Thursday, July 13, 2017

A Most Faithful Fan

You think you've seen a lot of baseball, that you are committed to your job, but then you encounter fans like Bobbie and Marvin Wheeler. You stand humbly in their shadow. 

As the Wheelers neared retirement they embraced the Bulls with gusto. Nearly 35 years ago. 2500 games later. Super fans! In their seats on the cross aisle behind home plate, they have been fixtures at the DBAP. Quiet celebrities. 

And we are mourning the passing of Marvin. He died Sunday. Almost made it to his 89th birthday. His funeral was Wednesday. 

Marvin was a serious gardener, and we sang "This is My Father's World" at the service. (The hymn dates back to the late 1800s, written by a minister who pitched for Syracuse University's baseball club.) Our staff contingent included seating bowls hosts, ticket reps and the stadium operations director. Wool E. Bull attended (in civilian disguise.) The ballpark family grieves. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bobbie. 

Here's a great profile on the Wheelers from 2013, part of the Bull City Summer project. A year later their photo was on display in the NC Museum of Art for the BCS exhibition. Most worthy! 

If you are a regular here you may recall their companion, Frankie Parrott. He was the blind man, at every game as well, until his passing in 2014. The Wheelers often brought him to the ballpark. Frankie sat with them and listened to the game on his radio. He was more animated than Marvin and Bobbie, and we treasured his occasional shout "Hey ump, are you blind!?!" 

A unique aspect of the sports business is this cadre of special patrons - their great longevity, loyalty and personality. Again, something to treasure.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Ken the Explorer

The Durham Bulls and Fox50 sponsor an Explorer Post, a Scouting program for teens who learn video production skills. Remarkably, they produce our TV broadcasts for MeTV (50.2 OTA and channels 196/1250 on Time Warner/Spectrum), MiLB TV and our in-park television. I contend that the kids get more experience during high school than they would receive in a college communications program!

There's another aspect of our program that is "remarkable" - the adult volunteer who coordinates Post50. Ken Bland, a career SAS employee, is the founder and sustainer of our Post. He was recognized by Scouting this past Saturday with the Spurgeon Award, the highest recognition for contributions to Exploring. The President of the Southern Region Board of the Boy Scouts of America, Tom Yarboro, joined us for the presentation along with John Akerman, CEO of the Occoneechee Council.

Ken is the Cal Ripken - the Ironman - of Post50. He's at the ballpark game in/game out, as a great role model and encourager to the 75 teens in our program. He "serves without condition or restraint," an apt description I borrowed from a Bible study on servant leadership. Here's more from our 6/24 on-field ceremony:

Please direct your attention to the field for a special presentation recognizing one of our own, Ken Bland, who is receiving the William H. Spurgeon III Award given by the Boy Scouts of America. The Spurgeon Award is presented to honor an outstanding volunteer leader with the Exploring program who exemplifies the values found in the Scout Oath. Ken was selected for his tremendous impact through Explorer Post 5 chartered to WRAL and Explorer Post 50 chartered to the Durham Bulls. Explorer Post 50 and Explorer Post 5 are youth-based television broadcasting programs that provide students ages 14-20 with the opportunity to gain experience in television broadcasting. Under Ken’s leadership, WRAL’s Post 5 and the Durham Bulls' Post 50 have provided thousands of hands-on, real-world experiences for area high school and college students, which offers them a glimpse into the opportunities and challenges that exist in the field of broadcasting. Ken has been instrumental in leading the Durham Bulls' Explorer Post 50 program, while serving as an advisor and mentor to WRAL’s Explorer Post 5 program participants for 30+ years. Through his many years of dedicated service, Ken has mentored young students each summer at Durham Bulls Athletic Park, giving Minor League Baseball's most iconic franchise one of the best television broadcasts in the industry. Please join the Durham Bulls in congratulating Ken for this well-deserved recognition. Ken, thank you for your continued support and leadership to both the Explorer Post 5 and Explorer Post 50 programs.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Winkie the Force

A Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed upon Winkie La Force last Thursday at the second annual Power of Sharing Gala. 

Winkie retired at the end of 2016 as President of Leadership Triangle. That was a fourteen year run. Before that, she was a female pioneer in the sports world. She worked for the '87 Olympic Festival here, then ran the State Games of NC, worked for the '96 Atlanta Olympics, followed by the '99 Special Olympics World Summer Games in RDU, and she helmed the Triangle's bid for the Pan Am Games in the late '90s.

The bid fizzled, but it was a meaningful lesson in Triangle-wide community engagement and regionalism. Winkie did an exemplary job of bringing everyone to the table. Biz-nonprofit-gov't leaders, the universities...everyone from medical to transit to law enforcement. Inclusive. Diverse. I remember how she enrolled the Latino community, a very progressive thing to do twenty years ago. 

