“That’s not how we do it here.”
Very few phrases induce more eye-rolls or are more effective in shutting down change than that.
But how can you argue when “how we do it here” works (for now), is what everyone knows, and is “consistent with our culture?”
You go Bananas!
In March, my husband and I traveled to Savannah to watch the Savannah Bananas play their cross-town rival, the Party Animals.
Over a year ago, I became obsessed with the Bananas, a collegiate summer team, and their unique brand of baseball known as Banana Ball. The rules are as follows:
- Every inning counts: The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets 1 point, and the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
- Two-hour time limit: If the game is tied at the end of nine innings or 2 hours, then there is a…
- 1:1 Showdown Tiebreaker: In the event of a tie, 3 players are on the field (pitcher, catcher, fielder) and 1 batter who has to hit a home run or, well, it gets complicated and chaotic, so click here to get the details
- No stepping out of the batter’s box
- No mound visits
- No bunting
- No walks: If a 4th ball is thrown, the batter takes off running, and every defensive player must touch the ball before it becomes live and a play can be made
- Batters can steal first (I have been advocating for this since 1995, no joke, ask my dad)
- If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out
Lest you think I’m the only crazy person who would travel for this spectacle, there were people from 24 different states at the game. The Bananas have led their league in attendance since 2016 and set a record in 2018 with 118,262 fans over 25 games.
Lest you think the Bananas are the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, they won the Coastal Plain League in 2016 and 2021, and 8 Bananas were drafted in 2021.
So yeah, they’re good, too.
It started with “What if”
Despite record attendance and a championship in their first season, the Bananas’ owner, Jesse Cole, wasn’t satisfied. Even though they created a fans first experience, people were still leaving before the game ended.
You can read the full story of how Banana Ball was born, but here’s the gist:
- Jesse’s dad said, “What if every inning was match play and whoever won the inning got a point?”
- Jesse, the front office team, and the head coach brainstormed a handful of rule changes to “highlight the more exciting parts of baseball while also countering the slower aspects of the game that tend to bore your average fan.”
- Jesse called his college baseball coach, then the head coach at Lander University, and asked if they could play a game with the new rules as an experiment. The answer, “Why not?”
- It worked! The players loved it. The coaches loved it. Even the players’ girlfriends, who usually sat in the stands in did their homework, watched every minute.
- They kept experimenting. Over 1.5 years (from 2018 to 2020), the Bananas kept tweaking the rules, adding new ones and removing ones that didn’t contribute to the goal of more excitement and a better fan experience.
What’s your Banana Ball?
Why am I telling you all this (besides the fact that I am obsessed)?
Because if a collegiate summer league team with a silly name can up-end (even in a small way) an institution as stodgy as baseball and convert its grumpiest purists, you can too!
Follow the playbook:
- Don’t ever be satisfied: Things can always be better. It’s great to start with a sell-out, but if people don’t stick around, there’s an opportunity to improve.
- Define your Why. What is your version of “highlight the more exciting parts of baseball while also countering the slower aspects of the game that tend to bore your average fan.”
- Ask What if. Use analogies like Jesse’s dad did when he transplanted golf’s match play to baseball.
- Run small experiments with friendly people. The Bananas didn’t play Banana Ball rules in the first game after drafting the rules. They called a friend and ran an experiment.
- Gather all the data. The Bananas knew that the payers had to enjoy playing by Banana rules for them to stick, so they asked for feedback. They also realized that the girlfriends’ behavior change was data, even if it’s not the data the experiment was designed to collect.
- Keep experimenting. One success is just that. You need a second, a third, and a whole bunch more before being confident it will last.
- Have fun. Baseball is a business, but it’s also a game. Your job can be both, too.