Scott Fowler

Q&A with Dan Rajkowski: Charlotte Knights still breathing fire in Year 2

Dan Rajkowski is the Charlotte Knights’ chief operating officer and says it is his job to not let the honeymoon end for the team, which led the minor leagues in attendance in 2014 – its first year in a new uptown ballpark.
Dan Rajkowski is the Charlotte Knights’ chief operating officer and says it is his job to not let the honeymoon end for the team, which led the minor leagues in attendance in 2014 – its first year in a new uptown ballpark. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Five questions with Dan Rajkowski, the Charlotte Knights’ chief operating officer:

Q. How has Year Two in uptown Charlotte begun?

A. The best way to put it is it seems like it didn’t stop from Year One and that’s a very good thing. We rolled into starting the season with a major league exhibition game. Of our first 17-18 home games, about eight have been sold out. It’s a continuation of what we were able to accomplish last year.

We are looking forward to school getting out, the heart of the summer, and that’s when you really start to draw some people. And the team is playing well, which makes it a lot more fun.

It’s early on with this but people do worry about ‘What happens when the honeymoon is over?’ To me, we can’t let the honeymoon ever be over.

Q. The Knights led the minor leagues in attendance last year. Obviously that has a lot to do with a new ballpark that has garnered great reviews, but what are your most popular promotions?

A. When we do fireworks on Friday nights, instead of maybe 8,000-9,000, that gives us a sellout, I think. Thirsty Thursdays bring in a different demographic and are traditionally sellout nights for us. Every Sunday the kids can run the bases, so Sunday has turned into family day.

Q. What was one thing you learned from Year One in Charlotte that surprised you?

A. That scheduling a lot of day games during the week doesn’t work. Frankly, when we did them last year, it was tough for people to park during the day. We had people who kept telling me, ‘Oh, we’ll come to day games.’ And what we found is that it was hard to park, and that the people who said they were going to come and bought season tickets didn’t actually use them.

Plus, it’s very difficult to find employees to work because many have a second job. Put all those things together and then get into the smoking hot heat of the summer? We did one in June and it was miserable. So we are doing a couple of weekday games early in the year, but not many.

Q. Your team is winning more often this season, but a lot of your fans don’t know who is playing the Knights on a given night. Last year’s team had 31 sellouts despite losing a whole lot. Aren’t your fans buying a ticket more for the experience?

A. It is for the experience, yes, but what we have found is that people are staying longer. It’s nicer when you are winning or when you have a chance to win. In baseball sometimes, in the seventh inning at 9:30 p.m. when you’re down 10-1, there’s an exodus at the gate.

Q. I’ve heard mixed reviews about that huge dragon in center field. What’s the deal with that?

A. There were conversations about ‘Let’s have something that’s a staple when there is a home run hit. OK, let’s have a dragon that blows out fire.’ Well, the fire part we were a little leery about – running natural gas or propane through a 21-foot dragon. So we blow smoke out of it when we hit a home run. I think it’s something different, I don’t know. It seems to have been accepted by our fans.

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