Hence low ticket prices, low concession prices, immaculate restrooms, and plenty to do between innings. In most minor-league parks, a family of four can buy tickets and have hot dogs and soft drinks for less than the price of one admission to a Boston Red Sox game ($40 in 2002). Almost every minor league team charges less for admission than mostmajor league teams do to park, and all key their prices to those at the local cineplex.

The new stadiums have food courts, playgrounds, batting cages, even miniature golf courses. Minor league games often resemble shopping malls, with teenagers running through the stands, fans leaving after three or four innings, and children queuing up for one more thing to eat.

"Our competition isn't other sports in the area, but the movies," says Habel. "We've discovered that the father might suggest going to the game, but it's the mother who makes the final decision. So we want to make it easy for her to answer the question, 'What are we going to do tonight?' "

Which many minor league teams are doing, the Bulls included. In one respect, Durham became the first of the successful new-era franchises by building off its image in the 1988 movie Bull Durham under former owner Miles Wolff. But when Capitol acquired the Bulls in 1991, that success wasn't obvious.

"When we bought the team, it was to keep it in the community," says Habel. "It wasn't until we had owned it for seven seasons that we realized it was a business."

A new lineup
With the promise of cost assistance and record-breaking attendance, is it any wonder that so many companies outside the field have pegged minor league baseball as a good investment?