Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Grand Slam Gratitude

I carved out some Thanksgiving time to reflect on 2015. It was an incredible season as we celebrated the DBAP’s 20th anniversary. I'll slice it up for you: 

#DBAP20 began with beloved manager Charlie Montoyo’s promotion to the Rays and a new skipper, Jared Sandberg, assigned to Durham. These leadership changes are consequential; we’ve had only four managers during the Bulls’ Triple-A era. Despite a record number of call-ups, the team scratched out a winning season, 74-70. We didn’t make the play-offs, but there were memorable performances. Utility player (and unique personality) Taylor Motter was picked for the International League All-Star Team, and LHP Blake Snell was chosen Minor League Player of the Year by both USA Today and Baseball America. 

Our fans came through with multiple milestones:
  • Fifteen total sellouts 
  • July 4th single-game record of 11,871
  • Full-season record paid attendance of 555K 
Bienvenidos Cubanos…and Blue Devils! We hosted the Cuban National Team, Duke University’s 2015 Commencement, the ACC Baseball Tournament & Fan Fest and our first big wedding in the new PNC Triangle Club.

Beer and Bats! Our in-house concessions operation Bull City Hospitality premiered, and we welcomed the East Coast Bats shop and our own brewery Bull Durham Beer Co. to the ballpark. 

Dogs, Dancing and Fantasy! Bark in the Park, Merge Records Night, the Dancing Grounds Crew, Game of Thrones and Star Wars Jersey Nights garnered national media attention.

Close Shave! Staff and players shaved their heads for Vs. Cancer. Our Bully Busters program returned to the schools. Explorer Post 50, our video internship program, was nominated for a regional Emmy.

We didn’t win a title, but nonetheless, it was a championship year for the front office. At the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville on December 7th, General Manager Mike Birling will be recognized as International League Executive of the Year. Bravo! 

The Durham Bulls are blessed…
- to play in this vibrant Triangle community
- in a resurgent Downtown Durham
- with hundreds of thousands of loyal fans
- for a generous, innovative parent company
- with a solid MLB organization, the Tampa Bay Rays
- and a creative, committed staff.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Wool E. Bull is a Locavore

It’s a challenge to embrace the local food movement at a sports stadium. A grocery store can stock more native products. A restaurant can build its menu around the farm-to-table concept. The Bulls, however, have to feed 10,000 people in 2.5 hours on a Friday night - hence the term institutional food service

But I’m not making excuses. We are looking for opportunities to support local producers. Dave Levey, the General Manager of Bull City Hospitality, has focused on this since taking our concessions operation in-house this season. Our chief supplier is gigantic US Foods, but they have been adept at finding local vendors.

Our hamburger comes from Mills Family Farm in Mooresville. Brats and Italian sausages from Firsthand Foods in Durham. For several years, we’ve served Bright Leaf hot dogs from Smithfield. (They are delivered fresh for every home stand, made with New Zealand beef and their fat content beats the USDA standard.)

At the barbecue stand, our cue hails from Hog Heaven in Durham. The hush puppy mix comes from Selma’s Atkinson Milling Co. Cole slaw and potato salad are made in Halifax. 

The hot sauce on your wings is Texas Pete, not from the Lone Star State, but a secret concoction from Winston-Salem. Hot dog chili is made in Greensboro. Our cooking oil comes from Warsaw NC. Back at home, the Bulls’ caramel popcorn is popped at Jimmy’s Gourmet Golden Popcorn in Durham, and the Durham Co-op Market operates a fresh fruit cart on the concourse.

I could add several paragraphs on NC beers in the ballpark and our on-site Bull Durham Beer Co., but I will save that for another post. Suffice it to say, we are bullish on NC agriculture and local vendors. Wool E. Bull is a locavore!

Bright Leaf hot dogs from Carolina Packers in Smithfield.
Touring the plant last month with Nick Bavin and Chip Allen.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Powerade State Games Recap

I’m ringing the bell for the just-concluded Powerade State Games of NC. The Games returned to the Triangle this summer for a two-year run. 

The Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, Durham Coke and Capitol Broadcasting worked with the Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau to include Durham in the event. That work was done back in 2011, but the payoff came during three weeks of competition in June...
  • 22,000+ spectators
  • 11,074 participants
  • 1,023 coaches
  • 654 teams
  • 600+ volunteers
  • 300+ sport officials (umpires, referees, etc.)
  • 28 million media impressions
Durham hosted 8,000 participants and spectators for lacrosse, baseball, basketball and track & field at Duke, NCCU, the Emily K Center and County Stadium. 

Track & Field at Durham County Stadium
    The Powerade State Games is an Olympic-style sports festival comprised of 31 events ranging from youth baseball to BMX, table tennis to Taekwondo, fencing to figure skating. The competition moves around the state every two years. It was held in Charlotte during 2013-14.

