After announcing they were going to become the Houston Astros' Triple-A affiliate, officials with the Sugar land Skeeters said before the season that while many things would change and they hoped to bring their fan interactions to new levels, they wanted to remain an affordable source of family entertainment.
Fast-forward through the season, and it seems while some things did work, the overall effect hasn't been quite what the Skeeters might have hoped due to several factors - but there is hope coming from the organization.
"I'm excited to see the continued downturn of COVID so we can really get back out there to the way we once were," General Manager Tyler Stamm said Monday. "A lot of what we want to do now is based on what we did this year. It wasn't where we would like it to be with everything related to COVID."
The Skeeters averaged roughly 3,255 fans per game at 65 home games this year at Constellation Field, according to Baseball Reference’s online database. It was the lowest attendance among the 10 teams in Triple-A West, and down from the 4,482 during their final season in the Atlantic League in 2019.
Stamm said due to the ongoing pandemic, players and team personnel were unable to do their customary community book readings or interact with the fans, which is a big part of their community outreach. As a result, he said much of the fundraising was events at the ballpark such as jersey auctions.
But as the world hopefully returns to normal, Stamm said so, too, would their outreach and engagement efforts.
"I'm looking forward to really, truly getting out of the park and getting our names and faces back out in the community," Stamm said.
Nothing can diminish the passion for some fans, such as Rhonda Currie of Missouri City, who said Sunday that she attended all but five home games at Constellation Field this season, and has been attending Skeeters games since their inception in 2012. “I’m just a big baseball fan," Currie said. "For me, having baseball back and just things being a little bit more normal is great. It’s been really cool seeing the guys from here go up (to the majors this season).”
Community engagement and response efforts took several different forms this season. Fans sitting in the Imperial Box and Diamond Deck saw new-and-improved seating, while the Skeeters also added a new seating area down the first-base line. New padded seats were also installed for the Imperial Box – located in the first two rows behind home plate in between the dugouts -- as well as the outdoor balcony for the second-level Insperity Club.
Also new in 2021 was the Bullpen Patio, a field-level fan area created by moving the right-field fence in 25 feet and reconfiguring the bullpens. The Skeeters also installed protective netting across the field-level seating bowl before the season to protect fans from balls leaving the field of play.
And despite the lower attendance, the efforts appear to be appreciated.
“This is a wonderful stadium – there’s really not a bad spot to sit in this place," said Dixie Spurling, of Sugar Land. Spurling has been attending Skeeters games since 2012. "There is nothing bad about this stadium."
Also among the Skeeters’ attempts to engage the community in a different way is the “Down in Sugar Land” podcast, in which co-hosts Brandon McArthur and Ryan Posner along with producer Trey Young discuss Skeeters news, according to the team’s website.
They have also aired multiple UFC fights on the Constellation Field video board for the community to watch, including the UFC 253 main event middleweight fight featuring Israel Adesanya and Paulo Costa.
After every homestand, Stamm said fans also received an emailed survey inviting feedback on their experience.
"It was extremely positive all year, and one of the coolest things about this affiliation is that there is just a new fan that we've never had before - the Astros fan," Stamm said. "Now it feels like every game, half the fans are wearing a jersey. The people who were new to the Skeeters loved it based on reviews, and were excited to build on the fan-facing improvements."
That came as no surprise to Spurling, who said the Skeeters - and Constellation Field - are a gem.
“For a new person coming out to experience it, I think the whole thing is just great,” she said.