One of my favorite issues of the year is when we are able to tell the stories of our class of Champions, which we do this week. As many of you know, the Champions program was established in 2010 to recognize some of the distinguished pioneers in sports business. Frankly, it came after years of realizing (and hearing about) how we honored young executives with our Forty Under 40 awards but virtually ignored the excellence of those more senior and accomplished. This year’s class offers diverse life lessons, great anecdotes, and examples of leadership and excellence. From Judy Sweet chancing into her first opportunities in California to Bill Battle’s fateful car ride with his former coach Bear Bryant that changed his professional career; from Ed Snider’s uncanny business savvy that changed sports in Philadelphia to Humpy Wheeler’s gift of storytelling and risk-taking; and from Don Ohlmeyer’s emotional toll from Munich to Steve Sabol’s inspirational journey of today, these stories are filled with color and feeling. I know we ask a lot of our readers to spend so much time with these extensive stories in one single issue, but you will be glad you did. As always, if you have individuals in mind who would be good choices for future Champions, please let us know.
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I had the chance to tour JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Fla., earlier this month, and was simply blown away by the beauty, functionality and sophistication of the facility. The $78 million facility will change everyone’s viewpoint about the business behind spring training complexes and follows the trend of Salt River Fields at Talking Stick near Scottsdale, Ariz.; the Camelback Ranch complex in Glendale, Ariz.; and the Baltimore Orioles’ renovated Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla. Walking through the fan amenities of Fenway South, from those that mirror Fenway, such as seats on top of the Green Monster and a developing Yawkey Way street marketplace, to the new touches, like seats inside the Monster behind mesh and the outfield berm, you experience all the modern touches of today’s finest parks. But in looking outside the respective 18 games it will host, consider all the cultural and business aspects where the team will benefit, from having its minor league and its pro roster and coaches train together, to the numerous fields and practice areas, and to the surrounding real estate where one can imagine a future layout brimming with commercial development. The challenge is programming a facility for year-round use and making it relevant outside of those 18 games. But if you find yourself in this part of Florida, go see this facility.
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“Eastbound & Down” takes McBride, McConaughey and Ike Barinholtz to Myrtle Beach. Photo by: FRED NORRIS
We recently caught up with Chuck Greenberg, who is chairman and managing partner of the Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Chuck, of course, is the former managing partner and CEO of the Texas Rangers, but he’s been involved in baseball in South Carolina for more than five years. Many die-hard viewers of HBO’s love-it-or-hate-it raunchy baseball comedy, “Eastbound & Down,” will notice that this year’s show revolves around Kenny Powers’ returning from Mexico to play in Myrtle Beach. Knowing Chuck’s love of baseball, and having fun, I asked him to share a few funny stories about how this call came about:
GREENBERG: I was in my hotel room in Dallas watching the next-to-last episode from the second season of “Eastbound & Down,” when I heard Matthew McConaughey [who plays Roy McDaniel] say he was a scout with “Texas” and that he was offering Kenny a shot with the minor league team in Myrtle Beach. I just about fell out of my chair because we had just made the Pelicans a Texas affiliate. Seemed like an unbelievable coincidence. The next day I called my friends at CAA. They were my investment bankers on the Rangers deal and also repped actor Danny McBride [who plays Powers]. I basically begged them to help bring the show to Myrtle Beach. Our GM in Myrtle Beach, Scotty Brown, worked with the Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce and the South Carolina Film Commission and it all came together.
■ Any commercial tie-ins?
GREENBERG: Not directly, although one of the caps the players wear is based on our home cap. We wanted Kenny to play for the Pelicans but HBO had some licensing concerns. The name and marks they devised, the Mermen, are awesome. I wish we would have thought of them. … We just put [Mermen] caps and jerseys on sale and they are selling well. Who wouldn’t want to wear a logo of a brawny, bearded man with a mermaid body?
■And your favorite memories?
GREENBERG: Funniest story to come out of filming at our park. Our finance director, Anne Frost, has a 13-year-old who plays baseball on a travel team. A couple of the coaches got parts as extras on the show. Anne had never watched it before and thought it would be a great idea to have all the 13-year-old boys and their moms and dads over to watch the season debut together and see their coaches on screen. About three minutes in, she realized she had made a terrible, terrible mistake.