Posted: April 29, 2014
Alone in the Mountain time zone
Rockies part of Denver’s summer tourism mix, but regional appeal hard to measureKyle Ringo
When the Colorado Rockies set up shop in Denver and began play in 1993, the organization brought Major League Baseball to the Mountain time zone, and millions of fans from the region finally had a team to root for and travel to see.
For the past 21 seasons, the Rockies have been consistently among the top-drawing franchises in baseball, and it stands to reason plenty of fans who attend games at Coors Field each summer travel from surrounding states, what with the closest MLB team, the Kansas City Royals, some 600 miles away.
Gregory Feasel, the Rockies’ executive vice president and chief operating officer, said the franchise doesn’t have statistics on how many fans visit from out-of-state each year. However, he said, the organization does work hard in neighboring states to draw fans to Denver.
The franchise has season-ticket holders in every region nationwide, but Feasel said it’s impossible to know for sure who is using the tickets to each game because seats are so often resold in secondary markets.
The Rockies attracted an average of 34,491 fans to 81 home games in the 2013 season. The club finished 10th among the 30 MLB franchises in attendance, drawing 2,793,828 fans. Coors Field is one the game’s biggest baseball venues with a capacity of 50,445.
“We spend time and resources in places outside of Colorado … Utah or New Mexico or elsewhere,” Feasel said. “With the summers and the things to do and being the only baseball team in this time zone, we think it works.”
Feasel said building relationships with people and communities throughout the region tells those potential supporters the organization views itself as one that belongs to the region and not just fans who live in the Denver area or the state of Colorado.
Salt Lake City is one out-of-state area the Rockies have placed particular attention on, and it helps that all the club’s games are broadcast there. The Rockies played their final spring training game in Salt Lake City in 2013. The team has held community dinners there and the organization took its winter caravan there in January.
Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, said his staff doesn’t use any of the state’s professional sports franchises to help bolster tourism. He says the office has to be “Switzerland” when it comes to highlighting some businesses over others. But White said having an MLB franchise in town is undoubtedly a tourist magnet in the summer months, just as the Denver Broncos are in the autumn and the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche can be in the winter and spring.
“Absolutely, it’s a draw, particularly from drive-by destinations,” White said. “Within a couple hundred miles people will come to see Rockies games specifically. I also think it adds to the whole mix of things to see and do while you’re in the state.”
White summed up the typical routine of sports-minded visitors: “We’re going to Colorado. We’ll check out Rocky Mountain National Park, and when we’re going through Denver we’ll catch a Rockies game.”
Feasel said the organization was deliberate in its choice of “Colorado” rather than “Denver” in the team’s title. He said the goal at the time was to ensure that people in Durango, Steamboat Springs, Julesburg and La Junta felt included in the franchise as much as those who live in the Ballpark neighborhood.
But according to Feasel, the prominence of the name only goes so far in getting people from outlying parts of the state and out-of-towners invested. Those same faraway fans can tune in to games on KOA (850 AM) radio and the MLB satellite radio channels.
Most downtown Denver hotels don’t specifically target tourists who might be baseball or Rockies fans. Occasionally some might offer discounted room rates, usually in partnership with efforts led by Visit Denver or the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Jasper Verlaan, director of sales for the Magnolia Hotel, says he does not have special rates for Rockies fans. But there is a noticeable spike in business during home stands, particularly weekend games. Verlaan said the Magnolia also sees a bump in business when nationally popular teams are in town to play the Rockies, such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox in interleague play in recent years.
And nothing helps business near the ballpark like a winning season.
“We see that, actually, with every sports team in Denver,” Verlaan said. “If the Nuggets are in the playoffs or the Rockies were in a playoff situation or doing well, there are definitely more people coming into the city and we see an increase in business.”
Kyle Ringo is a Colorado native who has covered business and sports and the business of sports in the state for two decades for Cobizmag.com and a variety of publications. He covers the University of Colorado in his day job in Boulder at the Daily Camera. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KyleRiingo.