Most Profitable Franchises

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					Valley sports teams vie for spectators’ dollars
Brownsville Herald – June 9, 2003
Page 1 of 3

By Jessica Rocha                      counted an average of 2,900 fans       original cities like Harlingen, Tyler
                                      per game. Without high                 and Abilene,” Marting said. Some
Team colors might span the            attendance, vendors sell fewer         of the teams played in high school
rainbow, but most of the Rio          concessions and merchandise.           stadiums, or older stadiums like
Grande Valley’s stadium               Perhaps more important to the          Harlingen’s. Some didn’t sell
operators, professional sports        franchise owners, without strong       alcohol, some lacked press boxes
teams managers and sports             attendance numbers the sponsors        or had rundown bathrooms, he
events promoters are hoping just      and advertisers — who contribute       said.
to see green.                         about 60 percent of a team’s
                                      revenue — become harder to             “It didn’t create an environment
“This is more like a company,”        attract.                               of professional baseball,” Marting
said Winston Ayala, general                                                  said. “You never knew what you
manager of the Edinburg               Observers blame Harlingen              were going to get.”
Roadrunners baseball team. “You       Stadium, an older, less modern
have to have a good product on        facility in a poor location, for the   After Chen established new
the field. If we can’t make           team’s struggling attendance.          league leadership, it developed a
money, we can’t be here.”                                                    set of criteria to help identify
                                      “This organization has a black         good locations for baseball teams.
The Valley’s professional             eye,” said WhiteWings General
spectator sports options —            Manager Jason Driskell. “But you       The surrounding community’s
baseball, boxing, wrestling, other    play with the cards you are            minimum population, for
extreme combat sports, and soon       dealt.”                                instance, should be no less than
hockey — must attract the                                                    125,000 and the stadium should
support of fans, investors, local     The WhiteWings, created in 1994,       have paved parking.
business sponsors and civic           were one of the founding
leaders to become profitable. In      members of what is now known           “We started to put minimum
return, their presence can be a       as the Central Baseball League,        standards together, like we
small economic engine that            which began operating the same         wouldn’t let you play in a high
boosts local businesses’ bottom       year.                                  school stadium,” Marting said,
lines and can increase a city’s                                              and “you cannot have a baseball
visibility — a factor that could      In 1998, due to cash flow              team unless you can serve
boost future economic                 problems, the league was sold to       alcohol.”
development.                          the Chicago-based Chen Sports
                                      Group. Chen owns several               Last year, Harlingen spent more
But, with more professional teams     professional sports teams              than $1 million to renovate its
and events vying for fans, and        throughout the United States,          stadium, upgrading bathrooms,
perhaps more importantly,             including the Central Hockey           seating and other facilities. The
sponsors, the long-term               League, which has a joint              league has moved other under-
sustainability of professional team   operating agreement with the           performing franchises out of
sports remains largely untested in    Western Professional Hockey            markets like Greenville and
the Valley.                           League — the league the Hidalgo-       Lafayette, La. The Lafayette team
                                      based Rio Grande Valley Killer         moved to Edinburg and became
A TALE OF TWO TEAMS                   Bees will participate in starting      the Roadrunners.
                                      this fall.
Now in its third season,                                                     Still, even though Marting insists
Roadrunners baseball has ranked       Were they making a choice today,       there are no plans to leave
among the most profitable             considering its location and           Harlingen, the league’s
franchises in the now 10-team         condition, the WhiteWings              management has been in talks
Central Baseball League.              probably would not opt to play at      with Brownsville civic leaders and
However, just 45 miles away, the      Harlingen Stadium given a more         is visiting the area sometime this
older, Harlingen-based Rio            modern alternative, said Tim           month to discuss the city’s
Grande Valley WhiteWings are the      Marting, director of business          planned multimillion dollar sports
only league-owned team not            development for the Central            complex.
making money.                         Baseball League, which owns five
                                      of the league’s teams, including       Marting said the ownership also
Last year, average attendance at      the Roadrunners and WhiteWings.        started pushing municipalities to
the approximately 50-year-old                                                build new modern stadiums,
Harlingen Stadium was about           “The original founders didn’t have     believing they would attract fans
1,200, while the 2-year-old           a lot of baseball experience, and      to the games. Edinburg’s was the
Edinburg Baseball Stadium             they went into some of the             first newly built, city-owned
Valley sports teams vie for spectators’ dollars
Brownsville Herald – June 9, 2003
Page 2 of 3

