Gastonia Honey Hunters Targeting Attendance Gains in Sophomore Season
Brandon Bellamy liked what he saw last year in his first season owning a baseball team, but he’s nowhere near satisfied. Two years ago, Bellamy, a commercial real estate developer based in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., bought an Atlantic League of Professional Baseball expansion club.
Last year, that team — the Gastonia Honey Hunters — played its inaugural season in a new, $28.75 million ballpark on the city’s west side. CaroMont Health Park has capacity for 5,000 people. The multipurpose stadium is owned by the city of Gastonia but operated by the team’s parent company, Momentous Sports & Entertainment.
In their first season, the Honey Hunters finished sixth among eight teams in the Atlantic League in attendance. The team finished with attendance of 114,416 over 58 home dates, an average of 1,973 fans per game.
The league average for attendance in 2021 was 2,553 per game.
Atlantic League teams played 120 games in 2021 (60 home, 60 away). This season that number will increase to 132, meaning six additional home games per team.
“I think our inaugural season was a lot of fun,” Bellamy told CBJ. “The fans were amazing, the community rallied around the team. I think our partners and our sponsors really came together. That energy was awesome.”
But, Bellamy added, he expects to make gains in attendance and, in turn, overall revenue this year. The Honey Hunters have added some in-stadium gathering spots for adults and kids alike for 2022 and, equally important, Bellamy said that everyone has learned how to better serve fans now after a year of experience.
Single-game tickets started at $7 last year; they cost $8 and up for the 2022 season.
“I would like to see our attendance be a lot higher,” Bellamy said. “I feel strongly that the offerings we’re providing this season are going to increase that.”
Those offerings include changes and additions to the concessions menu, he added. The team’s concessions partner is SodexoMagic, a venture backed by retired NBA player Magic Johnson.
Gastonia’s home opener is April 21. Games will start at 6:15 p.m. this season, up from 6:50 p.m. first pitches last year.
The Atlantic League is an independent minor league, meaning teams are not affiliated with Major League Baseball clubs.
That differs from other teams in the region, who play by classification and as MLB club affiliates. The Charlotte Knights are at the highest level in the minors, Triple A, and are part of the Chicago White Sox player development system. Also with the White Sox are the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers, a team that plays in Low-A, which is where younger and less-mature players typically start.
Bellamy is the only Black majority team owner in all of baseball, minors and major leagues alike.
He has become a much bigger fan of the sport since he bought the team in Gastonia, but the initial attraction for Bellamy was real estate. The taxpayer-funded ballpark was and is considered the centerpiece of the Franklin Urban Sports and Entertainment District, designed to spur public and private investment in and around 16 acres of property owned by the city.
As part of his investment in the area, Bellamy bought land near the stadium for future development. He told CBJ that plans for commercial projects will likely be determined for one or more of the three parcels his company owns after the 2022 season.
City leaders have estimated the ballpark will help attract $75 million to $100 million of adjacent private investment and development. Some projects are already underway.
The stadium hosted 107 non-baseball events in 2021. They included high school sports, a comedy show, and private corporate and social events.
According to a city spokesperson, Mary Elliott, there is not a contractual requirement for a minimum number of events that must be held at the stadium each year. As the operator, the Honey Hunters have ample motivation to bring in more events to generate rental fees, concession sales and other revenue.
“We encourage high usage” of the ballpark, Elliott said.
The Honey Hunters pay the city $35,808 annually to lease the stadium. The city also receives $50,000 per year as a portion of naming-rights revenue from CaroMont Health Inc.