Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 7


During Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Craig Laughlin tried to walk the Capital One Arena concourse in Washington, D.C.


“But I couldn’t get around without stopping for selfie after selfie after selfie,” said Laughlin, a former player who has been an on-air hockey analyst for NBC Sports Washington since 1990, when the regional sports network was known as Home Team Sports.


The actual hockey game was 2,100 miles away at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but 14,000 Washington-area fans showed up to the arena for a watch party and the D.C. RSN made sure to take advantage of the excitement.


NBC Sports Washington had a crew in Las Vegas for pregame and postgame shows, of course. But the RSN also kept several of its well-known on-air personalities in D.C. to follow the game from the fans’ perspective. Like Laughlin, Al Koken, who has been with the RSN since 1984, was spotted on the concourse taking selfies. Studio host Rob Carlin — a relative newcomer to the RSN; he started in 2011 — high-fived fans from the RSN’s set on F Street, outside the arena’s entrance.


NBC Sports Washington has set up shop outside and inside Capital One Arena
Photo: nbc sports washington

The RSN sent its on-air personalities and cameramen into the arena, the surrounding streets and local bars to interact with fans for the channel’s pregame and postgame coverage.


“Having presences in both places and incorporating fans is what differentiates us from what you’ll see elsewhere,” said Damon Phillips, general manager of NBC Sports Washington. Phillips was named to the post in January.


The TV ratings for these shows were not massive, though network officials said they were higher than they typically would have been. But the RSN’s effort to place itself in the middle of the fans’ celebrations is about more than ratings. All season long, NBC Sports’ RSNs have made an effort to incorporate fans into their telecasts — something referred to corporately as catering to “authentic fans,” and this postseason provided an extension of that.


It’s not a novel concept to have an outside desk among fans — ESPN has perfected the idea with “College GameDay.” And this isn’t the first time D.C.’s RSN used a set at the arena. For the past several years, NBC Sports Washington had a presence for playoff runs by the Capitals and Wizards.


But its presence this year is much bigger, with a larger set perched on a stage overlooking the crowd and a more complex production.


The bigger efforts match the added energy that has taken over Chinatown during the Caps’ playoff run. This market has not felt this sort of excitement in decades, maybe longer.


It’s been a long time since a team from D.C. competed for a championship. I remember watching CBS as the Washington Bullets won their only championship in 1978. My high school canceled classes in February 1983 so students could attend the Redskins Super Bowl parade. But I have never witnessed scenes in my hometown like I have over the past two weeks.


Al Koken and Craig Laughlin talk to fans and capture the local vibe.
Photo: nbc sports washington

During the Stanley Cup Final, the Chinatown streets around Capital One Arena have been packed regardless of whether the games are in D.C. or not. The city closed streets and allowed fans to watch on big screens.


The energy outside the arena makes previous playoff runs in this town seem quaint by comparison.


The way D.C.’s RSN has covered the Stanley Cup Final is wildly different from 20 years ago, the last time the Capitals made the Final. In 1998, the RSN, then known as Home Team Sports, did not have any original Caps programming before or after Stanley Cup Final games. The channel held the Orioles’ rights at the time and focused on baseball as soon as its Caps rights lapsed. The RSN virtually ignored the Caps’ run through the playoffs.


This year, NBC Sports Washington does not have the rights to either the Orioles or the Nationals, who came to town in 2005, so it has been able to focus all of its energy on the Caps.


“We didn’t have any pre- and postgame shows; we didn’t have any of this type of stuff,” Laughlin said of 1998. “We’re blowing it out of the park with all of the different levels we’re doing. There’s nothing left untold. There’s no storyline that we don’t try to give to our fans and our people. We want to enjoy the fan experience.”


Caps fever spread to the National Zoo as the team chased its first Stanley Cup title.
Photo: nbc sports washington

NBC Sports Washington had the rights to the Caps’ first-round playoff series against the Blue Jackets, a series Washington won in six games. After Game 5, Phillips saw how much support the team was getting.


“You saw a sea of red in the streets that day,” Phillips said. “That’s when a lightbulb went off in our head. You know what? We have to be here. We have to cover the fans.”