I tend to think of regionalism in terms of municipal entities and political boundaries. Winkie's great strength: she sees PEOPLE...and she inspires them to work across those boundaries for the community's betterment. She's a collaborator, a convener, and yes, a task master (or task mistress.) True to her name she has been a force!
~  ~  ~  ~

A word on the Power of Sharing. What a great event! First class! Inspiring! And the credit goes to a corporate leader, Coastal Credit Union and its foundation. They organized this gala to celebrate the work of numerous non-profits, collaboration and corporate support totaling $400K.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Springtime Thanksgiving

Today is the National Day of Prayer, and that presents an opportunity to publish our Opening Day Invocation. Sam Miglarese offered the first pitch prayer this year. Sam is a Presbyterian minister and Director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership. He's tasked with doing good in the neighborhoods surrounding the University's campus with Duke resources, expertise...and students.

With thirteen home games under our belt, I have an attitude of gratitude. The 2017 season is off to a great start, the best in the ball club's history! 

Attendance records have been broken, and the Bulls sit atop the International League standings (.720, the best % in ALL of baseball!) The cherry on top: the Atlantic Coast Conference announced that the ACC Baseball Championships will return to the DBAP for 2018 and 2019.

There's more to come! If the first two home stands were monumental, the next one will be spectacular. We resume on Monday, May 8th playing thru Mothers Day: Teacher Appreciation Week, Nurses Night, Education Day, Food trucks and craft beer, fireworks, Star Wars Night and a Mother's Day twist: Moms Run the Bases. Click here for the particulars.

We've been blessed with unusually favorable weather, enthusiastic fans and a talent-loaded team. Our front office and stadium staff are committed to entertaining (and feeding) your family. Join us at the ball yard in downtown Durham!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

HB2 in the Rearview Mirror

Beset by deadlock, then deadline, our legislative leaders and Governor finally arrived at a compromise solution for the HB2 controversy last Thursday. I'm grateful for that, and hopefully, the Bulls will be hosting the ACC Baseball Championship in May 2018. 

I'm keenly aware that the compromise is imperfect, that LGBTQ North Carolinians still need and deserve protection against discrimination. Maybe the courts will move that forward more quickly than the General Assembly. 

Meanwhile, the new law (HB142) represents progress. We have ended the bathroom/birth certificate nonsense, a terrible precedent and outright insult. And we have rolled back the horrible legislative inference that transgender people are sexual predators. That must count for something, something significant. 

NC's economic engine was stalled by HB2. Now, we can get on with repairing our reputation through business development work and sports tourism promotion at the Durham Chamber of Commerce and Durham's Sports Commission. 

We will continue to advocate for equal protection under the law for everyone in our community. We will promote and celebrate diversity in the Bull City. It's a workforce asset; it's a civic virtue.

And everyone is welcome at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

HB2 - Time's a wastin'

I wish there was breaking news from Jones Street about an HB2 compromise...and repeal. We are running out of time. 

The NCAA, maybe the ACC, could soon extend the boycott of NC as a host for championship events. This time the ban will last for more than a year. 

Various NCAA committees are meeting (now!) and in April they will report out their championship city recommendations for each sport for the next six years. If the LGBT discrimination issue isn't resolved by our lawmakers, the NC ban will continue into the next decade. 

Durham still has a contract for the 2018 ACC Baseball Championship, but it's teetering. 

Background: Durham made a four year commitment to host the ACC Baseball Championship - hoping to become its permanent home. We hosted in 2015 and 2016. Then, the 2017 event was pulled because of HB2, at the behest of the ACC university presidents. It will be played in Louisville this spring.

Impact: In May, our hotels won't post that 25% spike in revenue from 3000 room nights, and our downtown restaurants will miss the 15% increase in business. At the ballpark, 200 seasonal employees will lose a full week's worth of work. And we forfeit the exposure of the national cable broadcast, 200 visiting sports media representatives, and most important, the economic activity generated by 60-70 thousand fans converging on downtown Durham and the DBAP. 

Adding insult to injury: If the Legislature doesn't find a compromise in the next few weeks, the ACC could relocate the 2018 tournament, I've heard that several FL cities would be glad to host it. And the damage to Durham will be doubled. 

These facts far outweigh the emotion that got us into this misguided mess. The North Carolina brand is tarnished, the travel and tourism sector is taking a hit, and so are parking attendants, cooks and housekeepers. 

Durham is a community that celebrates diversity. The Durham Bulls Athletic Park, bastion of family entertainment and our National Pastime, doesn't even fall under the purview of the bathroom bill. How did the Bull City become a victim of this political tug of war?!? Memo to Jones Street: It's time to put this behind us. Fix it, please!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

As Seen on TV

I am proud to report that Bulls patrons are the demographic gold standard among Triangle consumers. A typical fan family is 35-54, 1-2 kids at home, $100K earners, with college + post grad degree. (Scarborough)

We aggregate their eyeballs for our sponsors within the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, paid attendance averaging 545,000 over the past three seasons. That's competitive with other sports teams in the region: Panthers/590K, Hurricanes/500K, UNC/595K (football + men's hoops)

Because we are in the business of family entertainment, our crowd is almost 50-50 male/female. Precisely, it's 53% male, 47% female.

