Boulders' ticket sales up, team says

Rockland Boulders hitter Keith Brachold is up there Rockland Boulders hitter Keith Brachold is up there swinging during his team's home opener Tuesday against the Newark Bears at Provident Bank Park. (May 22, 2012) Photo Credit: John Meore

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With just nine home games left in the season, the Rockland/Bergen Boulders have their sights set on the playoffs while looking to shatter their inaugural season's attendance numbers.

The Boulders drew 101,496 fans to their first 32 games -- 20 percent ahead of last season when they attracted about 125,000 people to the season's 44 games.

"We had an entire winter to market and sell tickets," said team owner Ken Lehner. "We have the improved play on the field -- we're the hottest team in independent baseball in the past couple of weeks, [and] that draws more fans."

The Canadian-American League team is sitting on 33 wins and 27 losses so far this season.

Lehner credits more in-game entertainment, premium giveaways and doubling the sales team staff to eight for the increase in ticket sales. The team also has expanded its offerings at the ballpark -- and marketed heavily in other areas, including nearby New Jersey counties.

"In the first season, we were focused on construction, opening and operating the ballpark for the first time," Lehner said. "This year, we had a longer runway to do sales and marketing."

The nine remaining home games each fall on weekend days, which Lehner hopes will draw larger crowds as fans get amped up for the playoffs.

But one figure that continues to hang over the bright lights of the new stadium is the $39 million price tag -- a figure that remains a concern to residents who cringe at the thought of their tax dollars footing the bill.

"We have no problem with any of our loan payments," Ramapo Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence said. "The people who raise these issues will never stop raising these issues -- they give out misinformation."

During its inaugural season, which did not feature other events besides baseball, the ballpark brought in $734,100 -- short of a consultant's report from 2010 that predicted the stadium would generate more than $1 million per year.

In response, the stadium has hosted four concerts so far this summer, including ones with stars like Gavin Degraw and Colbie Caillat, who played to a sold-out crowd of 5,000. Two more concerts are schedule through the end of August.

High school and college baseball teams also have had use of the fields, as have car shows and flea markets.

"The naysayers quickly become supporters when they see the ballpark and see what's going on," Lehner said. "We only play 50 games a year here -- there's 300-plus days a year where other events are going on."

St. Lawrence projected the Boulders' revenue this season could reach $900,000, along with other events bringing in $250,000.

"Utilization has increased tremendously across the board," St. Lawrence said. "And I think it will continue through next year."

Talks are in the works to bring an ice-skating rink to the stadium for the winter months, St. Lawrence said.

Still, state auditors and other critics say the real cost of the stadium is around a staggering $60 million because of land transfers and other costs.

As for predicting next year's profitability, Lehner declined.

"We've been very thankful and we don't want to jinx ourselves," he said. "It's a matter of building -- we're very committed to not only Rockland [County] but we're also committed to getting fans from Westchester and Bergen [counties] to come watch games."

This season has seen an increase in New Jersey residents flocking to the Provident Bank Park; officials say they now make up 12 percent of the crowd, up from last year's 9 percent. The Boulders focused their marketing efforts on New Jersey residents early in the season, at one point briefly changed the team's name to the Bergen Boulders.

As the clock ticks on the impending $437,500 loan payment due in September, the Boulders continue to flex their marketing muscles to increase revenue. The "Go USA $20.12 Pack" is being offered through Aug. 12 and includes two infield box seats and a commemorative John Flaherty medal during the any of the home games that fall during the Olympics.

Lehner is hoping fan freebies will help drive ticket sales. When the Boulders take on the Kansas City T-Bones on Aug. 5, the first 1,000 people through the gates will get a Boulder Bird bobblehead doll -- the first one distributed by the team. The "Bobblehead Pack" is also for purchase and includes a bobblehead and four infield box ticket vouchers -- good for any remaining home game this season -- for $40.

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