Charlotte Knights' next challenge: repeating success

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte Knights have two home games left this season, and the only tickets left are standing room only. The team has the highest attendance in the entire minor leagues this year – nearly triple the amount from last season -- with 30 sellouts. On the field, the Knights haven't had nearly as good a season. They're 62-78, tied for last in the International League.

"When our fans leave the ballpark, we want them to ask the question, 'Did we win or lose?'" says Knights Chief Operating Officer Dan Rajkowski. "I want them to not be sure. Because that means they've had a great time at the ballpark."

That, says Rajkowski, is the key to life in the minor leagues. You can't rely on your roster to bring in fans. "From year to year, the faces change," he says. "From month to month they change."

So you have to rely on promotions-- giveaways-- fireworks-- and, of course, a new ballpark in a much better location. "It's our job to keep it fresh and new," he says. "The good teams do that."

Question is: how long can the Knights keep this going? "It is a considerably better than average chance that Charlotte will do well in the long run with this ballpark," says David Kronheim, who's been tracking major and minor league attendance numbers and trends for years at his website, "I tend to think the drop off wouldn't be more than 10 or 20 percent."

He says Charlotte's situation is nearly identical to the one in Indianapolis: nearly the same population, an NBA team, an NFL team, and AAA baseball in a downtown ballpark. When that city opened their new stadium in 1996, attendance shot up, and it hasn't come down since.

"The Indianapolis situation is very similar to Charlotte," says Kronheim. "I think the ballpark was probably a worth wile expenditure."

And if he's right, a seat at a Knights game could be a hot ticket for a long time to come.


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