2 min read March 2022 — Invest: met with Dan Rajkowski, COO of the Charlotte Knights, about how the organization is welcoming fans back to games while innovating ways to generate revenue and engage the community. “Charlotte is a wonderful sports town and it gets better every year,” Rajkowski said.
What have been the major highlights for the Charlotte Knights over the past year?
While we were at limited capacity last year, our doors were open and we got back to a more normal season after business was shut down for 18 months. In 2019, we were Top 3 in attendance in the country, averaging close to 9,000 people a night. 2021 saw our first 12 games have just 20% capacity but we were able to inch back from there. We opened up to 100% capacity in May 2021 and on the July 4th weekend, we had three of the largest attendance days in the organization’s history. On the downside, 70% of our group business didn’t come back and there was a reluctance from season ticket holders to renew their tickets based on the uncertainty with COVID-19. 2022 will show an improvement from the past year but we won’t get to those pre-pandemic numbers for at least another year.
What are the creative ways the Charlotte Knights are engaging and connecting with fans?
We want to get back to what made us successful from the beginning, which is about creating a family environment with affordable pricing. We’re seeing a new energy from fans because people are anxious to get out and congregate with friends again and our venue has always provided for that. Our revenue depends on the in-person experience so getting that out to people was critical.
The biggest key is social media, which has evolved to a level we never could’ve projected even three years ago. If we are going to engage younger fans, it has to be through social media and we have been widespread in that marketing, emphasizing deals and special events. Our Bark at the Ballpark is a good example, where fans can bring their dog to a game. That used to be unheard of but we do it at five home games a season now. It’s about understanding our clientele and how we can cater to them. Fortunately, messaging is so much better and more efficient with technology today. We’ve built a program with HubSpot to collect and analyze data based on feedback from our sponsors and season ticket holders.
What is the significance of the Charlotte Knights to the region’s sports entertainment industry?
Charlotte is a wonderful sports town and it gets better every year. Aside from Major League Soccer, we are the only show in town over the summer, which is when we attract a majority of our fans. We have drawn an average of almost 600,000 fans a year. Those attendance numbers make us one of the Top 5 sports attractions in the Carolinas. But for us to bring in revenue, we have to be more than a sports venue. We also host an annual Christmas festival, Light the Knights, which has been a fantastic enhancement for our business. We also have great public-private partnerships that can utilize our facilities for special events, conferences and meetings.
What are the key partnerships in Charlotte that highlight the Knights’ community outreach?
One key initiative is our partnership with Duke Energy to convert our venue and make it 100% LED and energy efficient. We are then donating the old lighting fixtures to the Tuckaseegee Dream Fields and local Boys and Girls Clubs so their fields can be lit up at night and kids in disadvantaged communities can have more of a chance to use them. The Charlotte Knights Charities were established nine years ago and have had a foremost mission of giving back to the community through financial donations and volunteerism. Our week of giving with Levine Children’s Hospital has become a significant event for our community to be engaged. Fundraising was hard for a lot of nonprofits over the pandemic so we were happy to help in supporting them through that difficult time.
What is your outlook for the Charlotte Knights and the overall sports entertainment industry over the next three to five years?
It will be challenging but exciting. 2022 will have to be a year of rebuilding and the years beyond will be about gaining momentum and getting back to the prominence of leading the country in attendance. We have to continue investing in technology at our facilities. Additionally, we are branching out to minority communities to bring more diversity to our fan base because that will enhance the overall atmosphere of our games. We have to always listen to be successful and that goes for our fans, sponsors, partners and clients. It’s a competitive sports industry in Charlotte so we have to do everything we can to distinguish ourselves. There is nothing like the experience of a Knights game. It’s affordable, the players are accessible and it’s a good product on and off the field. The industry is changing and we have to be cognizant of that.
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