A Major Presence
Even in Class A, the Web is integral

Three years ago the Lansing (Mich.) Lugnuts of the Class A
Midwest League sold 300 tickets on their Web site all season. In
2000 the Cubs affiliate is selling 300 on-line each day,
including 40% of all game-day tickets sold. Moreover, this
season 99% of Lugnuts mail-order merchandise sales are Web
transactions. All of which illustrates baseball's newest truism,
as stated by Michael Baird, the man who as the team's marketing
manager launched lansinglugnuts.com. "It doesn't matter whether
you're the Seattle Mariners or in A league ball," says Baird.
"You need to have a presence on the Web."

Baird has since moved on to become assistant general manager of
the Lugnuts' Midwest League rivals the Peoria (Ill.) Chiefs, in
which capacity he's responsible for that club's site,
chiefsnet.com. (Five years ago none of the league's 14 clubs had
a Web site; today all do.) The Lugnuts' site, maintained by
Baird's successor, David Prout, deserves a call-up to at least
Double A. It receives an average of 10,000 visits a day during
the six-month season and 4,000 daily during the off-season. At
the click of a mouse fans can purchase tickets (box seats: $7)
and merchandise from the Nuts and Bolts on-line store
(sweatshirts: $54 to $60). The link to Oldsmobile Park, the
Lugnuts' five-year-old, 11,000-seat home field, provides 3-D
computer-generated stadium views from nine positions. In their
first 40 dates in 2000, the Lugnuts averaged 6,034 fans, fourth
highest in the league but down almost 900 fans a game from '99.
Last year the Lugnuts got a boost by being first-half champions
of the Eastern Division; this year's club finished third in the
first half. Thus, says Prout, in a slightly down year, the site
"helps maintain where we are." Just as important, he adds, "It
saves money. We no longer have to do mailings for tickets or
make up catalogues for merchandise."

Prout is hands-on, updating his site by himself daily. "It's a
staff of one," notes his predecessor, Baird, who takes
particular pleasure in an ancillary Web benefit: "You wouldn't
believe how much it means to the parents of our players to be
able to keep tabs on their son each day."

Minor mishaps are part of minor league charm. So empathize with
Lori Clark, public relations director of the Lugnuts' rival West
Michigan Whitecaps, who lost the on-line diarist for her team's
site, whitecaps-baseball.com, when pitcher Casey Rowe was sent
to the Lakeland Tigers of the Florida State League. Go easy on
Baird, who on the Chiefs' merchandise page listed a souvenir
1998 photograph of Mark McGwire (of the parent Cardinals)
hitting his "historic 63rd home run." "Does it really say that?"
asked Baird, before going off to correct the caption. "Oh, well,
that one was pretty historic, too." --J.W.

THE NIGHT SHIFT
TNT's switch of NBA games from Fridays to Thursdays poses some
risks

Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley versus Chandler,
Joey and Ross. That's the tale of the tape for Thursday nights
beginning next November, when TNT moves its NBA telecasts, shown
for the past 11 seasons on Friday nights, up one day. "Thursday
is a terrific night for PUTs [People Using Televisions]," says
Turner Sports president Mark Lazarus, citing one reason behind
TNT's switch. "There are 27 percent more males aged 18 to 34
watching television on Thursdays than on Fridays."

The 1999-2000 NBA regular season saw ratings for Turner Sports'
games--mostly shown on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays--slide a
rim-rattling 24%. (NBC, whose games air mostly on weekends,
watched its ratings plunge 21%.) Lazarus's formula for a
Lazarus-like return to Michael Jordan-era Nielsen numbers is
based on continuity. "By airing the NBA on three consecutive
evenings [Tuesdays on TBS and Wednesdays and Thursdays on TNT],
we hope fans will treat the NBA like a soap opera," he says.
"There's no more powerful promotional statement in television
than 'Tune in tomorrow night.'"

Ah, but on Thursday nights there is one that recently has had
even more potency in the Nielsens: "Immediately following
Friends on NBC." NBA fans who since 1990 have made it a habit to
end their week with a Friday-night NBA on TNT doubleheader will
now have to figure out on Thursdays which come-on is the more
seductive. --J.W.

COLOR PHOTO COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG WHEELER

THE ZAPPER

Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie is one of the best books
about Vietnam. The title also describes what former Blue Jays
manager Tim Johnson chronically told regarding his military
service during that conflict. Johnson paid for his deceit with
his job. On a provocative Real Sports (HBO, Monday, 10 p.m.),
Bernard Goldberg chronicles Johnson's exile to the Mexican
League. The show also features an SI/Real Sports profile of
Giants leftfielder Barry Bonds.

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