Owner touts minors’ community benefits
ELMORE:I think the state of health in Minor League Baseball is just outstanding, just superb. The reason, I believe, is the very nature of the way the game is conducted at the minor league level, and the fact it’s so affordable for fans, for families. Certainly in the smaller cities around the country, but even the larger ones, we attract a group of fans who for the most part probably can’t afford to go to major league games in their cities. I think across our portfolio of teams we were up about 12 to 14 percent in terms of gross revenue and bottom line. It was a very good year, and yet there was nothing out of the ordinary.
■ How did you view Project Brand specifically last year?
ELMORE: They’re doing a good job. It’s too early to tell exactly how successful it will be. But there’s every reason to believe it will be successful because when you think about it from a sponsor’s perspective, when you’re somebody like [Procter & Gamble], you want to be in every community throughout the country. One of the best ways to get your brand out there is through Minor League Baseball. Particularly with the reach we have into the smaller cities, this is a chance to get a brand out there.
■ Your portfolio is rather unique in that you have nearly every classification of play covered. Was that by design?
ELMORE: We do have a lot of levels covered. I had the [Class AA Birmingham] Barons for 10 or 12 years, and I did sell that. But we now have [AAA], we have [AA], high A and then rookie. We don’t have low A. And if I find the right opportunity, I would welcome the opportunity to expand.
But this all sort of goes back to when I bought my first team, in Hawaii, in 1981. Honolulu soon after was chosen for the winter meetings. So I ended up hosting them. And because we were hosting the winter meetings and they had never been there, I had a chance to really meet a lot of people from the various leagues and tell them that, yes, I would like to be involved at the different levels. So, yes, it was intentional. And to be in different parts of the country at different levels, it’s been very beneficial.
■ We’ve seen over the past decade a big escalation in facility development in the minors, larger and more elaborate ballparks. Is there an arms race in your mind, or a concern this could go too far?
ELMORE: I don’t think so. This was really needed. Both Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball, really in the early and mid-90s, came to the realization they needed to upgrade their facilities. So this was desperately needed. And back in the ’90s, you had more of a situation where cities would step up and help. One stadium, in Colorado Springs, I built myself, but that’s generally not the model. But I think that everyone realized that in order to have a good event and to have good development of these young players, you needed good facilities. Certainly in a situation like this where you’re responsible for these young players that belong to the major league teams.
■ What do you see now as the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity in the game?
ELMORE: I think maintaining the stadiums at the level they are now is going to be a challenge. Certain states more than others. California, for instance. They just haven’t had the funds to develop any new facilities. So that’s one continuing challenge. We have great labor relations with Major League Baseball. Pat O’Conner, our current [MiLB] president, has worked really hard on that, as have those before him. We need to keep working to grow that. And the opportunities, I think, are unlimited. We can draw more people in every one of our stadiums, virtually every year. There are going to be bad years, I know, years where you have bad weather. But if you’re resourceful, and if you’re working in your community and are giving back, you keep getting chances for people to come out and have fun.
It’s just such a unique sport. Some people say it’s slow, but you get a chance to talk to your kids. And the number of people who have come up to me over the years and said thank you, and tell me stories about things like how somebody and their dad got reacquainted through our team. It’s a lot of history, family history, that can go through this. And I never hear that in hockey or other sports.