The Savannah Bananas are pioneering a new, more entertaining form of baseball akin to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters.
Sold-out games at the 4,000-capacity Savannah Bananas Grayson Stadium in Savannah, Georgia, feature dancing baseball players, coaches, and umpires — 120 different performers in all, including a male cheerleading squad.
And 38-year-old owner Jesse Cole, dressed in his signature yellow suit, is the P.T. Barnum of the new kind of baseball circus.
“Banana Ball is the fastest, most exciting form of baseball there is,” Cole told Yahoo Finance Live (video above). “We play it in two hours, batters can steal first, there’s no bunting, fans catch a foul ball it’s an out, it’s a crazy fast-paced play of game, and it’s a ton of fun to watch, and fans have been responding more than we could ever imagine.”
The Bananas consist of two teams, a collegiate summer league team in the wood-bat Coast Plain League and an independent professional team that plays Banana Ball, a fast-paced version of baseball invented by Cole. Both teams focus on one simple rule, according to Cole: “Everything we do, we’re focused on creating fans.”
By that measure, they have been wildly successful. Their signature in-game dances have helped the team amass 2.7 million followers on TikTok — more than the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Los Angeles Dodgers combined.
"Honestly, it's just got to be hard to play against that," Bananas player Bill Leroy said about Banana Ball. "So we see the faces on the other team. We see the reactions that they have to us. To the baseball purists who have never seen it before or question what we do, come to a game and see the talent and see the fun."
'Make it faster' and 'more fun'
The Bananas' popularity comes at a time of relative crisis for Major League Baseball, which has seen ratings plummet and crowds dwindle due to the slow pace of play.
While the Oakland A’s struggle to put 3,000 fans in their crumbling stadium, that hasn't been an issue for the Bananas and their manager Eric Byrnes, a former A’s player himself. The Savannah Bananas are playing to crowds of 4,000 with a waitlist of 60,000, according to Cole.
One of the most notable divergences from major leagues is the two-hour time limit in Banana Ball. That's more than an hour shorter than the average MLB game.
“For Major League Baseball, the game needs to get faster, and it can’t just be a few minutes," Cole said. "We need to have rules that make it faster but overall just more fun. What can players do in the crowd, on the field? How can they express themselves more?”
Should LeRoy, who is known to sport a kilt over his baseball pants, ever make the big leagues, he too hopes to bring along Banana Ball flair.
“I think that’s something they can learn from us, just how to have more fun in the game and how to break down the barrier between player and fan and spread joy everywhere,” Leroy said.
Cole predicts they’ll be playing in 25 to 30 cities in the next year and will be debuting in Major League stadiums within the next two years.
"It's going to be sustainable because we are going to try to out-invent, out-create probably anyone else in the sport," he said. "And that means doing five to 10 things every night on the ball field that no one's ever seen before."
Dave is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live.