Phillips believes the popularity around the outside set provides a template for next regular season, even when crowds are smaller and not as avid. Last season, NBC Sports Washington produced more pregame and postgame shows from the arena, putting a set on the concourse. Weather permitting, Phillips wants to produce shows from a set on F Street, too.


“I want to do more shows from the arena,” he said. “Studios are great. But you can do studio from anywhere. You want to be able to show viewers what’s going on at the arena. We want to make sure our talent is front-and-center, helping to tell the story. You’ll see us out here a lot more going forward. It’s a great look for television. But the best part is that you’re connecting with fans. That’s what we’re all about.”

John Ourand can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

When he was in high school in the early 1970s, CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus, the son of famed broadcaster Jim McKay, knew he wanted to work in sports TV.


His path to the top of CBS Sports, though, was not always glamorous. During a graduation speech to Millwood School in Connecticut, where his daughter was a senior, McManus painted a picture of how those early years in the business looked.


CBS Sports chairman spoke to graduates.
Photo: cbs sports

As the father of three teenagers, McManus’ speech hit home with me. I shared it with them because his advice is applicable to young people getting started in the work force, regardless of career.


In this excerpt, McManus speaks about his first job in sports TV during the late ’70s. He was a production assistant at ABC Sports, a position he called “the absolute lowest man on the totem pole.”


“A PA is responsible for everything from booking the hotel rooms, picking out the music for the broadcast, coordinating all of the on-screen graphics, setting up interviews with the players and a thousand other tasks.


“The job forced me to be totally organized, creative and to always be anticipating the next pitfall. During the live broadcasts I was yelled at constantly, and as the lowest member on the team took the brunt of the verbal abuse from the volatile producers, directors and all the others. To say that it was a trial by fire is a vast understatement.


“But it taught me to really think on my feet, to react well under pressure and to be always thinking three steps ahead. As an example, when I picked up executives at the airport I would have already checked them into the hotel so they could go right to their room.


“It also taught me to work harder than anyone else, and if that meant sweeping out the studio or getting coffee for the producer, I would do that. From the early days of my career I was always the first person in the office to turn on the lights in the morning and the last one to leave at the end of the day. Although now that I have a family, I leave at a more reasonable hour.”

— John Ourand

Photo: joel david warren

From lollygaggers to those who worship at the church of baseball, millions of fans, players and executives have long considered “Bull Durham” a shorthand for the daily joys and sorrows of life in the minor leagues.

It also boosted the bottom line, both for the real-life Bulls and for many other big-league farm teams, and rekindled a love affair with small-town sports.

“Bull Durham,” released on June 15, 1988, became an improbable hit: an R-rated, occasionally raunchy romantic comedy set in the Class A Carolina League, bereft of any triumphant, championship crescendos. It cemented Kevin Costner’s status as a rising box office star (“The Untouchables” and “No Way Out” arrived in the summer of 1987, just before filming for “Bull Durham” began), jump-started Susan Sarandon to the A-list and rescued a young actor named Tim Robbins from the embarrassment two years earlier of a lead role in George Lucas’ cringe-inducing “Howard the Duck.”

Filmed for $8 million, “Bull Durham” pulled in $50 million at the box office and then went on to become one of the best-selling sports movies on home video. In 2003, Sports Illustrated named it the best sports movie ever. Even now it’s hard to get through a baseball season without stumbling across the film on various cable networks.


“‘Bull Durham’ brought minor league baseball into the country’s consciousness in a way that had probably skipped a generation or two,” said Pat O’Conner, president and CEO of Minor League Baseball, the governing body for 176 teams. “It wasn’t an overnight thing. It was the first ball bearing running down the track and it’s going to trigger subsequent events. There’s no question it was one of the major catalysts.”


The Bulls went from successful hometown team to national phenomenon in a hurry. Souvenir sales jumped to $500,000 the year after the movie came out, compared with $50,000 annually before “Bull Durham,” and have been robust ever since. Although specific figures aren’t available, Durham is the only minor league club to rank among the 25 top-selling teams for each of the 25 years Minor League Baseball has compiled licensed-merchandise sales figures.