stadium in the league and had the    advertises in local radio,            stores. Bedford compared the
league’s first scoreboard that       television, outdoor and print         economic impact to a mini
included a Jumbotron television      outlets.                              convention that could pump in up
screen.                                                                    to $300,000 per event.
                                     NOT JUST BASEBALL
So far, results of the league’s                                            Since many of the events are
push for newer facilities have       Baseball is certainly not the only    nationally televised on Fox,
been positive.                       professional sport Valleyites come    ESPN2, Pay Per View, Univision or
                                     out to see.                           Telefutura, sponsors get national
Roadrunners’ average attendance                                            exposure to a select audience.
has remained above the league’s      Pro boxing matches are set up
stated goal of 2,000 to 2,500 per    throughout the Valley at venues       The region’s affinity for combat
game, and its 10 sky boxes,          like the Jacob Brown Auditorium       sports also has spawned a
which are leased in three-year       at the University of Texas at         professional wrestling league.
increments for $14,000 annually,     Brownsville and Texas Southmost       Founded two years ago, the
have a waiting list.                 College, the Pharr International      International Wrestling Federation
                                     Convention Center and La Villa        holds monthly matches at
Advertising signage blankets the     Real Special Events Center in         Amigoland Mall in Brownsville.
stadium, from the entrance to the    McAllen.                              Like the WhiteWings’ and
outfield and everywhere in                                                 Roadrunners’ baseball players,
between, and there are company-      Unlike baseball and hockey, a         the IWF’s wrestlers hope to make
sponsored promotions every           large number of boxing, wrestling     it to the big leagues, in this case,
game night.                          and martial arts pros are from the    to World Wrestling Entertainment.
                                     Valley.                               As a result, the IWF attracts
LOCAL BENEFITS                                                             wrestlers from across the country
                                     Locally, television ratings for       and sometimes from Mexico.
To some extent, local businesses     boxing are among the highest in
reap the benefits of a popular       the country, said Lester Bedford,     The matches are recorded and
sports team.                         producer of the Miller Lite Texas     broadcast in segments on
                                     Title Belt Series, which has held     Saturdays on Televisa’s XERV.
A 2001 economic impact study by      three of its 19 events this year in
the Edinburg Economic                the Valley, including one Friday      For the first time on June 21,
Development Corp. estimated          night at La Villa Real. The Texas     Renegade Extreme Fighting will
that $1.6 million is pumped into     Title Belt series, a well-regarded    be held in the Valley at La Villa
the local economy because of the     and well-funded annual boxing         Real. It’s a no-holds-barred
games. That amount, however,         series, attracts highly ranked        match, with fighters allowed to
assumes a grossly overestimated      professional fighters from around     use any form of martial art or
90 percent attendance at all 80      the world.                            wrestling move. They are even
Roadrunners and University of                                              allowed to choke each other —
Texas-Pan American Broncs            “(The Valley) is a proven boxing      but no hair-pulling allowed.
games.                               market, and that makes it
                                     attractive for us to bring the        Houston-based promoter Saul
Local vendors within the park sell   fights there,” Bedford said.          Soliz has put on 10 such events
food, beer and branded                                                     throughout Texas, including three
merchandise, creating about 100      Attendance for fights is high,        back- to-back sellouts.
seasonal jobs. The University Inn    ranging from 1,500 to 2,500 fans
houses visiting players for          who pay between $15 and $20 for       Local pro Luis Benavides has been
$30,000 a season.                    a high profile bout at the Villa      training a group of fighters out of
                                     Real. Once Hidalgo’s Rio Grande       San Benito for about two years.
Along University Boulevard,          Valley Events Center is               He said the entertainment value
restaurants and gas stations         completed, the area is expected       of extreme fighting is higher.
reported modest sales increases      to draw even more high profile
before and after home games,         events to the arena, which can        “I’ve been to a lot of boxing
helping businesses stay afloat       hold more than 6,000.                 events, and the crowds in the
during summer months when                                                  extreme fighting are just more
their main clients — college         The fights bring with them an         into it,” Benavides said. “They
students — are off.                  entourage of television crews,        pump up the fighters, the crowds
                                     managers and boxers, all of           get really excited. We are going
Other beneficiaries include the      whom stay in hotels, eat at local     to get a lot of support out here.”
media because the team               restaurants and shop at local
Valley sports teams vie for spectators’ dollars
Brownsville Herald – June 9, 2003
Page 3 of 3

Advertising for the event has                                                The same thing happened when
hardly started, but already he is     Despite the confident hype             the Roadrunners came to town
getting calls about the match.        surrounding the Killer Bees’           and cannibalized the WhiteWings
                                      entrée into Valley sports, most        market, said the Central Baseball
“I think the Valley is ready for      local sports marketing experts         League’s Tim Marting.
this,” Benavides said. “I think       agree the introduction of hockey
they are tired of the regular         will not cut into baseball’s fan       Before the Roadrunners came to
boxing and the regular karate         base because the two sports            Edinburg, “Harlingen was the only
chopping.”                            operate during different seasons.      team in town,” Marting said. “We
                                      However, they said sponsorship         knew there was going to be a
And starting in October, the Killer   dollars very likely will be diluted.   dramatic impact to the business,
Bees will be playing ice hockey in                                           and there has been.”
Hidalgo.                              Bob Flanagan, Roadrunners
                                      marketing director, said a couple      Nevertheless, no existing team is
Though ice is rarely seen outside     of advertisers already have scaled     worried they will be pushed out of
one’s beer cooler in the              back spending on the baseball          business by the others.
subtropical climes of the Valley,     team, citing the need to spread
Killer Bees General Manager Trey      the sports marketing budget over       “I think there’s certainly a big
Medlock is banking on the area’s      more teams.                            enough pie out there that
proven interest in fast-moving,                                              everyone can share,” said Steve
high-contact sports and the high      “I don’t think it’s going to affect    Cherwonak, vice president of
number of Winter Texans hailing       us fan-base wise,” he said, “but       communications for the Central
from traditional hockey markets       it’s the sponsorship dollars.          Hockey League.
up north to pack the stands for       Obviously, there’s a line they
hockey games.                         (advertisers) have to draw.            “I have yet to hear that someone
                                                                             can’t get their corporate dollars
“People like physical sports,” he     “One guy said, ‘We are not going       because of the basketball team or
said. “People down here, they         to do anything with you guys this      the baseball team. I don’t know
want to be entertained.”              year, we are going to go with the      that that’s really big a factor.”
                                      hockey guys,’” Flanagan said.
WORKING OUT THE KINKS

				
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