the Yankees on June 30 and July 1, Aug. 6-9 and Aug. 18-19.
"For those nights, it'll be the Battle of Frontier Field," Mason said. "We're trying to finalize something along those lines, maybe some kind of competition.
"It's going to be strange to see us as the road team, but I think for our fans it's going to be kind of neat to see us wearing our gray uniforms, our road uniforms. ... And also, we'll be hitting first."
Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is without a true home field because of a $40 million reconstruction of its ballpark in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Team officials are calling Rochester their operations base. Curt Camoni, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's vice president of stadium operations, is scheduled to be in Rochester for all 37 home games here.
The team's players arrived last weekend and are looking for places to live, Mason said.
"They need to find apartments, find housing, where their families will live for the season," Mason said.
"The coaching staff has apartments. From an economic standpoint, it's a great thing for our community to have another full team of 30 people living here for five months, renting apartments, buying groceries, buying gas, buying other things."
The Yankees' presence will also create 37 additional games with a visiting team spending money on hotel rooms and throughout the city, Mason said.
"There are a lot more nights where our ushers, our ticket takers, our concessions employees, all of our other employees are going to have more opportunities for work."
The Red Wings plan to add 50 workers to the 200 to 250 normally hired, Mason said. The team plans to add 25 to 50 concessionaires to its usual 100. It may double its grounds crew, to as many as 20. It will rotate 100 ushers and 20 ticket takers.
"We don't want to burn people out," Mason said, noting 22 consecutive game days May 1-22. "That's the longest one I can ever remember. We want to make sure the people stay fresh."
The Red Wings' organization, with help from Camoni during Yankees home stands, will organize and implement activities for every game at Frontier Field.
"All of our full-time staff are going to be responsible for putting on their games or their events, so it's going to be a challenging year for us," Mason said.
"In the front office, we're going to split duties. We're talking about 109 games, so our staff is going to work some additional games, but certainly not all of them. The goal is around 75 to 80 games."
The full staff will work the busiest games, including those on holidays and weekends, Mason said.
"Economically, our deal with the Scranton franchise is that it's our risk and our reward," he said. "We have to pay all the expenses it takes to put on a game, like labor and electricity. Then we get to keep the revenue from tickets and merchandise and concessions."
Empire State Yankees
The Yankees front office has agreed to a one-year name change for the system's top minor-league team, which will be the Empire State Yankees this season.
"When we found out we were going to be hosting all these games, we wanted to regionalize the team," Mason said.
The Yankees will plan 84 of their 144 games in New York, at Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Batavia.
"It gives our fans a different brand that they can attach themselves to. From a merchandizing standpoint, it gives us an opportunity to come up with a couple new logos that we can use."
The idea has been well-received, with Empire State Yankees caps sold to buyers in 26 states, Mason said.
"We've basically sold out of our first run of caps," he said. "We've got more on order. To sell that many hats before you ever throw a pitch and have anyone in your ballpark for a game is a good sign to the excitement level surrounding the entire season."
The Yankees will occupy what has been the visitors' clubhouse, Mason said. A third, smaller locker room will become the new visitors clubhouse, he said.
Space reserved for Red Wings players' wives will become the trainer's room for the visitors, and the umpires' room will be the office for visiting managers and coaches, with umpires taking whatever locker room is left, Mason said.
The Class AAA Yankees also will play seven home games in Batavia, 10 in Syracuse, six in Buffalo, eight in Allentown, Pa., and four in Pawtucket, R.I.
"Moving away from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for a season is a unique situation and wouldn't be possible without the great support of our colleagues up in Rochester, along with the other clubs that will host our home games," New York Yankees chief operating officer Lonn Trost said in a statement.
"We're looking forward to calling Rochester and Upstate New York our primary home for the 2012 season, and the opportunity for our Triple-A team to play in front of so many Yankees fans across the region."
Game programs will contain information on both the Red Wings and the Yankees. The Red Wings will have their own cover.
The cover for the Yankees program will feature former Red Wings manager Joe Altobelli with New York Yankees Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle during an exhibition appearance here.
Rochester was the logical choice for more than half of the Yankees' home games because of its central location, Mason said.
"Since we're located between Buffalo and Syracuse, we became the most obvious choice to host the majority of their games," he said. "Also, it helped that we run and operate the Batavia Muckdogs."
The Red Wings will operate Batavia's short-season Class A franchise in the New York-Penn League for the fifth straight season. The financially strapped Muckdogs are a community-owned non-profit, the Genesee County Baseball Club Inc.
The Red Wings holding company, Rochester Community Baseball Inc., led by Red Wings chairman and chief operating officer Naomi Silver, is trying to sell the Batavia franchise. Silver is president of RCB's board of directors.
"The Yankees tickets have been going very well out there," Mason said. "For fans that have never seen AAA guys with major-league experience playing out there, it is going to be great for Batavia.
"But the team is for sale. Naomi has been getting some calls from some people, but there's nothing to report, other than it is for sale and there is interest out there."
The Red Wings have lost $584,635 in four years of Muckdogs management, RCB's 2011 annual report shows. The losses narrowed from a first-year high of $253,425 in 2008 to a low of $91,997 in 2010, the report says.
The Muckdogs lost $95,718 last season, the result of stadium and field expenses and bad weather in August, the report states.
The Red Wings reported a net loss of $21,282 in 2011-after receiving an income tax benefit of $71,979-raising RCB's total loss to $117,000, or $3.41 per share of stock, the report says. RCB earned $129,689, or $3.76 a share, in 2010.
The Red Wings' 2011 loss was the result of significant rains in the first two months of the season, Mason said.
RCB reported record advertising revenue of $1.52 million in 2011, up from $1.4 million in 2010 and better than the previous high of $1.5 million in 2008.
"This year, we're on a good pace again," Mason said.
Ticket sales for this season have been strong, Mason said. Sales of 10-game packages of undated tickets are up by nearly 800, he said. The 10 games can be Red Wings or Yankees games.
"That has to be because of the Yankees," Mason said.
Season ticket sales for the 37 Yankees games have exceeded expectations, he said.
"We've gotten a lot of our current Red Wings season seat holders to buy those," Mason said.
"We also offered an eight-game package to our current season seat holders for the eight games that the Red Wings will be the road team at Frontier Field against the Yankees. We've sold quite a few of those as well."
The team's single-game suite packages, including food and beverages for groups of up to 16, resulted in 150 sales after being introduced last season, nearly doubling 2010 suite sales.
"Those have gone over very well, as well as some of our party suites that hold 36 people," Mason said. "We anticipate that those single-game suites will gain even more interest this year because we'll have a larger renewal base to work off of and the word is starting to get out there."
The Red Wings drew 448,024 fans to Frontier Field last season, a 3 percent decline from 462,004 in 2010.
"Ticket sales are going well," Mason said. "The mini-plans are pacing far ahead of last year. Our group ticket sales are up right now compared to this time last year. Season tickets are a little bit ahead.
"I don't know if it's been the mild winter we've had. ... I also think part of it is the Twins have really tried to go out and fortify our club to make sure we're better on the field this year."
4/6/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email email@example.com.