Miles Wolff, who brought the Bulls and minor league baseball back to Durham and Durham Athletic Park in 1980 after a decade without a team, took his investment group’s initial $35,000 investment (no, that’s not a typo) in 1979 and converted that into a reported sale price of $4 million 12 years later to Capitol Broadcasting Co. (Capitol still owns the team.)


By 2016 the Bulls were worth an estimated $39 million, according to Forbes, ranking seventh on the magazine’s list of the most valuable minor league teams. Another AAA team, the Sacramento River Cats, topped the list at $49 million. Those estimates seem to be in the ballpark, if not a little low: The Class A Dayton Dragons, No. 3 on the list at $45 million, had been sold for a reported $40 million in 2014.


Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring. Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls — it’s more democratic.
Crash Davis
Played by Kevin Costner

To many in the industry, “Bull Durham” stands as a milestone in the renaissance of minor league baseball itself. At minimum, the movie reminded people of the sublimity of small-scale ballparks, silly mascots, wacky promotions and the intimacy of fans being able to chat with ballplayers hoping to someday reach “The Show” (aka Major League Baseball, for the uninitiated). The sign on the outfield wall reading “Hit Bull Win Steak” was actually a creation of the movie, but it evoked the promotional wizardy that had existed for a century at ballparks across the country and continues to be exemplified by the likes of Mike Veeck, the co-owner of multiple minor league teams who has made events such as Vasectomy Night a staple of minor league life.


“Don’t forget: For a long time, baseball had been down,” said Chuck Greenberg, who owns three minor league teams and is the former CEO of the Texas Rangers. “That coincided with building baseball stadiums that didn’t feel much like baseball parks (in the 1960s and ’70s). And then ‘Bull Durham’ come along. It really was like taking a page out of yesteryear, the traditional look and feel of the ballpark. It just touched a nerve.”


■ ■ ■ ■


Writer-director Ron Shelton’s memorable script and movie may have never advanced to Hollywood’s version of “The Show” if not for Wolff and one of his minority investors, Thom Mount.


Mount grew up in Durham and went on to become the head of Universal Studios. Before purchasing a stake in the Bulls, Mount and another investor, Van Schley, began buying minor league teams in the late ’70s, becoming one of the first groups of increasingly sophisticated and entertainment-friendly investors to put souvenirs and memorable promotions together with improved stadiums and concessions menus.


Mount encouraged Shelton, who spent five years as a minor league infielder in the Orioles’ system, to pursue an idea revolving around heartache and lunacy in the minors. In 1986 he sent Shelton to Durham and other Carolina League outposts to kick the tires on the idea. Shelton chose Durham, as Mount had hoped he would but never mentioned to the director.


Boosting the Bulls' numbers

According to historical website The Baseball Cube, the Durham Bulls drew 217,000 fans in 1987, the year “Bull Durham” was filmed. In 1990 — two years after the movie’s release — Durham became the first Class A team to surpass 300,000 fans in a season, according to records compiled by the team.

At the much larger Durham Bulls Athletic Park, and as a Class AAA club the past 20 years, the Bulls have frequently set and broken season attendance records. That includes playing in front of a then-record 505,000 fans in 2001, 520,000 in 2005, 533,000 in 2014 and establishing the current season-best of 555,000 in 2015.

“The film exceeded everyone’s expectations,” Mount said. “And it did very well, but not just financially. It helped reinvigorate minor league ball everywhere. Suddenly, everybody I knew in Hollywood wanted to buy a minor league team. And so, they did. Peter Guber called me: ‘I want to buy a team.’ Another guy called me: ‘I just bought the team in Palm Springs.’ Suddenly, I was up to my ears in friends and colleagues who owned minor league teams everywhere.”


That would be the same Peter Guber who went on to form Mandalay Sports Entertainment, a company that built a portfolio of minor league clubs that included the Dayton Dragons, a team that rang up more than 1,000 consecutive sellouts before being sold to a trio of investors. Guber is part of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ownership group, co-owner of the Golden State Warriors and executive chairman of MLS club LAFC.


