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Pre-game Christian warmupWhile players take batting practice, believers practice faith
By Eileen E. Flynn
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
When a sports marketing firm in Nashville, Tenn., called on Allen Frans to promote an event that merged evangelism and baseball, the Round Rock youth pastor couldn't believe his luck.
"Two of my greatest passions are sports and Christianity," said Frans, a minister at Central Baptist Church.
With concerts and speeches by Christian players such as Warren Morris of the Nashville Sounds, Faith Nights have become more popular at minor-league ball games.
Frans' task: rally Central Texas Christians around faith night, a new promotion at the Dell Diamond, home of the minor-league Round Rock Express baseball team. So far, he's talked to about 100 church leaders.
The first Round Rock Faith Night on June 4 — which also happens to be the Global Day of Prayer — will feature a concert by Christian rock singer Shaun Groves, a testimonial by Express slugger Luke Scott and an as yet undetermined free gift to the first 2,000 ticket buyers. An $8 ticket admits people to the concert and box seats for the game.
Faith nights, developed by Third Coast Sports in Nashville in 2002, have been a hit in minor-league parks throughout the South. From the teams' perspective, the promotion is a good way to boost attendance and concession sales on less popular nights.
Churches see an opportunity to share the gospel and provide fellowship.
And Third Coast Sports has tapped into a growing desire among both athletes and fans to bring faith to the fore.
The company, which is affiliated with Christian music promoter Third Coast Artists Agency, has also signed faith night deals with major-league teams, arena football, minor-league hockey and soccer franchises.
Brent High, president of Third Coast Sports, said the promotions are not "ambush evangelism." All the religious activities happen before or after the game. The Round Rock concert will take place in the parking lot.
But High said he's heard stories of people returning to a church or deepening their faith because they attended a faith night, which reinforces his belief that "you don't have to bring somebody to a church building with a steeple on the top to get someone to talk about Jesus."
The events typically feature Christian concerts, perfor- mances by children's characters from "Veggie Tales" and giveaways such as biblical bobblehead dolls and Bibles with camouflage covers. Organizers market directly to churches and use the proceeds from group ticket sales and local sponsors to cover the cost of the production.
The promotion may seem like a no-brainer in Bible Belt cities, but High said a faith night at an arena football game in — of all places — Las Vegas proved an enormous success. The event drew an extra 2,000 people, High said, which made for the team's highest Sunday attendance.
Faith nights are catching on with larger teams including the Atlanta Braves and the Arizona Diamondbacks. And High said the promotion's appeal has attracted the attention of executives in the NFL and NBA.
From the perspective of a franchise executive, it all comes back to putting people in the stands, the sole reason teams give away souvenir umbrellas or group discounts.
But though the Express has often sold tickets in bulk to local church groups, the organization had never promoted an exclusively Christian event.
"It's out of our mainstream promotion," said Dave Fendrick, Express general manager. "We've never done anything like this before."
Fendrick said Third Coast Sports' success in other markets persuaded the Express to give faith nights a try. And he's confident the promotion won't offend other fans or change the atmosphere. For example, concession stands will still sell beer and wine on faith nights.
"Someone that doesn't want to be exposed to it doesn't have to be exposed to it," he said.
When: 5:30 p.m. June 4 game starts at 7 p.m.
Where: Dell Diamond parking lot, 3400 East Palm Valley Blvd.
Tickets: $8 in advance or $6 to $12 on game day
Information: http://faithnights.com; 1-888-456-0451