Those gender stats have generated a couple of marketing epiphanies:
...that our marketing is best aimed at "Mom." She may not be the baseball fan in the family, but she casts the deciding vote on family activities. 
...families are maddeningly busy!!!

And that brings me to our current television campaign, promoting mini-plans. Our Family Plan is nine games (about two per month) on dollar hot dog night, with give-away items included, for $76.50 per seat. This is a meaningful way to prioritize and schedule quality time for your family.

Join us at the DBAP! a ballgame ...visit the playground ...catch a foul ball ...get an autograph at the dugout ...get a hug from Wool E. Bull a hot dog ...and some nachos and a funnel cake and some frozen custard. Indulge your family. Make family memories. With a FAMILY PLAN. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Sports Station Propagation

We have launched yet another sports channel, 95.7 FM, The Ticket

It's the home of Dan Patrick, Jim Rome, Appalachian State University sports and NASCAR. If you live in Raleigh, add this to your car radio pre-sets. 

Read more on the Capitol Broadcasting Co. website.

95.7 FM is the sister station to WCLY, 1550 AM. Located south of downtown Raleigh, WCLY has been accident prone. Its tower was felled by a tornado in 2011 and replaced once again in 2016 after a construction mishap. 

We gave the station a makeover with The Ticket rebranding and added FM coverage in metro Raleigh.

Installing the 95.7 antenna on Capitol's Western Blvd. tower.
Photo from the TV5 drone.

While it can be confusing, The Ticket's programming is now available to your ears on AM, FM and the Internet.

AM... 1550
FM...  95.7
FM HD... 99.3 HD3
Online at & the WSF app

Monday, January 23, 2017

Watching the Radio

Do not attempt this in you car, but you have my permission to try it at work - watching the radio. We are streaming video of our local sports radio talk shows - live from the Highwoods studio - to your phone and television.

On the wralSPORTSfan app, locate the "live" button in the upper right-hand corner. In the morning, you'll find The Sports Shop from Buzz Sports Radio, and in the afternoon it's Adam and Joe from 99.9 The Fan.

Tap the LIVE button for a video feed
from our radio studio.

I'm hard at work "watching the radio" on my phone
as Adam Gold interviews Coach Steve Logan.

On your TV, WRAL has an app for Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire. Our sports programs have been added to that service. Thanks to Santa Claus, this is what it looks like on my new Apple TV...

On the WRAL app, click on "live" for the radio shows. Joe "HD" Ovies will fill your screen...and fill your ear!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

!!! Happy New Year !!!

I've been in holiday hibernation mode - too much snacking and napping - but it's back-to-work now at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Opening Day is a mere 95 days away. (Monday, April 10th, vs. Charlotte Knights) 

Wintertime baseball begins on February 24th when Duke has it's first home series with Army on Goodmon Field. So, baseball is really just 50 days away!

Still, looking back on 2016 is a worthwhile distraction. Our Communications Director Matt Sutor compiled a Top 10 list. Stroll down Memory Lane w/Matt...

Of course, I have my own list...gotta have the last word...

2016 community projects: 
  • The work of Durham's Local Organizing Committee for the ACC Baseball Championship in May led by Casey Steinbacher and Bill Kalkhof.
  • Our sponsorship of the Jackie Robinson documentary by Ken Burns on WUNC-TV.
  • A partnership with The Museum of Durham History on its vintage baseball card exhibit.
  • Formation of the Durham Sports Commission.

 Always tweaking the ballpark:
  • We completed a new clubhouse for Duke's baseball team.
  • Expanded our protective netting.
  • Built the Delta Playground 42 game area on Jackie's Landing.

 Beyond the ball yard:
  • WRAL TV5 covered the Rays' historic MLB game in Cuba and the July 3rd Ft. Bragg game between the Braves and Marlins.
  • Here in the front office, we assisted with Fayetteville's work to land a Minor League team.

 Personal favorites:
  • We were so proud of Bulls broadcaster Patrick Kinas, tapped to work the Rio Olympics.
  • Durham police officers dancing on our diamond.
  • The giant Angus Barn steak sandwich and new summertime ice cream floats.

 A final reflection: 

Twenty seasons ago, the Bulls jumped from Class A Advanced in the Carolina League to Triple A International League baseball. It was a true game changer, another tipping point for our organization and downtown Durham. We will celebrate that anniversary - the ball club's 1998 affiliation with the Tampa Bay Rays - throughout the 2017 season. Join us!