How dancing Savannah Banana baseball players are changing the game
Savannah Bananas Owner Jesse Cole and Player Bill Leroy join Yahoo Finance Live to explain how their baseball league incorporates fan engagement and entertainment into the game, drawing in families and younger fans to join in on the experience, and even outpacing growth of MLB teams.
- Major League Baseball has taken several swings at making the game quicker and more entertaining in recent years, yet games still averaged three plus hours. Strikeouts are up, home runs are down, and TV ratings along with them. One baseball team, however, has never been more popular. Meet the Savannah Bananas.
[MUSIC - DEMI LOVATO, "COOL FOR THE SUMMER"]
DEMI LOVATO: (SINGING) I can keep a secret. Can you? Got my mind on your body and your body on my mind. Got a taste of the cherry. I just need to take a bite.
Yes, that happened in a game. The latest TikTok from the Collegiate Coastal Plain League team has been viewed more than 85 million times. Let's talk about it with the PT Barnum of baseball, Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole. And with Jesse as well-- you know what? I'll let him introduce himself.
- [INAUDIBLE] put your hands [INAUDIBLE]
- That's how they do it. Nice to see you guys-- well-dressed. Love the yellow tuxedo there. I want you both to answer this question. But Jesse, you first, how would you describe banana ball to the few that are not following you on social media and haven't been to a game?
JESSE COLE: Banana ball is the fastest, most exciting form of baseball there is. 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 is a ton of fun to watch. And fans have been responding more than we could ever imagine.
- And Mr. Leroy, your turn.
BILL LEROY: Oh man, if you haven't seen it, you are missing out on the greatest show ever. It is truly the most fun experience for a fan, for a player. There's not a place in the world I'd rather play ball and be where I'm at right now, so.
- Jesse, do you look for ballplayers who can dance or dancers who can play baseball?
JESSE COLE: A combination. So we brought in a dancing umpire, who was a dancer and also an umpire. We have a breakdancing coach and a male cheerleading team. But for players, we look for talent on the baseball field but also can entertain a little bit. And this guy right here, from introducing himself, playing in kilts, and crowd surfing out in the field, he's tried a lot of different things. And those are the types of guys who can do it. But he can also play ball. And he's hit some big home runs and done some things on the field people have never seen before.
- Bill, you did step to a plate in a kilt, which was another viral moment. How does this compare to, say, Major League Baseball, for those unfamiliar?
BILL LEROY: Oh man. Like Jesse said, it is the most entertaining and the most fun sporting event you could possibly come to. It's-- you're going to come no matter how old you are, no matter what age you are. It doesn't matter. You're going to come to the game and laugh and have an outstanding time and experience so much joy. We love all of our fans and they love us, and that's just why it works, because we have so much fun.
- You have 2.7 million TikTok followers, Jesse. That is more than the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers combined. How does that translate for the business model?
JESSE COLE: From the business model, everything we do, we're focused on creating fans. And so everything's the long game. In Savannah, every ticket is all-inclusive. Your burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, soda, water, popcorn, dessert-- everything for just $20. And there's no ticket fees, no convenience fees, and we pay your taxes. So we do things for the long term. And what's happened-- with a waitlist now over 60,000 to get tickets, merchandise, fortunately, is bigger than we could ever imagine, and people are buying merchandise, hundreds of orders every day all over the world, because I think they're fans of what we're doing. And it's not about money. The money takes care of itself later.
- You are out-drawing the Oakland A's, the professional Major League Baseball Oakland A's. Bill, what does that mean to you, and how do you tell your friends about this sport?
BILL LEROY: Honestly, it means the world. I think my dream as a kid was to have an impact and to play in front of a lot of people. And this place has tremendously exceeded all of my expectations of what I thought I would experience in my career. I'm loving everything I do. I get to play in front of tons of fans and have a huge impact. And it's-- honestly, it's like a dream come true, honestly.
