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Eric Peterson, Published September 02 2013

RedHawks' attendance on the rise

Fargo - A blend of fireworks, backpacks and scarves helped the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks win the attendance game this summer.

The American Association baseball team upped its per game crowds by more than 100 fans from last season.

The RedHawks averaged 3,876 fans in 48 home dates during the regular season.

They averaged 3,749 last season. That’s a shade more than a 3 percent increase for a team that is nearing two decades of existence.

“For a franchise that has been around for 18 years now, that’s a nice, steep increase,” said Brad Thom, the team’s chief executive officer. “We’re extremely pleased.”

The RedHawks finished fourth in the American Association in per game attendance behind Winnipeg, Kansas City and St. Paul. This summer, F-M had its highest per game attendance since the 2003 season, when it averaged 4,054 fans per contest.

Thom said having seven fireworks nights, mostly for Friday games, and a premium item (like scarves and backpacks) giveaway for Saturday games helped with the attendance bump.

Those promotions, coupled with a team that won a North Division title and advanced to the playoffs for the 16th time in 18 seasons.

“It’s a real good summertime thing to do,” said RedHawks manager Doug Simunic, who is in his 18th season with the team. “The staff sells it good in the winter. … There are a lot of things to why the attendance is where it is.”

An electronic scoreboard with a light-emitting diode (video board) is one recent add on to Newman Outdoor Field. That was installed before the 2012 season and cost around $400,000. That has added instant replays and players statistic cards to the game experience. It’s also been used to help with in-game promotions.

“I watch that a little bit during the game. That has been a great new piece to what we are doing,” said Simunic, who has led the RedHawks to five league championships. “The experience has changed a little bit over the years. It’s just been solid.”

Thom said season tickets were around 1,100 this season. That number is close to where it’s been in recent seasons. That season-ticket base is about at the right level, Thom said.

“You don’t want to have too many season-ticket holders because they all don’t come to every single game,” said Thom, who said around 1,500 would be the maximum number of season tickets he would want to sell for a stadium that seats around 4,500.

Earlier this summer, the RedHawks won the 1,000th game in their history. That made them the fourth franchise in modern independent history (1993-present) to reach that plateau. F-M has the highest winning percentage in the group.

F-M reached 1,000 wins with a dramatic 5-3 victory against the St. Paul Saints after Buddy Sosnoskie hit a two-run, walk-off home run. A sellout crowd of 4,509 fans watched that game. F-M had 11 sellouts this season.

“The fans have come out in droves every year,” Thom said. “They supported us the one year when we had a losing record. They continue to come and it’s great.”

The RedHawks start the American Association playoffs Wednesday, hosting Gary SouthShore. First pitch is slated for 7:02 p.m. at Newman Outdoor Field for the best-of-5 series.

Playoff games have been more difficult to attract fans with high school and college back in session and football season started. In addition, the team is unable to sell to groups like it can for games in the regular season. Thom hopes the draw 2,500 to 3,000 for games in the playoffs.

“We would love that,” Thom said. “The biggest thing with playoffs is you are not able to sell groups at all.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found

at peterson.areavoices.com