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Casper Ghosts

Fans sit in a crowded Mike Lansing Field to watch Todd Helton play for the Casper Ghosts against Orem Owls in July 2010 in Casper.

Regularly last or next to it in the Pioneer League’s season attendance totals, the Casper Ghosts sought to fill more seats with a move to Grand Junction, Colo., in October. It left Casper without a baseball team to root for.

“I think at the end of the day, what hurt us in Casper was just a lack of population,” team General Manager Tim Ray said. “When you look, every year it was Casper or Helena that was last in the league in attendance every year.”

A small population generally means fewer ticket sales and less money, which is why Ray said he understood the decision to leave.

“It was done strictly from financial reasons,” he said. “You cannot continue to do business when nobody’s coming to the games.”

Mesa County, where Grand Junction is located, has a population of 146,000 and has hosted the annual National Junior College World Series since 1952, which provides the Ghosts an existing baseball community. In contrast, the population of Natrona County is 75,450, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures.

Year after year, ticket sales in Casper steadily declined, Ray said. The team made money from corporate sponsorships but not from ticket sales.

“From a sponsorship standpoint, the Casper community supported the franchise in Casper extremely well,” Ray said.

Aaron McCreight, CEO of the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the team’s absence won’t affect tourism because people seldom came strictly to see the Ghosts. Fishing, shopping and museum attractions generally topped the baseball team when it came to what brought people to Casper, according to visitor surveys collected every other year.

“Ghosts were on the list, but they just weren’t really high,” McCreight said.

With only one trip to the playoffs out of 11 seasons, McCreight said the team’s success — or lack thereof — was also a factor in their fan base.

“That doesn’t help attendance,” he said. “That doesn’t help community excitement about the team.”

City Manager John Patterson said the team’s departure hasn’t caused any fiscal concern; exit fees of $3,000 to the American Legion and $200,000 to the city have been paid, and a final concession payment is coming, but the city has lost a valuable amenity.

“The marketing, promotion, the cache of having a professional team is something you don’t ever want to give up, and we lost it,” he said.

Having been in Grand Junction, Colo., since the end of October, Ray said the initial community response has been “overwhelming,” although it is still too soon to make a fair comparison to Casper.

“It’s been extremely good,” he said. “We’ve sold over 500 season tickets in less than 30 days, and it’s just been a tremendous response.”

This past season, Ray said about 1,200 fans generally attended the games in Casper.

Patterson said the current goal is to get a team playing on Mike Lansing Field again.

“There’s been talk of another league coming here, and I’ve been in conversation with the owner of another team,” he said. “So that might materialize.”

Although McCreight said he was disappointed when the Ghosts left, he would like to see a new team in town sooner rather than later.

“I’m a baseball guy,” he said. “It broke my heart to see them go, and I want to see another team here.”

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Reach city reporter Kelly Byer at 307-266-0639 or kelly.byer@trib.com.

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