Category Archives: Southern Association

1957 Nashville Vols Season Ticket Campaign

1957 Nashville Vols

Baseball in Nashville was in trouble in 1957, and the Vols franchise in the Southern Association was sinking fast. Sulphur Dell survived a facelift the previous season with new paint in the grandstand to give the ballpark a more appealing look. A less pronounced right field replaced the drastic hill by smoothing the carved-out “porch.”

But the vultures were circling.

Leading the alarm was one who had a birds-eye view of the situation, Nashville Tennessean sportswriter Raymond Johnson. In his February 8, 1957, One Man’s Opinion column, he added to the conversations having taken place the previous day at a breakfast at the Noel Hotel. It included over 60 civic leaders gathering to discuss the future of local professional baseball.

“Let’s face it!” Johnson began with emphasis. “Baseball is dying on the vine in our city, and unless the proposed program outlined by the Chamber of Commerce yesterday succeeds, 1957 will be Nashville’s last in the Southern League.”[1]

Johnson warned the public that even though the Chamber of Commerce and Junior C. of C. took on the project to aid the Vols, more work was needed. That work included a renewed emphasis on selling tickets.

Johnson addressed those who would pooh-pooh his cautionary bent: “Some will snicker at that statement…Others will laugh out loud…They are the ones who don’t think it can happen…Other cities have lost their ball clubs because of similar attitudes.”[2]

Attending the meeting was one of the most well-respected, wise, and savvy general managers in baseball, Gabe Paul, a friend of Vols owner Ted Murray, and the man who called the shots in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He sized up the situation with his own opinion in admonishing the effort in previous years.

“The only thing wrong in Nashville baseball is that there hasn’t been a concerted enough organization to sell attendance at baseball games to the public,” he told the crowd.[3]

He assures the skeptics that Nashville was big enough to host baseball.

“… you’ve got the population,” he said. “…the situation in Nashville is that you have undersold your product…interest in the Nashville club is as great as it ever was.”

Paul acknowledged public support was vital, that taking in more money than is being taken out is the goal, and gave encouragement to sell season tickets and advance books of single admission tickets with prices “at a level that will provide the necessary income if the selling job is done,” he said.

“You’ve got to do something,” he challenged. “You’ve got to roll up your sleeves. You’ve got to give more than lip service. You’ve got to sell some tickets.”

Johnson emphasized an additional detail from Paul that was another key to success.

“The box seat sale is the backbone of any ball club,” Gabe Paul claims. “More than 80 percent of our box seats are sold to businesses on a seasonal basis. And do you know the banks are our biggest customers(?). They find the tickets are a wonderful public relations medium. Many other businesses use their season box seats for the same purpose.”

Johnson closed his column by stressing the possibility of Nashville losing professional baseball.

“The city is faced with losing something it has had for more than 55 years…The loss of baseball isn’t a pleasant thought, but it could happen after this season… It’s up to all of us if we keep it.”

Ticket sales for the 1957 season would begin the first week in March, and it was determined to add prizes and other incentives to those campaigning for sales.

Vols general manager Bill McCarthy announced that tickets for box seats would sell for $90, books of five general admission tickets would be $4.50, and 25-ticket books would go for $22.50 before April 11. Single-game tickets would cost $1.25.[4]

Discussion between McCarthy and Paul must have continued after the civic meeting, as incentives were finalized and reported in the February 9 edition of the Nashville Tennessean.

McCarthy announced a trip to the World Series, three big weekends in Cincinnati for two days of baseball each time, and three Southern League season passes as prizes during the extensive Nashville Vol ticket-selling campaign. The World Series trip was for two people and would be for Games 3, 4, and 5 of October’s postseason finals.[5]

“We decided to give the trip to the third, fourth, and fifth games,” McCarthy explained, “because they will be played in the park of the National League team.

Reds home game packages were to be awarded to the second, third, and fourth highest number of tickets sold, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh high in the drive were to receive one Southern League pass.[6]

That prize was to go to the person who sold the most tickets on March 5, 6, and 7, the scheduled dates of the campaign sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. Harold Templeton, president of the organization, pledged support.

“…this is the beginning of an honest-to-goodness campaign to put baseball on a firm footing in Nashville and Middle Tennessee.”[7]

On March 27, an article in the Nashville Tennessean stated season ticket sales had reached 20,000.

“With 16 days remaining, advance ticket sales for Nashville Vols games will almost surely surpass last year’s sale.”

Vols business manager, Whitey Larkins, confirmed the previous year’s total was 27,500.[8]

The grand prize winner turned out to be none other than the Tennessee Secretary of State, Joe C. Carr. He was awarded a trip for two to the World Series*. Second, third, and fourth prize winners were Vern Church, Aladdin Industries; John Witherspoon, Third National Bank; and Thomas L. Herbert, Jersey Farms.[9]

No announcement was made regarding the winners of the three Southern Association passes.

First-year manager Dick Sisler had his ball club in the thick of the pennant race throughout the 1957 season. His team finished in third place, only three games behind pennant-winning Atlanta and 2 ½ games behind second-place Memphis.

As successful as the Vols were during the Southern Association season, finishing with an 83-69 record, Nashville saw an increase in gate attendance with 152,203 fans. That beat the previous year’s turnstiles total of 115,049 for a 32% increase. The 1957 total was good enough for second among all teams in the league:[10]

ClubTotal Attendance
Atlanta Crackers256,876
Nashville Vols152,203
Birmingham Barons133,913
Chattanooga Lookouts130,417
Memphis Chicks125,085
Little Rock Travelers75,181
Mobile Bears71,522
New Orleans Pelicans67,287

Only three cities showed an improvement over 1956 attendance figures: Chattanooga (31,326), Little Rock (3,977), and Nashville (37,154).

Nashville appears to have survived another season owing to increased emphasis on season ticket sales. But the fear of losing professional baseball would rear its ugly head in 1958, as attendance would fall to 92,199, or nearly 40%.

The handwriting was on the wall.

*Games 3, 4, and 5 of the 1957 World Series were played in Milwaukee. The series was won by the Braves over the New York Yankees four games to two.


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© 2024 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

[1] Raymond Johnson, “One Man’s Opinion” column, Nashville Tennessean, February 8, 1957: 41.

[2] Johnson.

[3] Tom Flake, “Nashville Civic Sluggers Pace Hard-Hitting Attack to Aid Vols,” Nashville Banner, February 8, 1957: 2.

[4] Flake.

[5] F. M. Williams, “Ticket Drive For Vols Set,” Nashville Tennessean, February 9, 1957: 42.

[6] “Trip to Series for No. 1 Seller,” Nashville Tennessean, February 9, 1957: 10.

[7] Flake.

[8] “Advance Sale for Vol Games Over 20,000,” Nashville Tennessean, March 27, 1957: 16.

[9] “Joe Carr Winner of Vol Ticket Contest,” Nashville Banner, August 9, 1957: 25.

[10] “Complete Figures on Southern Attendance,” Nashville Banner, September 18, 1957, 28.

© 2023 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.

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