Dodgers score points with female fans

From on-field events to the front office, the LA Dodgers want women to be a big part of the team

From on-field events to the front office, the LA Dodgers want women to be a big part of the team

From RBIs and ERAs to the mustard-to-onion ratio required for a perfect foot-long, baseball is a game of statistics. But one stat that's been all but ignored until recently is the impact of the female fan.

"Forty percent of our fan base is women," says Camille Johnston, SVP of communications for the Los Angeles Dodgers. But until last year, those fans were not a focus of the club's extensive outreach efforts.

That all changed with the launch of the Dodgers Women's Initiative Network in May 2005. Inspired by president and vice chairman Jamie McCourt - the highest-ranking woman in baseball and one of several senior-level females on the club - DodgersWIN seeks to provide all women the "opportunity to enjoy their passion for baseball and get more acquainted with the sport itself," Johnston says, from learning how to keep score to interacting with team representatives. Women are even offered behind-the-scenes tours of Dodger Stadium, which recently underwent a $40 million renovation, "so when they come out, there's a comfort level there."

While targeting women is not a new concept to Major League Baseball (MLB), efforts were mostly relegated to "ladies' days," where women got discounted tickets, for almost a century. But in the mid '90s, the Chicago White Sox launched "Women in Baseball," an initiative featuring clinics and pre-game tributes. In 2000, MLB released the Commissioner's Initiative on Women and Baseball, an effort to build "stronger relationships with female audiences." And the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, recently dedicated its "Diamond Dreams: Women in Baseball" exhibit, highlighting women's role in the sport since the 1940s.

But only in the past few years have some clubs made significant advances in efforts to reach female fans. Still, most have been sporadic, once-or-twice-a-season events.

DodgersWIN, however, planned more than a dozen activities for 2006, including two women's baseball clinics and a girls' softball clinic. For the first, held in April, 100 women hit the field for a fundamentals training session with players and coaches. The event didn't go unnoticed. According to a representative, "several news outlets showed up to let women know that this program exists, how [to] become a member, and the goals of the program itself."

To bolster DodgersWIN, the team has arranged marketing partnerships with corporations including Macy's, Trader Joe's, and Toyota, as well as LA-based nonprofits. Considering that - according to the Commissioner's Initiative - women are their households' primary decision-makers regarding purchases and leisure activities, and "a trip to the ballpark provides the quality time and atmosphere they want for their families," Dodger Stadium is an ideal venue to reach this untapped audience.

Along with providing recreational opportunities, DodgersWIN gives women access to invaluable professional and social networking outlets, and the chance "to pursue baseball as a career," Johnston says.

Women hold fewer than 28% of MLB's senior administration posts, found the University of Central Florida's DeVos Sports Business Management Program's 2005 Racial and Gender Report Card: Major League Baseball. But at DodgersWIN networking events, Johnston says, women can "listen to speakers and meet other women interested in working in baseball."

Held in Dodger Stadium's members-only Dugout Club, one recent get-together featured a Q&A with McCourt and team legends Steve Garvey and Ron Cey. Another featured two of the club's top female executives, assistant GM Kim Ng and Minor League assistant director Luchy Guerra.

"[It's] a way to get more women interested in careers in sports marketing," Johnston says of the happy hour-style events.

In its second season, DodgersWIN is still in its "early development stages," says a team rep, and marketing efforts continue to be more grassroots than glitzy. There's no formal ad campaign yet; outreach is done mostly via the Dodgers and MLB Web sites, e-mail blasts, stadium-posted flyers, and word of mouth. But reaction so far has been positive: Networking events, in particular, draw up to 200 regular attendees.

The team has three primary objectives, Johnston says: fielding a winning team, creating the best possible fan experience, and expanding its involvement in the community. While DodgersWIN may not be able to actively alter the first, by strengthening female fans' relationships with the club - and baseball in general - it can have a dramatic impact on goals two and three.

"It's about connection," says Johnston. "People want to feel connected to those they are rooting for."

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