My primary interest is in sports tourism - keeping our hotels and restaurants busy - but there's something to be said for the Games' statewide mission of community. The competition draws participants from 91 of NC's 100 counties. And it's aspirational. Young athletes are exposed to our Triangle university campuses and participate in a sports festival promoting Olympic values.

NC Amateur Sports, our neighbor on the American Tobacco Campus, ably organizes the Games each summer. I've been on the board of directors for over 20 years. I can't seem to shake my enthusiasm for their work!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Coach K Compendium

If you follow college hoops you know Coach K as intense, and that's putting it mildly. But we saw another side of him last week on our 99.9 FM Fan Town Hall. He was downright affable!

In the hour-long interview Coach K was joking with the studio audience during commercial breaks, poking fun at hosts Jeff Gravley of WRAL and Joe Ovies of The Fan, and he even remained on the set after the broadcast to talk with the our guests. 

Approachable. Jovial. Modest. Not necessarily what I expected.

It was a most memorable sixty minutes with the NCAA and Olympic champion. The conversation veered from basketball to barbecue, Beyonce, rap and gardening. Check out these multimedia nuggets from 

Coach K didn't vacuum up all of the attention last Thursday. WRAL's Debra Morgan interviewed his wife Mickie about their family life and 46-year marriage. The girls are not awed by him, said Mickie. They adore him but he does not get a lot of respect in our house. With an assist from his family, Coach K scores with humility.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Under the (football) Dome

Wolfpack Nation has a new temple...the just-finished indoor practice facility adjacent to Carter-Finley Stadium. It's massive! And that's in keeping with NCSU's gridiron aspirations. Thank you to Sr. Associate AD Michael Lipitz for the sneak preview today of the $14 million facility. Read more about it. One more time: it's massive!

The Close-King Indoor Practice Facility

120 yards of artificial turf

500 tons of structural steel

Track & Field facilities on the east side

Friday, July 3, 2015

Mis Amigos Cubanos

La bienvenida a mis amigos Cubanos! We're in the middle of the Friendship Series between the USA and Cuban national teams - games in Cary, Durham and Charlotte. This coincides with the announcement that our two countries will reopen their embassies. The friendship thing seems to be working! 

Game results at USA Baseball website.
WRAL TV story on the series.

You can get a jump on Independence Day at the DBAP tonight - with fireworks, of course - as the series unfolds. First pitch at 6:35.

The baseball hierarchy is eyeing improved diplomatic relations as an opportunity to restore (or maybe re-invent) the baseball connection between the US and Cuba.

Our own International League had a team in Cuba during the 1950's. The Havana Sugar Kings were a Cincinnati affiliate when they played for the Governors Cup in 1959. The team exited the island nation after its revolution.

The Havana franchise moved to Jersey City in 1960...later to becoming the Richmond Braves for four decades...and the bloodline currently ends with the Gwinnett Braves in Atlanta's 'burbs. Thanks to IL President Randy Mobley for the history lesson.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

ACC Baseball Recap

I'm watching the College World Series championship game between Virginia and Vanderbilt. GO HOOS! A-C-C! (I really like ESPN's umpire cam and mic.) I will probably be in the recliner for close to four hours; this is the perfect time to blog about the ACC Baseball Championship held last month in Durham. We had a post-event download last week with the ACC office and Triangle Sports Commission.

The ACC polled players and the media about their experience at the DBAP, and I'm pleased to report Durham's scores:

Asked about the field and facility, 90% of the visiting players rated the DBAP very good to excellent. Appearance and the custom ACC decor were deemed very good to excellent by 91% of the respondents.

The media's take on Durham is important to us. The games were on TV from coast to coast and close to 200 reporters, bloggers and technicians were credentialed. Asked to rate the Durham Bulls Athletic Park as a host site, 80% of the media respondents gave us a very good to excellent score.

Other stats of note from six days of championship ACC baseball...
  • According to the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotel occupancy was up 13% during the tournament, lodging revenue rose 25%.
What a fantastic event for Durham. Thank you for bringing this to Durham and putting on such a first class event. 
Shelly Green, CEO, Durham CVB
  • In the American Tobacco Historic District, our restaurants saw a 15-20% bump in biz. One eatery reported a 30% increase. amazing event. We received a lot of exposure from national sports writers and ESPN. 
Brian Amra, Tobacco Road Sports Cafe
  • Total attendance was 64,140 compared to 57K in Greensboro last year and 58K at Durham in 2013.
  • Sunday's final game (FSU beat NC State) drew a record crowd for the championship match-up of 9,759

That's all good, but we aren't resting on our laurels. Durham was awarded the tournament through May 2018 with the expectation that attendance would increase year over year. And we're out to prove Durham should be the permanent home of the ACC Baseball Championships. There's work to do...