Saturday, December 12, 2015

Foul Balls & Fan Safety

As the Baseball Winter Meetings in Nashville wound down, Major League Baseball announced a recommendation to extend backstop netting, encompassing both dugouts, to improve fan safety.

I'm proud to report that we had already studied this in the early fall and ordered a new net consistent with the just-issued guidelines. It wasn't a simple, quick decision. We pulled in our architect, an engineer, vendors, other teams, our league office, MiLB, and we sampled opinions of season ticket holders. Joe Fitzsimons at Belk Architecture even developed a 3D computer model of the netting options. (Durham Bulls press release.)

Baseball traditionalists don't share our enthusiasm for this. To purists, the net is an obstruction. There is some good news about that. We'll be using a high tech fabric - Dyneema - that's thinner (but even stronger) than our current nylon net. I expect people will adjust quickly.

Meanwhile, more fans will have the option of sitting behind the net. We decided to double down on safety because patrons are more distracted, primarily by their mobile phones. (I heard sports talker Jim Rome blame this, not on foul balls, but on fans playing Candy Crush!) 

While I can't prove it, I feel that today's hitters are stronger and pitchers are throwing harder. That adds velocity to foul balls. Combine that with the very real distraction of mobile devices, and it's time to update the safety standards. 

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...

Thursday, June 18, 2015


This is one for the highlight reel. Our FM sports-talk station, 99.9 The Fan, was recognized as large market station of the year by the NC Association of Broadcasters at its conference in Greensboro on Tuesday. This is a first for a sports station in our state. Quite an honor! What was once a niche format is now considered mainstream. Country and rock stations once ruled the roost among male radio listeners - now it's sports! Enough braggin'. A confession is in order:

Lacking his visionary instincts, I persuaded our CEO Jim Goodmon not to do a sports station in the winter of 2007. But I remember the u-turn vividly. I was in Atlanta visiting my daughter in the summer of 2007. Jim called with marching orders. We were going to put a sports format on 99.9 (which was country at the time) and he gave me sixty days to make the transition. I negotiated for ninety. The call ended, three months of madness ensued, and The Fan premiered at 3pm on October 10, 2007.

Since then, we affiliated with ESPN, launched the website, moved our tower, increased our power, acquired the Buzz, added Internet streaming, HD radio and a sports app. My hair grows increasing gray! 

Congratulations to Jim Goodmon, our General Manager Brian Maloney, operations/programming chief Dennis Glasgow and the entire sports radio team. I'm basking in the glow of your vision, talent, dedication and success. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Through the lens

Celebrate the DBAP's 20th anniversary with some outstanding photography in the June/July edition of Durham Magazine

Online edition - featuring Briana Brough's pix
Photo essay - by Briana and Emily Toth

Monday, June 1, 2015

Culinary Contradictions

The Bulls have been recognized by PETA and the NC Health Dept for providing veggie and other healthy food options, but it’s more of a challenge than you might think to develop that sort of ballpark menu. In my experience, healthy eaters fall off the wagon when confronted with the DBAP aromas of popcorn, Rise donuts and sizzling sausages. We’ve offered sushi and salads over the years, but they weren’t especially popular. I’m afraid this is where weight-watchers come to cheat or to reward themselves for good behavior. 

In that vein, we were recently mentioned in a Garden & Gun survey of southern ballpark fare. Our Carolina Que Dog, a Bright Leaf foot-long topped with Hog Heaven barbecue, was a headliner!
G&G - South's Best Ballpark Bites.

Still, we keep our shoulder to the wheel of healthy eating…with some recent success: This weekend we premiered a fresh fruit cart from the new Durham Co-op Market. Fresh pineapple on a stick, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon slices and grapes. Low and behold, it has proven to be quite popular! Business was brisk. I’m encouraged. The fresh fruit kiosk and the Rise donut stand posted similar sales volume. The culinary world is in perfect balance!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


The ACC Baseball Championship is underway in downtown Durham - the event's home for the next four years. We gladly share our southern hospitality (in return for $16 million in economic impact) as we welcome college baseball fans from Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, Florida State, Clemson, NC State, UVA and UNC. (Va Tech and Ga Tech bowed out today in the play-in round.)

We confess to shameless home-town bias, but Durham and the DBAP seem to be natural homes for the tournament. 
Read today's Herald-Sun editorial and story.

Here's an indispensable link to the tournament bracket. And you don't have to be a baseball fan to join us for "free stuff" - Wednesday's WRAL hot air balloon exhibition in Diamond View Park and the Friday-Saturday FanFest on Blackwell Street.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Take Your Grandchild to Work Day

He wasn't intimidated by the crowd and commotion. He seemed to notice the crack of the bat. He preferred section 200 to the VIP club. He was enthralled by the cup holder on his seat. The fountain on our entry plaza was most enticing. 

