A special Doubleday Field committee meeting on Monday began with trustee Jim Dean’s desire to lower rental fees, but ended 90 minutes later with most of the other members in agreement that it was a bad idea.
“I’d rather see us leave the rates alone and be far more proactive in marketing,” Vin Russo said.
Several members pointed out that the midweek rate for the field was lowered $100 last season, from $500 to $400, but that didn’t produce an increase in midweek rentals.
If fall games go as scheduled, Doubleday Field’s rentals will be 325 games this year, the same as it was in 2012. The number of games has dropped slightly the past two years. In 2009, for instance, it was 362 games.
The 2013 figures are skewed, however, because the field was closed in April and for four days in May for roof repairs.
Village deputy clerk Jennifer Truax, who handles reservations for the field, said that she always has a waiting list for weekend games.
“We certainly have a demand because I always have a waiting list for games Friday through Sunday,” she said. “The problem is we can’t make more weekends.”
Doubleday Field manager Quinton Hasak suggested that the field capacity could be increased to four games a day for tournament schedules, with tournament operators receiving a discount for adding the fourth game.
Currently the official game capacity is for three games per day, but some tournaments have been booking a fourth game. Truax said that in the past a fourth game had been given out for free to some operators, but that since she and Hasak have been working together, the fourth game must be paid for, and it is unofficially booked for some tournament rentals.
Tom Heitz, representing the group Friends of Doubleday Field, said that historically the field was used for community games and not as a source of revenue for the village. That changed in 1939 when the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum opened and Cooperstown became a destination for baseball fans.
Heitz suggested that if the village wants to offer discounts for tournaments, then they should only do so if they get multi-year contracts from the operators.
“If you are going to offer a discount, then the village has to get something back,” he said. “I think what the village should get back is some certainty.”
Dean, who is the chairman of the committee, said he called the special meeting after one tournament operator wrote a letter to the editor, published in the Sept. 12 edition of the Cooperstown Crier, that criticized the fees as too high. After doing some research, he said he also saw more disparaging remarks about the price of the field rentals on the Internet. Currently weekend tournament games are $550 and single games are $500. Midweek and post-Labor Day games are $400.
“The important thing to say is we are listening,” he said. “If we took action, we would take the fees down. We are not talking about raising them. We are aware that we have to deal with a new economic reality.”
“People say negative things about Cooperstown, and that is not helpful,” he continued. “We have to do damage control. We have to get our message out. They’re getting their message out.”
Jeff Idelson, who is also president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said that he didn’t think the village should take action based on Internet criticism.
“We all take hits on the Internet all the time,” he said. “We don’t like it. We’ve all got feelings. But I don’t think you take action based on feelings.”
Idelson said he wanted to see empirical data on who comes to play at the field, how long and where they stay, and how much money they spend while in Cooperstown. The committee members agreed to recommend that Idelson be allowed to help set up a system for gathering that information next year.
In the meantime, Dean said he wanted to be proactive about promoting field rentals. He assured the members that their concerns about marketing are being addressed.
“I want you to know that the mayor is on top of this,” he said. “He has applied for grants, a CFA (New York state Consolidate Funding Application) grant for marketing Doubleday Field.”