Mount, pulled toward movie production in Europe, got out of what he called his hobby as a minor league owner in the early 1990s. Even so, he still makes an annual pilgrimage to Durham Bulls Athletic Park (which in 1995 replaced the ballpark used for the movie) for a game and considers an afternoon watching the Bulls with a hot dog and Coke in hand the definition of leisure at its finest.


For those smitten by “Bull Durham,” separating the movie from the minors has become all but impossible.


Walt Whitman once said, ‘I see great things in baseball. It’s our game, the American game. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.’ You could look it up.
Annie Savoy
Played by Susan Sarandon

Greg Coleman, president of the Class AA Erie SeaWolves, provides a handy example. In late May, after Erie lost a close game to the Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Coleman made a simple, Shelton-inspired plea on Twitter: “Anyone have a live rooster?” (During the movie’s famous mound-meeting scene, the first baseman says that’s what he’ll need to take a hex off his glove.)


For Coleman, the line wasn’t a one-off. Each summer, when the team’s 12 to 16 interns report for work, he hosts a lunch at the ballpark to go over industry protocol and to ask one important question: Have you ever seen “Bull Durham?”


The real-life Durham Bulls moved to a new ballpark in 1995 and their merchandise remains among the hottest in the minor leagues.
Photo: Durham Bulls

No matter the answer, the front office and the interns reconvene in the team conference room for a film session with Crash, Annie and Nuke, circa 1988.


Why? “We believe this is important for folks that are going to be working in the industry to understand the roots of the game,” Coleman said. “And there’s a pretty clear before and after of how much minor league baseball exploded after the fact.”


Translation: No lollygaggers allowed.



Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

Ron Shelton played in the minor leagues before becoming a screenwriter.
Photo: AP Images

Ron Shelton, the 72-year-old writer and director of “Bull Durham,” has no interest in contemplating the movie’s legacy. He told SportsBusiness Journal he was happy to discuss the movie and its longevity, but made clear his preference to create many more films in the years ahead rather than spend too much time looking back.


Shelton played baseball all the way through AAA Rochester in the Baltimore Orioles’ system in the early 1970s before eventually winding up as a screenwriter and director. That sports background has given Shelton a mostly golden touch with sports movies. He wrote the screenplay for “Cobb,” a warts-and-all portrait of baseball legend Ty Cobb; teamed again with Kevin Costner for “Tin Cup,” a romantic comedy that caravans from a hard-luck golf range in Texas to the U.S. Open; and was the writer and director of the street-hustle basketball buddy flick “White Men Can’t Jump.” Shelton told SBJ that he’s close to reaching a deal to delve back into sports movies, anticipating a project will be announced this summer.


As for “Bull Durham,” Shelton collaborated on a stage version that debuted in Atlanta in 2014. Taking it to Broadway remains very much in Shelton’s sights, too. Here are some of his thoughts on “Bull Durham” and its surprisingly long life.


On the state of the minors when he made the movie: [Bulls owner] Miles Wolff and [co-producer and Bulls co-owner] Thom Mount used to tell me you could buy a minor league team in those days if you paid off last year’s light bill. I remember that metaphor. And I remember one season in Stockton [when I played], I think we drew 10,000 for the year. They stopped having guess-the-crowd nights because you could count the crowd.


On filming in Durham in 1987: The town was boarded up, I’m not joking. There were boards in the windows. There were, like, three restaurants to eat at. We stayed at the Sheraton hotel. We shot in Raleigh, we shot in Durham for the ball stuff and Annie’s house, and we’d go down to Chapel Hill for breakfast on Sunday. The economy was disastrous. The people were great, but nobody paid a whole lot of attention to us.


On whether the film shoot hinted at success: Only when it opened and did good business and the reviews were so amazing. Up until that you’re not sure you’ll ever work again. That’s the way it is every time. You’re just trying to stay on schedule, tell the story you want to tell and not get fired. It’s only magical later when people love it. At the time, it’s your job.


On why he prefers the minors: Major league sports are so unobtainable. A Dodger game costs too much. I can afford it, but I’m offended that I have to spend $700 to go to a game. It’s offensive to me how much major league sports [cost]. Thirty dollars for parking and $14 for a beer, it’s, like, forget it, I don’t need it. If I don’t get free tickets, I’m not going. It’s ridiculous — 10-year, $250 million contracts, I’m glad for those guys, but really? Half of that’s going to [business] managers and taxes. How about lowering the ticket prices?

