SBJ/April 4-10, 2016/Forty Under 40

Forty Under 40: Ken Babby

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AGNES LOPEZ
Ken Babby likes to boast that his Akron RubberDucks and Jacksonville Suns have the cleanest bathrooms in Minor League Baseball. It’s perhaps an odd claim, but it’s one that speaks to Babby’s intense attention to detail.

Babby led the purchase nearly four years ago of the then-Akron Aeros of the Class AA Eastern League and promptly went through an aggressive campaign to rebrand and remarket the team in Northeast Ohio, including a $6.1 million renovation of the team’s home ballpark, Canal Park. The moves generated a 28 percent attendance spike over two seasons.

He followed up those Ohio efforts last year with the purchase of the Suns, another Class AA team, in a deal estimated at nearly $25 million. Both clubs operate under Babby’s Fast Forward Sports Group label.

A former chief revenue officer and general manager of digital for The Washington Post, Babby is widely seen as a rising industry star. In late 2014, he was named chairman of the board for the Baseball Internet Rights Co., MiLB’s joint online venture with MLB Advanced Media, succeeding Mandalay Baseball CEO Art Matin. And the RubberDucks last year under Babby’s leadership won MiLB’s Larry MacPhail Award for the industry’s top promotional efforts.

But for all of Babby’s top-line accomplishments and accolades, it’s the smaller details that often dominate his focus. On game nights, Babby is frequently circling the ballpark, checking in on fans in all types of seating sections and personally inspecting many facets of game operations.

“One of the great and unique things about baseball is that customers get to vote every day on whether they want your product,” Babby said. “You have to earn their trust every single day. Minor League Baseball has such a compelling value proposition given it’s great entertainment at a very affordable cost. But if you miss on any part of the game experience and don’t listen intently enough to your customers, that fan decision can go the other way.”

— Eric Fisher

Ken Babby

Fast Forward Sports Group | Founder
Age: 36
Where born: Washington, D.C.
Education: Wheaton College (B.A., computer science and economics), Johns Hopkins University (MBA)
Family: Child, Josh (7)

Advice I’d give to my younger self: Find a career you are passionate about and chase down a way to get there.
2016 will be a good year if: Our fans leave the ballpark every night with a smile on their faces.
I’d like to change jobs for a day with: A summer

counselor at Camp Echo Lake in Warrensburg, N.Y.
Group supported: Positive Coaching Alliance: helping parents become better coaches and, in turn, better parents.
Most thrilling/adventurous thing I’ve done: Giving up everything to buy a Minor League Baseball team. Terrifying? Absolutely. Have I looked back once? Not for a second.
You'd be surprised to know: I played basketball as a kid for five years, never once making a basket in a game. That taught me early lessons of persistence and hard work. Knowing one’s limitations in life is also key.



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