Banana Ball – The Business Behind The Savannah Bananas

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We need to talk about the Savannah Bananas, a baseball team in Savannah, Georgia, that is going viral on social media right now. Yes, I typically only break down e-commerce businesses (and I will break down their e-commerce merchandise sales), but I am just fascinated (and slightly giddy) with the Savannah Bananas that I need to break down this business.

Baseball purist, avert your eyes!

Best Seat In The House, And Bored Out Of His Mind

Jesse Cole is the founder of Fans First Entertainment and owner of the Savannah Bananas. Jesse is a former D1 college pitcher who got injured and could not continue his pitching career post-college. He started his coaching career by joining the staff of a Cape League baseball team (A premier summer baseball league for college players in Cape Cod, Massachusetts). With the best seat in the house (on the bench), he found himself bored out of his mind watching the game.

In 2008 at the age of 23, Jesse became the general manager of the Gastonia Grizzlies of the Coastal Plain League in North Carolina. In 2014, Jesse purchased the team. Under Jesse’s leadership from 2008 to 2015, the Gastonia Grizzlies broke attendance records each year.

In 2015, Jesse became aware of an opportunity to create another team in the Coastal Plain League based in Savannah, Georgia (after the Mets relocated their farm team out of Savannah). In 2016, the Savannah Bananas were born (after letting their fans vote on the team name). 

Starting in 2016, The Savannah Bananas have sold out every game and set several Coastal Plain League attendance records, all because Jesse wanted to make baseball fun.

Stop Doing What Your Customers Hate

Jesse studied his fans’ behavior and learned what they disliked. He didn’t wait for them to tell them what they didn’t like. The fans voted with their actions. Jesse will often cite the famous Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Jesse would have pictures taken of the crowd during different moments in the game to see when the fans became disinterested. He would focus on those moments to try to keep the fans engaged. He saw no matter what they did, after 2 hours, fans were leaving the stadium. By the fans’ actions, they told him they wanted 2-hour baseball games.

Fans did not like being nickeled and dimed at the stadium after paying for their ticket. So Jesse sold tickets that included all-you-can-eat concessions.

Jesse hated that their fans had to pay service fees on top of their ticket prices. So this led Jesse to buy their ticket exchange, iSportsTix. Originally, Jesse made a deal with iSportsTix, that Savannah Bananas would pay them $3,200 a year to use their system with no additional fees. This no-fee policy grew the Bananas fan base where iSportTix could not handle the demand. So Jesse bought iSportTix. They now handle the ticketing for 8 other independent baseball teams, plus a hand full of minor league hockey teams. Each team pays an annual fee of $4,000 dollars.  

Banana Ball

  1. Every Inning Counts – The team that gets the most runs in an inning, gets a point for that inning. Win the inning, get the point.
  2. Two Hour Time Limit – If the game is tied at the end of two hours, the game will go into a showdown to determine a winner.
  3. No Stepping Out – if the batter steps out of the box, its a strike.
  4. No Bunting – Bunting Sucks. If the batter bunts, they will be thrown of the game. 
  5. Batters Can Steal 1st – If a passed ball or wild pitch happens during any pitch of an at-bat, the batter can take off to first.
  6. No Walks Allowed – If a pitcher throws the fourth ball it becomes a sprint. The hitter will take off running while the catcher has to throw the ball around every defensive player on the field before it becomes live. The hitter can advance to as many bases as he can. The ball does not have to touch the catcher or pitcher. 
  7. 1 on 1 Showdown Tiebreaker – Each team picks one pitcher and one hitter to face off. The defensive team only has the pitcher, catcher and one fielder. If a hitter puts the ball in play, he has to score and make it home to get a point. If the ball is put in play, the pitcher and fielder are allowed to chase the ball and throw it to the catcher for a play at the plate. If the pitcher strikes him out, or gets him out before scoring, he doesn’t get a point. If the batter walks, he takes second and the hitting team will bring in another hitter to the plate. 
  8. No Mound Visits Allowed – Let’s Leep the game moving. No mound visits from the coach, catcher, or any other players. Hype your pitcher up from afar if needed. 
  9. If A Fan Catches A Foul Ball, It’s An Out – Why not let the fans get in on some of the action? Whatever you do, just don’t catch a Bananas Foul Ball.