— Erik Spanberg


With the 30th anniversary of “Bull Durham” this summer, it’s now undeniable: Most of the people playing minor league baseball weren’t even born when Kevin Costner, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins made the Carolina League a subject of national fascination.


For that reason — and because many baseball fans remain obsessed with the fictional Durham Bulls and their cast of characters — below you will find some odds and ends that went into the making of a classic.


The now iconic “Hit Bull Win Steak” sign in the outfield was a prop thought up by writer-director Ron Shelton. Fans and moviegoers loved it, prompting the team to keep the prop at Durham Athletic Park after the movie was finished.


Team spokesman Matt Sutor said the movie prop fell apart pretty quickly and was replaced. The current sign at Durham Bulls Athletic Park is actually the third iteration of “Hit Bull Win Steak.” As of 2014, unfortunately, players no longer win a steak.


“Bull Durham” provided a resurgence for Max Patkin, the tirelessly touring Clown Prince of Baseball. Patkin enjoyed an extended cameo in the movie, including a dance with Sarandon’s Annie Savoy.


Chuck Domino, former general manager of the Reading Phillies, recalled Patkin made 40 to 50 appearances over the years at the Reading, Pa., ballpark. He joked about his interactions with the entertainer.


“He kept saying it was his last show and then he’d come back for $100 more the next year,” Domino said. “I said, ‘If you swear this is your last show, we’ll give you $1,000.’ The next year, he said, ‘I’m thinking about coming out of retirement.’ I said, ‘No, you cannot do it. You promised me this would be the end.’”


Patkin died in 1999 at age 79, having made more than 4,000 appearances in his career.


Butch Davis understands the story of Crash Davis as well as anyone. Now 59, Davis is the hitting coach for the Norfolk Tides, the Class AAA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. Before moving into managing and coaching in the mid-1990s, he spent 14 years playing professional baseball, mostly in the minors.


Butch Davis
Photo: steven goldburg / norfolk tides

In 1987, he returned to his native North Carolina for the offseason. That’s where future big-league manager Grady Little, hired as the movie’s baseball adviser, asked Davis to be an extra in the movie.


“It was a lot of fun,” Davis said while watching the Tides warm up at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte. “Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. You learn that you do a lot of sitting around.”


Davis wound up with a memorable cameo: He strikes out just before Costner’s Crash Davis goes to the plate for an at-bat marred by thoughts of Annie Savoy.


In the movie, the PA announcer says, “Whoa, too bad, Butch. Too bad.”


That line has since followed Davis.


“Guys I played with, they always say, ‘Too bad, Butch,’” Davis said.


Davis received $2,000 for his strikeout, which, he said, required minimal acting. “I said, ‘That’s easy, I’ve been doing it all my life.’”


As for Little, he’s still in baseball as a senior adviser with the Pittsburgh Pirates. At the time he worked on the movie, Little was about to manage the Durham Bulls for the first time. In 2002 he became the manager for the Boston Red Sox, guiding them to the ALCS in 2003 only to gain infamy for leaving Pedro Martinez on the mound in the eighth inning of Game 7 as Boston blew a 5-2 lead to the Yankees. He also managed the Los Angeles Dodgers.


What stands out most for Little about “Bull Durham”? The catering trucks. “It wasn’t peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” he said. “It was prime rib, lobster.”


Costner is a credible athlete, as Little confirmed. Robbins, on the other hand, as pitcher Nuke LaLoosh, was a challenge. Or, as Little put it, “Trying to get that delivery he had to look like he was throwing hard, that was a tough feat right there.”


The Bulls’ home ballpark was repainted by the movie crew, replacing blue with green. The main reason? Green offered a sharper contrast with Sarandon’s red hair.


Grady Little
Photo: Getty Images

“True,” said co-producer Thom Mount, who owned part of the team. “And our ballpark needed paint!”


