Fans First Banana Ball Delights at Sold Out Fenway Park Game

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Jesse at FenwayWhen Jesse Cole was a baseball-loving kid growing up near Boston, he dreamed of playing at Fenway Park. On Saturday, his Savannah Bananas, the team he’s owned since 2016, played their debut at Fenway, delighting the largest crowd at the storied ballpark this year. This is a story of the powerful results of putting fans first.

“We're not trying to be the best of the best when it comes to baseball,” Jesse told me on the Fenway field prior to the game. “We're trying to be the greatest show in sports. We're trying to be the best fan experience possible. And that's what we put all our focus on.”

Besides more than 37,000 fans at Fenway, nearly 150,000 people watched the (free) livestream on YouTube.

The players love being on the Bananas team as well as their rivals the Party Animals, also owned by Jesse. Everyone on the teams were super excited to be at historic Fenway Park.

line dancing at FenwayThere were so many fun concepts and moments, most that that you’d never see at a Major League Baseball game.

During practice, I saw Ethan Skuija throw a ball over the home run fence!

Ethan told me he had been waiting all year for the opportunity.

A few things that stood out for me:

  • The Dad Bod Cheerleading Squad flaunted their bellies at second base during a break.
  • The Banana “Nanas”, a group of grandmothers led a cheer.
  • Players and umpires coordinated line dancing.
  • A player on stilts.
  • Players go into stands to greet fans pre-game (and sometimes during the game).
  • The home plate umpire frequently breaks into dance between pitches and is expert at twerking.
  • Music was played throughout the entire game.
  • Merch! So much merchandise for sale. It seemed like everybody there was sporting Bananas or Party Animals gear.

Dad bodEveryone got into the fun-loving spirit of Banana Ball. I spoke at length to a Boston Police officer assigned to Fenway for events of all kinds who told me he’s never seen anything like what was happening Saturday night. He had a smile on his face the entire evening.

Former Boston Red Sox players Jonathan Papelbon, Mitch Moreland and Jonny Gomes who all helped the team win World Series titles returned to Fenway to play cameos with the Bananas. The fans loved it, but the former Red Sox players seemed to love the experience even more.

I asked Jesse what he’s done to go from a few hundred spectators per game back in 2016 to playing in front of a million fans on tour this year, with a waiting list of over 2.7 million people who want tickets.

“It starts by eliminating things customers don't like,” Jesse told me. “It's attractive and fun and sexy to talk about all the fun and innovative things and we're proud of those. But the first thing we did was to eliminate every friction and frustration point from the fan experience: No ticket fees, no convenience fees, no service fees. We entertain the whole game, we play music the whole game, we have fun the whole game. We eliminated all the boring parts of baseball. If you want to create fans, sometimes you just stop doing what your customers and your fans hate.” 


Banana Ball puts fans first

Jesse completely reimagined what the game of baseball can be if it is focused on entertainment. Banana Ball rules were created to make the game much faster and more fun to watch:

  • Every Inning Counts: The Team with the most runs at the end of the inning gets a point, the team with the most points wins the game! In the last inning, all runs count for a point!
  • Two Hour Time Limit
  • No Stepping Out of the Batters Box
  • No Bunting (because bunting sucks)
  • No Mound Visits
  • Walks are Sprints
  • If a Fan Catches a Foul Ball it's an Out (Why not let the fans get in on some of the action?)
  • Batters Can Steal First
  • One on One Showdown Tiebreaker
  • The Challenge Rule
  • The Golden Batter (One time a game, a team may send any hitter in the lineup to bat in any spot.)

Bananas at Fenway ParkThe Bananas are a social media powerhouse. The Banana’s TikTok has 8.6 million followers, much more than any Major League team. And they have tons of followers on the other major social networks as well.

Prior to the game, I spoke with Brett Rudy, founder of Charity Hop sports marketing agency and who writes the Baseball Life website.

He’s been deep into the baseball world for decades and he was blown away by the Savannah Bananas. “This is kind of amateur ball club that's playing professional baseball and living the dream,” he told me. “My initial expectation was maybe these guys are circus performers that can play a little bit of baseball, you know, they can dance, they can sing, they can jump, they can flip their bats. But I'm watching these guys hit and they're putting the ball over the green monster. There’s a guy on stilts, 10’ 9”, and hitting balls to deep center. These guys are legitimate ballplayers, it's much more than just a circus performance.”

Rudy and I talked about how the Bananas approach baseball and the fan experience compared to Major League Baseball. “What people forget is baseball is a perfect mix of art and science,” he says. “At the Major League level, we’re taking art out of the game and leaving the science, and it's just incredibly automatic. And that's why this game with the Bananas will likely have more people attending than any Red Sox game this season. Let that sink in for a minute. A team from Savannah is coming and taking over this field and will draw more fans than the Red Sox.”


Creating a wildly successful business

Jess Cole and David Meerman ScottJesse told me that one of his biggest inspirations is Walt Disney. In many ways he’s modeling his teams and his business on Disney instead of just copying Major League Baseball.

According to Jesse, Walt Disney said: “All of your dreams can come true if you have the courage to pursue them.” 

Jesse ticked off many of the things that Walt Disney pioneered. “He innovated with the first color film, the first full length animated film, then theme parks, and he kept having new innovations,” Jesse says. “I'm constantly thinking about that. How can I bring this game of Banana Ball to more and more people? How can I bring the game to more kids? People say they can't believe a small little team from Savannah is now selling out major league stadiums. But we have even bigger plans, and they all involve putting fans first.”

Thank you Jesse for inviting me to the game. It has been fun to see and write about your journey over the past 8 years.

Jesse is certainly perusing his dream. Millions of fans, including me, are thrilled that he is.

Credits: Photo of Jesse with two baseballs and Fenway lit by cell phone light via Jesse Cole. Other photos by David Meerman Scott.

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