Friday, May 23, 2008

More on the sports battle within the state

I have written extensively on the sports' divide in New Jersey, more specifically - whether you are a New York/ New Jersey sports' fan or a Philadelphia sports' fan.

But this sideshow may be of interest to you: the big boys are using the minor league sports' teams to stake their claims in the state.

In Trenton, which has a very mixed sports loyalty base, the New York Yankees and New Jersey Devils are marking their territory like protective cats. In 2003, the Yankees made the Trenton Thunder their Double AA Minor League Baseball affiliate and in 2007, the Devils took over the rights to the Trenton Titans (who were affiliated with the Philadelphia Flyers) and renamed them the Devils. The Trenton Devils' slogan for the 2007-08 season was: "Paint this town Devil red."

In Lakewood, which even though it is in Ocean County, and geographically south, is all New York/ New Jersey fan territory. A trip to the local Dunkin' Donuts or Sporting Goods apparel store will confirm this. The Philadelphia Phillies brought the Blueclaws to Lakewood in 2001 and it is their Single A affiliate.

What you now have is the Phillies' minor league team in an area heavily loyal to North Jersey/ New York and the Devils' affiliate in a highly disputed area, Trenton, which is neither completely loyal to Philadelphia or North Jersey. I met plenty of Philadelphia Flyer fans who debated giving up their season tickets because of the name change, but admitted it was smart marketing by the New Jersey Devils. I have no thoughts from the Lakewood residents, as the move was well before I started this documentary.

What about the Trenton Thunder? Well, they landed safer in my opinion. Even though Trenton is disputed territory, and contains plenty of Phillies' fans - the New York Yankees are like the Dallas Cowboys of baseball. Thus, their fan base stretches further beyond geographic borders than say, the local NBA, NHL or NFL teams. Trenton feels like home for them - and I say this as a native and as a Phillies' fan.

So it seems some of the major professional sports' teams are using their minor league organizations to spread their influence. Central (and I use that word loosely) New Jersey is the battleground. Is it working? Does it matter? Or is it just smart marketing?

Could Mercer be barren of Philadelphia fans in 20 years? How about Ocean County barren of Mets' fans? This all remains to be seen. If the attendance remains high at all of these venues - the younger generation may tell us who won this battle when they buy season tickets.

But I totally recommend supporting your local minor league baseball team this summer. It's something different and relaxing, as well as a greater chance of catching that foul ball.

Here are the teams:

Atlantic City Surf
Camden Riversharks
Lakewood BlueClaws
Newark Bears
New Jersey Jackals
Somerset Patriots
Sussex Skyhawks
Trenton Thunder

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