Baseball Has Gone Bananas

Baseball Has Gone Bananas

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Jesse Cole is an anomaly. He has turned the Savannah Bananas, a minor league exhibition baseball team, into a world-class case study in marketing and customer experience. At game time, Grayson Stadium is packed. In fact, every game the Bananas play is sold out. Remember, this is an exhibition team playing in a small stadium that holds just 4,000 fans. They have a waitlist of 550,000 fans hoping to get tickets, and the number of people joining this list grows by 3,000 daily. Add to that a social media presence with millions of followers, and you have a marketing machine fueled by the team’s reputation that lives up to and exceeds the expectations of its fans.

The Savannah Bananas are being studied by other baseball teams as well as almost every major sport at the highest professional level. And, business leaders who hear of Jesse Cole and his Savannah Bananas are taking notice. It all comes down to Cole’s philosophy, which is, “Imagine what the best possible fan experience is and do that. Don’t settle for the way things have been done before.”

That may sound simple, but there is so much to delivering on that philosophy. Cole not only changed the way fans are treated, but he also changed the rules of baseball. The new rules are referred to as Banana Ball, which is the name of Cole’s latest book that includes his business philosophy and the history of the team.

In my recent interview with Cole, he said that the biggest complaint about attending a major league baseball game is how much time it takes. I confirmed this with an informal survey by asking a number of friends the question, “What do you think is the biggest complaint about a major league baseball game?” Everyone responded, “It takes too long.”

Cole’s Banana Ball rules eliminate the complaint. For example, some of the rules that speed up the game include:

  • A two-hour time limit on games.
  • Batters are not allowed to step out of the batter’s box, or it is an automatic strike.
  • No mound visits by the catcher or any other players are allowed.
  • If a foul ball is caught by a fan in the stands, the player is automatically out.
  • At the end of nine innings, if there is a tie, rather than extra innings, there is a flurry of exciting activity in the form of a “one-on-one showdown,” which is similar to a shoot-out in soccer or hockey and lasts at least three rounds.

In addition to speeding up the game with a new set of rules, the entire experience is a show. Players perform line dances to popular songs from Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and other musical stars. They have a senior citizen women’s dance group, the Banana Nanas, which is akin to a cheerleading squad. They have the world’s only dancing umpire who will dance and twerk when he calls a player out. One of the coaches, Maceo Harrison, does a breakdance or “moonwalk” before giving a sign to the hitter. The list of antics goes on and on.

But none of this works without Cole’s vision, which puts the fan experience above anything else. It’s more than making the game move faster. He takes inspiration from what other sports teams and companies are doing wrong, and then does the opposite. He recognizes that a fan’s last impression of their experience leaves a lasting impression. Cole wants his customers’ experience to be a celebration they will never forget.

Cole hires the best people, and just as there are fans on a waiting list to get tickets to a Bananas game, he has a waiting list of potential employees. Cole says, “Everyone talks about recruiting great talent. Don’t recruit, attract great talent. Build a culture that people want to be a part of. It’s the culture that keeps people.”

Cole knows that if everyone in your business makes the customers the stars and you give them the red-carpet treatment, you’ll make those customers feel like a million bucks. It changes everything for the customer, and your employees will be more fulfilled and take pride in their work.

If you want to dig into the marketing lessons that Cole used to turn a minor league exhibition team into a sensation, you can start by reading Cole’s latest book. Better yet, score some tickets to a Savannah Bananas game. You’ll be glad you did!

This article originally appeared on

Image Credits: Savannah Bananas

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