That's the summary of my grandson's Saturday outing to his first Durham Bulls game. It was a big day for our family!

The grand finale for 9.5 month old Miles was an encounter with Wool E. Bull. There were no signs of the dreaded childhood scourge known as mascot anxiety. Wool E. cordially extended his hoof; Miles confidently reached for his muzzle. A friendship was born. Hopefully, Miles will develop an affection for the National Pastime. That may take a few more years, but at least we're off to a good start with Wool E. Bull!

Friday, May 15, 2015

New ballpark dress code: Cap & Gown

We hosted Duke University's Commencement last Sunday. Traditionally, it's held in Duke's football stadium, but extensive renovations are underway there. So, we welcomed over 15,000 grads, family and faculty on a misty Mother's Day morning. I'm thankful that we dodged a downpour. Heavy rain would have wreaked havoc on the turf. (Always worrying about the grass!)

Befitting Duke's world class reputation, this event is meticulously planned and organized. Of course, they've had considerable practice. This was #163. I hope some of their attention to detail rubbed off on us. And I've dropped the hint that our head groundskeeper, Scott Strickland, should be considered for an honorary degree in logistics.

...but they ignored my suggestion that we hawk hot dogs, beer and peanuts. I struggle with the concept of pomp and circumstance.

Seriously, it was the Durham Bulls great privilege to have Duke University in our house...en masse.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Big Heart. Big Goal.

Fifteen Triangle professionals are in a pitched battle. It's a fight against blood cancer and a competition to see who can raise the most money for LLS in ten weeks. The male and female winners will be crowned Man and Woman of the Year next month.

We have adopted one of the big hearted combatants. Jennifer Cox, who works for Durham-based Endurance Magazine, is aiming to raise $100,000. Most non-profits request comp tickets or an autographed baseball. Jen thinks big...and outside the box! 

Her Team Believe will be at Friday night's game, entertaining contributors in our suite and promoting her cause throughout the ballpark. From sumo wrestling to the postgame fireworks, it's a DBAP takeover for LLS. Jen's web page.

There's another, equally important facet to all of this. We will recognize the LLS Boy and Girl of the Year for 2015, Mason Brantley and Kaelyn Smith. Both youngsters are in remission from leukemia. Click here to read their stories...and you will understand why we're on board. Join us Friday night at the DBAP!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Two Decades at the DBAP

In 2015 we are celebrating the Durham Bulls Athletic Park's 20th birthday. After two decades it is still known as "the new ballpark" to distinguish this facility from the vintage 1926 Durham Athletic Park. And the DBAP is newer still after a 2014 $25 million make-over.

Indeed, twenty years is a milestone, and it's a very good excuse for a season-long party. The DBAP has been a catalyst for the revival of downtown Durham. The pace of change continues to accelerate. Hence the cliché time flies. Was 1995 really two decades ago?!? I wasn't directly involved with the ball club then, but my assignment for Capitol Broadcasting Co. was to move WDNC radio into the new ballpark. My current office was once the station's studio. The space has been recycled. Me, too!

These before & after photos, posted on our Facebook page last week, tell the #DBAP20 story in a powerful way.

A good read on the DBAP's past and present from Michael Shelton at

Monday, March 9, 2015

Burgers & Bombers

We have created a new company to manage food and beverage services at the DBAP. Bull City Hospitality, a subsidiary of Capitol Broadcasting Co., will run the concessions operation within the ballpark. (Read more about it.)

For the past year we have been working with an industry consultant, Chapel Hill-based Jim Wulforst. It wasn't until last month that I realized what a global perspective he brings to our project.

Jim left us for the entire month of February to visit Air Force bases on behalf of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management. It's called the Hennessy/Military Traveler ProgramJim's a former president of the trade group, and this is his second Hennessy tour.

That's Jim on the far right, handing out
Bulls caps at Ramstein AFB in Germany.

The care and feeding of B-2 bomber pilots
at Whiteman AFB in Missouri.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Best MIX of the 80's, 90's & Today

That would be my coworker, Ardie Gregory, who retired last month as VP/GM of MIX 101.5 - after 30 years in the RDU and BWI radio wars. 

She has received woman extraordinaire accolades during her career, but gender is immaterial. Ardie is one of the best in the business. A fierce competitor and a demanding leader, yet her radio stations always had a family feel. 

Ardie trained all divisions of CBC in strategic selling 25 years ago setting a high standard for professional sales that has endured. She is known as a mentor.

In  the community, MIX's Radiothon for Duke Children's Hospital consistently raises $1mm annually, and Ardie has chaired the Inter-faith Food Shuttle board.

Ardie and I were both with companies acquired by CBC in the 1980's. She was in Baltimore; I was in Richmond. I believe we have a unique appreciation for Capitol Broadcasting Co. owing to that foreign service.