- So Jesse, Billy Bean really changed the game with Moneyball. What would you do to Major League Baseball if you were the commissioner? Most people feel the product has just gotten stale and boring, and kids have a hard time watching it.
JESSE COLE: Yeah, it starts with letting the players express themselves more, making it more fun. When we score our first run every night, the entire team goes into the crowd and celebrates with the fans. It's ridiculous. It's crazy. But you can't do that in baseball. And I think for us, we have such a young audience and fortunately, so many millions of followers because they're seeing the fun.
And so for Major League Baseball, yes, the game needs to get faster, and it can't just be a few minutes. Yes, we need to have different rules that makes it faster. But overall, just more fun. And I would look at, what can the players do in the crowd, on the field? How can they express themselves more? And I think that's where it starts for us is make the game fun.
- Bill, what do you think Major League Baseball can learn from the Savannah Bananas?
BILL LEROY: Well, Kyle and I, my friend, partner in crime, we do a Dirty Dancing on the field every single time we strike somebody out, and I think that's something that they can learn from us, just how to have more fun in the game and how to break down that barrier between player and fan and just how to soak in an experience and to spread joy everywhere.
- Yeah, not just Major League Baseball. I think we can all learn something from you, Jesse. Are you the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball? Is it gimmicky, or is this built to last?
- You know, it's real baseball-- big difference. Every night we play, even when we're playing banana ball, you never know who's going to win. The bananas have lost four or five games. It's a competitive game. And unlike the Globetrotters, we travel with 120 performers, pep band, male cheerleading team. So we put a lot into this and doing the unscalable, which I believe can be scalable.
So it's going to be sustainable because we are going to try to out-invent, out-create probably anyone else in the sport. And that means doing five to 10 things every night on the ball field that no one's ever seen before, and we put time into that. And so hopefully that'll reimagine the experience in the years to come.
- Is it spreading, Jesse? Are other teams emulating it, or are they irritated by it?
JESSE COLE: I mean, I think baseball purists don't love everything we do, but we're not for them. And other teams, yeah, I mean, we've heard from four Major League teams that want us to play at their ballpark as soon as next year. So it's amazing to see people wanting to see banana ball and what we're doing.
- Are you going to tell us who those teams are?
JESSE COLE: I can't unveil that right now because we're working through a lot of details. But I will tell you this, we will be playing in front of 25, 30 cities in the next year, and we will be playing in Major League stadiums within the next two years.
- Bill, you laughed when I asked if other teams are irritated by it. Do they get frustrated by the antics? And what a baseball purists say to you about this?
BILL LEROY: There's-- absolutely. So we watch the other teams in the opposing dugout. I mean, we have a target on our back because they really want to beat us. It's hard to show up at our ballpark and see us having as much fun as we do, see us crushing the entertainment side of things and crushing the baseball side of things. We're so good at what we do. And honestly, it's just-- it's got to be hard to play against that. 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. And it's hard to not like fun, right, Jess?
JESSE COLE: It does win.
- All right, fellas, I'm coming. I am going to come to a game this summer. Mark my words. I tried to get a t-shirt, but it was sold out, an indication of your success. Savannah Bananas owner Jesse Cole and player Bill Leroy changing the game. Thank you, fellas. Rochelle, is this enough to get you involved in baseball?
- When I say I smiled through that entire interview, I was like, when is this coming to DC? I hope the Nats have them come to DC. I love it. I mean, baseball it's a long. It's long.
SEANA SMITH: So long.
- The kids get antsy. It's hot outside. If there's a way to sort of lighten the mood, get involved with the players, like shake things up, I 100% welcome this.
SEANA SMITH: Yeah, I'm with you Rochelle. I think we all-- we need to take a team trip down there to watch them play this summer.
- Let's do that.
SEANA SMITH: They certainly sold me on it. I like the fact that they limit some of those games to two hours. It makes things move along a little bit better. No one needs more than two hours of baseball.
- Sign me up for all of it, man. Make it fun.
SEANA SMITH: Exactly. All right, Dave, great interview.