Episode 108 — Jesse Cole — Change the Game, Break the Rules, and Create an Unforgettable Experience
You’ve heard of the New York Yankees; you’ve heard of the Boston Red Sox; but have you ever heard of the Savannah Bananas?
The Savannah Bananas is an unconventional, one-of-a-kind baseball team that came straight from the mind of Jesse Cole, founder of Fans First Entertainment and owner of the Savannah Bananas. Though the odds were stacked against him, Jesse has built an empire that has sold out every single game since their first season and has a waiting list in the thousands for tickets.
This is not your average team — and this is not your average leader.
In this episode of The Game Changing Attorney Podcast, Jesse and Michael sit down to discuss:
- The importance of standing out in your market
- Why creating a niche is so important for your brand
- Building something out of nothing by focusing on your fans first
The OG entertainer. “What P.T. Barnum did back in the 1800s was legendary. He was the best marketer, promoter, writer, speaker, and actor around. There’s a reason he was best friends with presidents and met the queen. He knew how to bring together a cast of characters and entertain anyone at any time. I put him up there with Walt Disney in his ability to do so. Sometimes he gets a bad reputation because people will take quotes and think he said them when in reality it was rival competitors. He never said, ‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ even though many people think he did. It was his rival who pinned it on him.”
Stand out to show out. “If you really want to stand out, you’ve got to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing. In the beginning, I treated the team as a regular baseball team, and it just wasn’t working. Today, the Savannah Bananas are completely focused on the ‘fans first’ mentality: we have a dance team, an all-male cheerleading team, breakdancing coaches, baby bananas, players in stilts, and so much more — and every single bit of it stems from the idea of putting our fans’ needs first.”
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. “I used to have a love for baseball, but now I have a love for baseball for what it could be. I don’t love the current game of baseball, but growing up and living with my dad, our one bond was going to the baseball field every day after school to work. He built a mound in my backyard so I could pitch. I fell more in love with it each day, until I realized that watching the game wasn’t nearly as rewarding as playing it. That’s how 15 years of experimentation developed to see what would make the game more fun to watch.”
Focusing on what matters. “After buying Grayson Stadium, my wife Emily and I were consumed by work. It was the only thing we could focus on. We had so much debt that we needed to take care of, we needed to ensure that payroll would be successful, and so much more. It was full of challenges. Emily is a realist, and she would constantly tell me we weren’t going to be able to continue doing all of this. Having those conversations was difficult, but the biggest thing we learned was to stay in the lane of what we love and what gives us energy.”
Going bananas. “The team’s name ‘The Savannah Bananas’ came from not wanting to be like every other team. We didn’t want an animal-themed name; we wanted to stand out. We held a contest open to the public to help decide on the name. It wasn’t until a 62-year-old nurse submitted ‘Bananas’ as a team name idea, and from that moment on we were throwing out ideas and rhyming words and having a blast. We knew we would get criticism for it, which is why we prepared for two whole days on how to deal with it — and we needed it. When we revealed our team name, we got nothing but criticism for days.”
Live life OTT. “OTT is how we plan our scripts, or ‘over the top.’ This has translated really well to TikTok. For instance, we’ll look at what some of the trends are, try them out, film them, and post them to the app. One of our OTT moments that we filmed got over 15 million views and likes, and that’s when we decided to leverage TikTok more often and make it work for our brand. We currently have 2.4 million followers and it’s just an amazing thing to watch.”
Three strikes, you’re out. “Traditional baseball fans hate what we’re doing — and that’s okay. We make sure to open up the game by announcing to the crowd that this isn’t the game that their grandfathers enjoyed, so we’re intentional on that. I’m not trying to take anything away from the game of baseball because I truly think it’s a great game. We’re just not focused on the traditional baseball fans; we’re focused on the fans who want to have fun. When you open up that audience, it becomes much larger. I think all businesses should ask themselves, ‘Who are we not for?’ Once you know that answer, you can figure out who your business is really for.”
Embrace criticism. “Criticism hurts, but I believe if you’re not getting criticized, you’re playing it too safe. If you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, people aren’t going to talk about you. You’ve got to think big — outrageous even. The day we stop getting criticized is the day we need to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to push the envelope.”
Team first mentality. “When you have a big vision of what you want to do, it’s so important to make sure that everyone involved is excited, fired up, and ready to bring it to life. I feel that every day, but I know that the more we grow, the more challenges there are in store for us. We started off with four people in the office, and now we have 25 full time and 200 part time employees. And while we put our fans first, we also put our team members first.”
What does being a game changer mean to you? “To be a game changer, it starts with questioning the game and your industry. The only way you can make an impact is to start. Start doing. Start testing. Just start. Anyone has the opportunity to be a game changer.”
RESOURCES & REFERENCES
The Savannah Bananas
Find Your Yellow Tux: How to Be Successful by Standing Out by Jesse Cole
Fans First: Change the Game, Break the Rules & Create an Unforgettable Experience by Jesse Cole
Boston Red Sox
The Harlem Globetrotters