Adios and Godspeed in your well deserved retirement, Ardie!

Ardie gets a hug from WRAL TV's David Crabtree
at her retirement luncheon in February.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Coach Smith - Rivalry & Respect

My sports marketing career began in Charlottesville at UVA in the late-70s. That's where I became one of those ABC fans - anybody but Carolina. The UVA-UNC hoops rivalry wasn't as intense as it is here with NC State or Duke...but it was THE Univ of Virginia vs THE Univ of North Carolina, and Wahoo Coach Terry Holland even named his dog Dean Smith. I would say that qualifies as a fierce rivalry. 

In 1991 I moved to RDU and assumed my company's broadcasting affiliations with Duke and NC State. I really put ABC to work!

...but today you might say I'm a recovering ABCer, because I was won over by Dean Smith's progressive faith and politics as well as his generosity. It began in 2003 with the ALS Assn's "Field of Dreams Gala." (I was on the chapter board for a decade.) Smith came to the DBAP to film a public service announcement for the event. He had a strong connection to ALS. It had claimed the life of his friend, Skipper Bowles, another UNC legend. 

Smith attended the 2003-2005 Galas and played in the 2006 Catfish Classic ALS Golf Tournament. Chapter President Jerry Dawson refreshed my memory this week: Coach Smith agreed to let us auction the three other spots in his foursome, and it sold for $5,000 on eBay. He signed many items for us over the years which helped raise funds for the fight. He was a great guy, but I am a little biased because he is one of my heroes! 

It's great to be a legend, even more impressive to end one's life a bonafide hero for accomplishments on and off the court. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hail Fellow Well Met

That greeting, albeit archaic, fits Don Shea who passed away on February 1st. He was Mr. Congeniality! He was equally loyal and generous. Obituary | Jeff Gravley's take: A True Gem Tribute

Don worked with our company for nearly 30 years, at WRAL TV and Wolfpack Sports Marketing - hosting the NC State coaches' shows, selling sponsorships and performing various media duties. He was devoted to the Jim Valvano Kids Klassic and Duke Children's Classic. Indeed, he was a classic. This tribute aired last weekend on the Mark Gottfried NCSU Basketball Show:

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Red Carpet Evening at the Ballpark

We ring in the New Year with this bling and a big event in the PNC Triangle Club on January 11th. 

The Bulls were recognized as Sponsor of the Year at the Campaign4Change annual soirée - Community Celebrities on the Red Carpet.

Indeed, we are big supporters of C4C and its’ colorful founder, Otis Lyons, AKA Vegas Don. This may seem atypical of the non-profit realm, but there’s a compelling backstory. 

Otis grew up in poverty, took the wrong path, founded a gang, was shot in the head and went to jail - yet remarkably - he made a U-turn, a fresh and positive start. Now, he’s a promoter of hope in Durham’s poorest neighborhoods. He founded a basketball league where the kids are equipped and play for free. He connects with young people through entertainment programs. Raising their sights. Countering the influence of gangs. Otis rolls up his sleeves at the public housing apartments and senior centers, too. The man has a big heart! 

That's Otis on the right.

Durham sports attorney Butch Williams.

Superior Court Judge Elaine Bushfan 

Bull City Mayor Bill Bell

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Highlights, Lowlights, Lessons Learned

Admittedly, this is old news, but the photos recently arrived from the Minor League Baseball office. These are from the awards banquet at the opening night of the Baseball Winter Meetings in San Diego last month. The Bulls were honored as the top franchise in MiLB

Two legends: Announcer Dick Enberg interviews 
retiring MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.

Bulls General Manager, Mike Birling, accepts the award.

Our management team basks in the glow of the big evening: 
Bryan Wilson, retail; Peter Wallace, ticket dept; Scott Carter, mktg; 
Your Blogger; Birling; Mitch Lukevics, Tampa Bay Rays; 
Chip Allen, sponsorship; Brian Simorka, group sales.

~  ~  ~  ~

It goes without saying this was a great way to end a crazy, high-stress year that boasts the $25 million DBAP renovation, hosting the Triple-A All-Star Game and an attendance record. 

I used “boast” in the previous paragraph to make a point…about humility. There was a lesson to be learned in the aftermath of Opening Day last year. While it was a miracle that we opened on time after severe construction delays, it was a night of embarrassingly rough edges. GM Mike Birling took the initiative to send a letter to every ticket buyer offering a do-over, and soon thereafter he installed a new customer service program. 

The City of Durham and Capitol Broadcasting Company have made a tremendous investment in the ballpark’s future…and we are pretty darned good at marketing and promotion…but we are nothing without fan support, without satisfied customers. And that’s more than a financial issue. Your patronage of our ball club is important to the Tampa Bay Rays (700 miles away), the team on the field and our community’s reputation. We will never take that for granted.