Miles Wolff, the Bulls’ lead investor, remembered producers promising to restore the stadium once shooting wrapped, but getting cold feet as the movie was finished.


“The studio had no faith in it,” he said. “They hesitated. They didn’t want to spend any more money. We had to fight them to get the ballpark put back the way it was.”


Politics and sports collided when “Bull Durham” celebrated its 15-year anniversary.


Robbins and Sarandon, who became a couple after filming “Bull Durham,” were outspoken critics of the war in Iraq in 2003. Their opposition prompted Dale Petroskey, then the head of the Baseball Hall of Fame, to cancel an event in Cooperstown that would have included an appearance by Robbins.


Petroskey, a former press aide to President Reagan, informed Robbins of his decision in a letter stating that Robbins’ criticism “ultimately could put our troops in even more danger.”


Robbins responded with a letter of his own, telling Petroskey, “I was looking forward to a weekend away from politics and war to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of Bull Durham. I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement.”

— Erik Spanberg

The historic Durham Athletic Park is now home to N.C. Central University baseball.
Photo: AP Images

An easy way to measure the distance between the minors before and after “Bull Durham” can be traced by traveling one mile through downtown Durham, N.C., and visiting the real-life team’s old and new stadiums.


“The movie came out and all of a sudden our ballpark wasn’t big enough,” said former team owner Miles Wolff. “It sat, uncomfortably, 5,000 people. It was an old WPA structure. You could go underneath and pull concrete off with your bare hands.”


A countywide referendum for a new ballpark failed in 1990, but a few years later Durham’s city council approved a new publicly financed stadium. The $18.5 million, 10,000-seat Durham Bulls Athletic Park opened in 1995, located on Blackwell Street.


Less than a 10-minute drive away is the original Durham Athletic Park. A turret in front of the 79-year-old building features the Bulls’ familiar logo. The seats have been replaced since the movie’s filming, but the grandstands instantly summon memories of the numerous game sequences featuring Kevin Costner’s aging catcher trying to impart wisdom to Tim Robbins’ youthful pitcher with the million-dollar arm and the five-cent head.


Now home to the North Carolina Central University baseball team, the old park, known as the DAP, features a slightly more modern scoreboard and a few other tweaks incorporated as part of a $5 million renovation in 2008, but it looks much as it did when writer-director Ron Shelton and his cast shot there in the fall of 1987, just after the Bulls wrapped their season.


The vintage dugouts are too small for NCCU and their opponents; benches along the first- and third-base lines accommodate spillover. You won’t find Nuke LaLoosh’s fungus-covered shower shoes on the premises, though. For the movie, Shelton built stage sets in an abandoned tobacco building to shoot locker-room scenes.


The team’s new ballpark includes many nods to the movie, including a retired number outside that pays homage to Kevin Costner’s character of Crash Davis.
Photo: Erik Spanberg

The DBAP, as locals call it, is far more modern. In 1998, the Bulls moved to Class AAA as a Tampa Bay Rays affiliate, ending an 18-year run as the Atlanta Braves’ Class A team, prompting a $4.5 million stadium expansion. New seats, upgrades to the playing field and stadium lighting, and an enclosed 5,000-square-foot club area followed in 2014. Those renovations cost $22 million, split between the city and the team.


Each anniversary of the movie brings tributes and reunions. Costner’s band played a concert at the new ballpark in 2008 as part of the 20th anniversary. This Friday, Shelton will be at the DBAP for a 30th anniversary celebration when the Bulls play the Gwinnett Stripers, the Braves’ Class AAA affiliate. The Bulls will wear throwback uniforms from 1988 and various movie props will be on display, including the 1959 Volvo driven by Susan Sarandon.


A paver in front of the stadium salutes Costner’s namesake, Crash Davis: “Led The (sic) league in doubles in 1948. Name inspired the movie Bull Durham.” Among the team’s retired numbers outside the DBAP is 8, with only the word “Crash” written above it, an homage to Costner’s character.


The team store includes T-shirts bearing the names and numbers of Davis and LaLoosh. Along the concourse, a sign reads, “Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes it rains.” The nightly mascot race is between characters named — you guessed it — Nuke, Crash and Annie.


Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.