The Savannah Bananas and the business of making baseball fun

How the team aspires to be like Disney and 3M.

Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

It’s hard to argue with the fact that baseball is boring.

In 2020, the average MLB game lasted over 3 hours, but saw fewer hits than almost any season since 1909. Representative of this struggle was a recent Oakland A’s game that saw just 2,488 fans (the stadium can fit ~57k).

So, perhaps it’s not surprising that one minor league team, with the singular goal of doing the opposite of whatever is normal in baseball, has sold out every game since its founding in 2016…

… starting with making it fun

You can think of the Savannah Bananas as baseball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Games include:

  • Pitchers pitching on stilts, batters batting while doing a “banana split,” and a coach doing ballet.
  • Grandma cheerleaders known as the “Banana Nanas.”
  • No ads — the team removed corporate ads from the stadium, and 97% of revenue now comes from fans.
  • Free food — every ticket is general admission and includes food. Food!

The team views its stadium as an entertainment venue, with “stages” being the parking lot, entrance, concourse, seats, and field. The Bananas’ TikTok has exploded and now has ~3x as many followers (2.7m) as the most popular MLB team.

They’re also led by a business strategist

In his podcast, Bananas founder Jesse Cole explains the team’s mindset for constant innovation. It includes themes like:

  • Creativity: The team hosts monthly “Ideapalooza” brainstorms and Cole visits places like Disney for inspiration.
  • Entrepreneurship: Cole embraces a practice from 3M, the $83B company behind Post-it Notes, in which every new product line is expected to generate 25% of revenue within 5 years. For the Bananas, they’ve tested stuff like a banana cream soda.
  • Community: Staff make 300k calls a year to thank fans, merchandisers, and other partners.

The Bananas now have a 15k-person waitlist for tickets. The organization has also been named a top employer in sports.

Want more? Check out ESPN’s feature on the Bananas.

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