LANCASTER – Mark Heyne remembers the days when going to JetHawks games was the thing to do in the Antelope Valley. Heyne, a local resident who works as an insurance broker, got season tickets during the franchise’s inaugural year in 1996 and held them for four years. Heyne said it was as much about the entertainment the team provided between innings as it was about the baseball. He recalls nostalgically the days when he’d bring his wife Colleen, his son John and daughter Marisa to games on a regular basis. “It was new and exciting, and people were interested,” he said. Heyne began to lose interest in the team as the years progressed, and did not renew his season-ticket package in advance of the 2000 season. He hasn’t been to a game in years. In the early days, he had four season tickets that he would frequently give away to friends or clients when his family couldn’t make it to the ballpark. “It went from everybody wanting them, to having a hard time giving them way,” he said. “It just seemed as if interest died down.” It is people such as Heyne that the JetHawks are aiming a new marketing campaign they’re calling: “Relaunch Your Inner JetHawk.” The JetHawks are under new ownership _ an Ohio-based family ownership group led by corporate lawyer Peter Carfagna, which bought the team during the offseason from Clutch Play Inc. The Carfagnas also own the Lake County (Eastlake, Ohio) Captains and the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. The new owners are pulling out all the stops to rekindle interest in a community that a decade ago came to the stadium in big numbers in what Heyne said was essentially a celebration of an up-and-coming community. “We’re trying to talk to the folks that remember nine or 10 years ago when this was the place to be,” JetHawks general manager Brad Seymour said. “We feel like we’re bringing that back for the first time in a long time. We want people to remember those feelings when they come back to the ballpark.” The franchise has seen a precipitous decline in attendance. Average JetHawks attendance fell 61 percent from its 1996 inaugural season, when the team’s average attendance was 4,520 a game, to a 1,765 average in 2005. Now the team, which sits in the epicenter in one of the nation’s fastest growing regions, is targeting newcomers with a direct mail marketing campaign that is part of a major increase in the JetHawks marketing budget. They have started a reading program – rewarding elementary school students with free tickets for reading books – and are also establishing fund-raising efforts at local schools to help gain visibility. In addition to more aggressive marketing strategy, the new ownership group has partnered with Clear Channel – which early last year purchased the stadium’s naming rights – on a high-definition video board that team officials say will vastly improve the fan experience. The JetHawks will also get help from development of three hotels and two restaurants in adjacent parcels, city manager Bob LaSala said. Additional future development in what is designated an enterprise zone – meaning job-creating businesses receive tax credits – also is in the works, LaSala said. Former Dodgers star Brett Butler, who will manage the JetHawks, will appear in television ads during Dodgers games. “He is a quality individual and I think he’s going to help boost attendance,” said Darth Eliopulos, a Lancaster businessman who owns a share of a luxury box at the Hangar. “Everybody here knows his reputation as an exciting player and I think he’s going to create that excitement as a manager,” Eliopulos said. Blame for the attendance decline has been placed by some on the previous ownership group, led by team president Mike Ellis and his family, for being unimaginative and for not being attentive to the Lancaster market, instead turning their attention to a team the Ellises runs in Missoula, Mont. Seymour cites front-office turnover – the JetHawks had four general managers in a two-year stretch at one point – and the difficulty of tapping into a market heavily made up of people who commute hours to and from work. He bristles at the notion that the team owners didn’t give the Lancaster market their best effort. “I think people need to remember that the Ellis family brought baseball to the Antelope Valley,” Seymour said. “They are the reason we are here.” Seymour said the some of the efforts the Carfagnas have made – including increasing the JetHawks front-office staff from eight to 11 – are already paying off. He said season ticket sales are up about five percent. He believes averaging more than 2,000 fans this season is a realistic goal. [email protected] (818) 713-3607 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!