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Putting Fans Absolutely First: Savannah Bananas & President Jared Orton Deliver Unprecedented Ballpark Experiences

Jared Orton | President | Savannah Bananas

If we can create an experience that is worth talking about, our fans will be the ones who do the marketing for us and that is extremely powerful.

Jared Orton

President

Savannah Bananas

× The interview with Jared Orton was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as President for the Savannah Bananas. What does a typical day look like for you?

Our in-season days are full throttle. Every day is basically game day. There is either a game that night or the next night.

The focus is to lead our people so that they continuously know they are getting better and we are serving our fans better. So after game 1, we will talk, tweak, make adjustments, and look for ways to improve. We’ll talk about new content we want to capture. We’ll break out new ideas for entertainment and stunts. We’ll talk about the reactions from fans and how we can serve them better. Everything is figuring out how we can get better.

The Savannah Bananas inception was a whirlwind to say the least. Tell us how you and your team transformed Grayson Stadium and the Savannah Bananas to the powerhouses they are today. What marketing/sales innovations were you a part of that really changed the game?

I believe our true innovation is that we don’t think of ourselves as a baseball team.

We see ourselves as an entertainment theme park. When you use that lens, it opens you up to an entirely new world of possibilities.

We want people to come to our games and say, “I’ve never seen that in baseball before.” We are constantly experimenting and testing out new ideas to give fans that experience. If we can create an experience that is worth talking about, our fans will be the ones who do the marketing for us and that is extremely powerful. Instead of us trying to do all the marketing and ‘sell’ people to come to the game, our fans are the ambassadors.

How important is culture to a thriving sport workplace, and what role do you play in trying to establish a strong culture?

Leading people is probably the single most important skill. It takes time. It takes work. You’ve got to be humble. You’ve got to understand many personalities. You’ve got to understand what people need and what they want. You’ve got to be willing to serve. You’ve got to admit when you’re wrong. You’ve got to praise and recognize constantly. It’s incredibly challenging and fun.

One thing we’ve identified over time is that there are problem finders and problem solvers. We need problem solvers. Problem finders just raise their hand and explain why something won’t work and then stop and leave it up so someone else to create a solution. Those people are idea killers and they can quickly bring negativity to situations.

Problem solvers identify things and then work to come up with a solution to push through it. Sometimes, problem finders think they are problem solvers, so you’ve got to work through that with them. If you can build a culture of problem solvers, you’ll tackle the impossible.

The Savannah Bananas are quite the fan-focused team! How has fan experience played a role in the growth of the team and what can we expect in the future? Additionally, why was taking a fan-focused approach important to you and the team?

Every business says, “We give great customer service.” What they’re really saying is they’re relatively nice to people. Truly being Fans First means that you are in the business of building long-term fans. Chick-fil-A would describe these as ‘Raving Fans’ of your business. While we obviously run a business and have to make a profit, that cannot be our end goal.

When we make decisions, we look to create a Win-Win-Win. We want the fans to win, our staff to win, and the business to win for the long term. We realized we weren’t being Fans First in our merchandise because we were still charging shipping for items. Most businesses would say, “Well that’s just how it is.” Charging for shipping is not serving your customer well. We eliminated shipping charges to make it truly a Fans First experience.

Tell us how you and the Savannah Bananas are finding ways to connect with fans in new ways due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What have you found successful?

Our team really has embraced the value of quality and consistent content. We doubled down on that when the pandemic hit to ensure that our fans were still being entertained from us. We felt that providing entertainment was our role to the fans. We heard from so many people about how appreciative they were to see something fun and lighthearted during their days. We took two months off from hitting our fans with any sort of sales message. We were completely focused on delivering value over that time.

What would you say are the top 5 biggest moments or accomplishments in your career?

I’ve really enjoyed many things throughout my time in the industry. A few things that stick out:

  1. 2016 Bananas Season – It was a complete whirlwind. The name announcement, selling out 75% of our games, winning the league championship, and more. It was just absolutely insane and I’ll never forget the people who were with us to make it all happen.
  2. I’ll always remember my first season in baseball as an intern. I fell in love with showing up to the ballpark and seeing fans every night at the stadium. I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of the business of sports.
  3. In 2017, we built a stadium club at Grayson Stadium and it was my first large capital project to oversee. From design to construction, selling, and planning out the experience, I was extremely proud to see everyone enjoying that new space on Opening Night. It was also insanely stressful as we got the approval permit 30 minutes prior to opening the gates.
  4. This year we made the announcement to go completely ad-free in our ballpark. This is something we’ve been talking about for two years and finally put it in to play. I love being able to be a trendsetter in our industry and go against the traditions.
  5. I also have been fortunate to build memories with my wife, new daughter, and our families around the Bananas and Grayson Stadium. We love being around the ballpark together and sharing in the experience. Our parents and siblings come down to see the games during the summer. We get to see people around Savannah who have become our extended Bananas family. It’s extremely rare to have work be such a positive piece of your life.

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

Since the Savannah Bananas inception in 2016, the team has had tremendous success and Jared has had a major part in such. From transforming Grayson Stadium to executing flawless marketing promotions to adopting Daisy, the team’s bat dog, Jared has truly put in the work to make the Savannah Bananas the team they are today. I admire Jared and the entire Savannah Bananas staff as they transformed nothing into something. And, that something, turned out to be the incredible and entertaining Savannah Bananas that everyone can’t seem to get enough of. Next time I find myself in Georgia, you can find me at Grayson Stadium!

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