Jesse is trying to optimize the game of baseball for a better fan experience. However, he cannot do this with his Savannah Bananas baseball team that plays in the Coastal Plain League (they still have to play by traditional baseball rules). So Jesse created Banana Ball that is played by two professional baseball teams, The Savannah Bananas and The Party Animals. 

The clips from these games are the ones you see going viral on social media. This year Banana Ball went on tour, playing 12 games in 6 different cities. All games sold out (nearly 70,000 tickets sold cumulative). And 2 of the games were aired on ESPN!

Metrics of Success

  • The Savannah Bananas have sold out every game at their stadium and have over a 12,000 person waitlist to get tickets.
  • Over 1,000 people are on a waitlist to work for the Savannah Bananas
  • Social media growth last 4 months:
    • Instagram 236% follower growth (from 121K to 409K)
    • TikTok 161% follower growth (from 916K to 2.4M)
    • Twitter 155% follower growth (from 33K to 84.9K)
  • Website traffic – Over 100,000 Monthly Visitors (up from 20,000 monthly visitors)
  • Search Volume – 301,000 monthly searches in March for the term “Savannah Bananas” up from 27,000 searches a year ago!
  • 15 year MLB veteran, 2x World Series Champion, 3x All Stay, Cy Young Award Winner, Gold Glove Winner, Jake Peavy went and pitched for the Savannah Bananas

$10M in Revenue?

I am not sure the Savannah Bananas will get to $10M in revenue this year, but they may be very close. 

Banana Ball Tour – $20 a ticket, 12 sold-out games to a max cumulative capacity of 69,600. That is $1.4M in ticket sales.

Plus two more games added in Kansas City in front of 10,000 people each ($200,000 in ticket sales per game, however this may be split with the other team).

Plus 6 more Banana Ball Home games at the end of the season – $480K

Total Banana Ball 2022 Ticket Sales ~ $2.1M

Savannah Bananas (CPL) Ticket Sales – 24 Home games at $20 per ticket is $1.9M

Online Merchandise Sales – Because of the surge of interest in Savannah Bananas, their website traffic, and merchandise sales have increased. In the past 14 days they have received 2,090 merchandise orders. Their average order value is most likely between $75 – $100. That means on a daily basis, they are generating about $11,000 – $15,000 in revenue from their online merchandise sales.

No doubt they will be faced with some seasonality but its safe to say they could see upwards of $3M in revenue in 2022 from their online merchandise sales.

So far, I have outlined the case for a possible $7M in revenue in 2022. However, there are still a lot of unknowns that I cannot estimate:

  • How much revenue do they bring in from non-all-inclusive concession sales? Alcohol Sales?
  • In stadium merchandise sales?
  • Bananas Academy (The Bananas Academy is a mixture of different camps and training sessions that allows any player form age six to high school to find the perfect fit for them to learn from the Bananas)?
  • Sponsors, partners, and media rights? In 2020, the Savannah Bananas removed all in-stadium advertising. I am not sure if that is still the case or if they have other sponsors. Did the Bananas get paid for the ESPN Airing? Are there other opportunities to monetize their content?

What a Business…

Even if you are a baseball purist, you have to appreciate the business that has been created here. Jesse found a way to get people’s attention and get them interested in what he was doing. He turned people into raving fans of his product and that is why he has over 12,000 people on the waiting list to be able to purchase a ticket.

Jesse also has the business “Bananas For Business”. As it says on their website: “Stop wasting money on marketing and start creating an experience where the customers do the marketing for you.” He is taking the concepts he has built with the Savannah Bananas and helping other businesses create a fan first experience. 

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