ATLANTA — From Friday night fireworks to bobblehead giveaways, promotions at the ballpark could be the reason why attendance is picking up around Major League Baseball.
Overall attendance is up 8.1 percent over last year, and 2011 was among the biggest years for attendance all time. The last eight years have been the highest eight-year stretch for attendance in baseball history.
"People come for promotions," said Scott Cunningham, director of game entertainment for the Atlanta Braves. "Times have changed in our society, and the sport has to change with it. People demand more value for their dollar. I know that if we have a certain promotion, fan attendance will be higher."
The Braves have 24 promotions in July, although they play 16 games at home. In total, the Braves boast 121 promotions this season.
There is a Star Wars night, pre-game parade, post-game concert, Chipper Jones bobblehead giveaway and a T-shirt giveaway all before the end of the season. During every game, there is a batting cage, obstacle course, face painting, Braves trivia and the Braves museum for fans to enjoy.
A group of 14 people make up the game entertainment group responsible for coming up with promotions. Each one is planned and agreed on in the offseason.
Next week, Cunningham, who has been the director of game entertainment since 2005 with the Braves, will travel to Minneapolis, Minn., for an "ideas conference," where entertainment directors from every major sport will attend to discuss the latest promotions and how they fared.
"You can’t be afraid to throw ideas up and see if they stick," Cunningham said. "Everything has been done before. You just look at how things worked over there and try to tweak it a bit to make it fit for us."
Hayley Ike of Marietta, attending her eighth Braves game this season, said she has attended a Braves game solely because of a promotion.
"I’ve gone to a Braves game because they were handing out a bobblehead that I wanted," Ike said. "I hope that doesn’t make me seem like a bad fan, but I’ve done it before."
She isn’t the only one. Becky Seay from Lilburn said she and her husband would sometimes come just for the fireworks. Seay also won a $100 gift card from a Home Depot "Mystery Card" promotion last year at a Braves game.
"We are lucky," Seay said. "I’d say that we’ve circled a game on the calendar to go to because of the stuff they were giving away. Good things happen when we go to see the Braves."
And good things did happen Tuesday night at Turner Field after a 52-minute rain delay. Even with the delay, 27,834 fans stayed to watch Chipper Jones dominate.
Jones had a career night after being named to the National League All-Star team. Jones was 5-for-5 with four RBIs as the Braves thrashed the Cubs 10-3. Tuesday marked Jones’ third career five-hit game and first since Aug. 11, 2002.
Few people were more pleased with the outcome than Cunningham.
"We want people to watch the Braves win and give them quality entertainment as they do," Cunningham said. "Our mission is for everyone to have a blast and walk away talking about how much fun they had and memories that they made."