Minor League Baseball yesterday announced the 2021 winners of the Organization of the Year Award, Executive of the Year Award, Future Star Award, and the CommUNITY Champion Award. Nominees from each league were selected by their peers and were candidates for the overall awards.
ORGANIZATION OF THE YEAR – Spokane Indians (High-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies)
The Spokane Indians claimed their first Organization of the Year Award after setting a franchise record in sponsorship sales, posting a 95% increase in online ticket sales, and partnering with a local Air Force base for a program that generated national attention and was critically acclaimed.
As a team that runs its own concessions operation, the Indians introduced mobile concessions ordering in 2021, which accounted for 11% of total transactions and 16% of the total food and beverage revenue. On average, orders using their mobile app were 52% higher than other concessions transactions.
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The Indians continued to build their partnership with the Spokane Tribe of Indians, collaborating with the Tribal Council on multiple events and initiatives. In 2021, the partnership led to the revitalization of a nearly unusable baseball and softball field complex at the entrance to the Spokane Tribe of Indians Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. Additionally, the club continues to honor the Spokane Tribe’s Salish language dialect by using Salish lettering on its home and road jerseys and in signage at Avista Stadium. The club also collaborated with the Tribe on a Native-themed basketball court in Spokane that features artistic imagery and Salish lettering on the court.
The Indians’ partnership with Fairchild Air Force Base became known as Operation Fly Together, which won the Golden Bobblehead Award for Best Community Promotion/Event. The initiative celebrated the KC-135 Stratotanker (a refueling aircraft based at Fairchild) and the active airmen and women serving on the base as well as the thousands of veterans from all branches of the Armed Forces who reside in the Spokane community. On “Operation Fly Together Fridays,” the Indians wore special uniforms designed to look like the dress blue uniforms worn by servicemen and women. The uniforms were auctioned off with the proceeds going to local veteran organizations through the Operation Fly Together Fund. A full line of Operation Fly Together merchandise is available in the team store, with a portion of each sale going to the Operations Fly Together Fund. Additionally, a Fairchild Family of the Game is recognized on the field at each Operation Fly Together game.
The Indians have also made a commitment to sustainability at Avista Stadium through their Zero Waste Campaign. In year two of their goal to eventually become a Zero Waste Facility, over 60 Zero Waste stations were installed throughout the stadium to help fans get their waste into the proper stream – Landfill, Compost, or Recycling.
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In 2021, 42% of waste from Avista Stadium went to the landfill (down from 80% in 2018), 12% of waste was recycled and 46% of waste went to a local compost facility (up from 1.5% in 2018). The compost waste is commercially composted and then bought back by the Indians for use in flower beds at Avista Stadium, creating a closed loop system. The Indians have also switched cups and cutlery to compostable material.
The team also remained active when the pandemic shut down their 2020 season, with the team’s staff assisting the Spokane Regional Health District as a COVID-19 Call Center, answering pandemic-related questions from Spokane residents as well as helping parents and students returning to school online.
“The Spokane Indians Baseball Club is overwhelmed with gratitude at being named the Organization of the Year by Minor League Baseball,” said Indians Vice President Otto Klein. “It’s a true testament to our outstanding front office and gameday teams, as well as our community partners and fans. There are 120 outstanding organizations, and to be selected alongside so many clubs that we respect and admire is an honor and we look forward to continuing to provide affordable family entertainment and positively impacting our community for years to come.”
EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR – Greg Coleman, President, Erie SeaWolves (Double-A Affiliate of the Detroit Tigers)
Following the lost 2020 season and the uncertainty surrounding their future as an affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, President Greg Coleman and the Erie SeaWolves rebounded with a terrific 2021 campaign.
Under Coleman’s guidance, the SeaWolves attained new franchise highs for ticket and merchandise revenues. The team opened a new 1,550-square-foot team store, which led to more than a 100% increase in game day merchandise revenue compared to the prior season.
After working with owner Fernando Aguirre and local officials to secure $12 million in state funding for improvements to UPMC Park in 2018, Coleman and those same parties worked together to plan and fund locker room upgrades, allowing the team to remain the Double-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in MLB’s new PDL system.
Coleman and his staff produced one of the top Minor League promotions in 2021 as the SeaWolves hosted “Wonders Night.” The event was a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the release of the Oscar-nominated film “That Thing You Do!” which was based on an Erie-based band’s rise to the top of the music industry.
Three primary actors from the movie attended the event, which raised $25,500 for NoticeAbility, an organization that assists students with dyslexia. The promotion was featured on Entertainment Tonight and resulted in a season-high crowd.
Coleman has also created and coordinated a scholarship fund in memory of SeaWolves catcher Chace Numata, who passed away from injuries sustained in a skateboarding accident following the team’s final home game in 2019. In just two years, the scholarship program has distributed $13,000 in grants to 26 Erie-area students.
In addition to his professional endeavors, Coleman coordinates fundraising efforts for the Miracle League of Erie County, is a member of the Erie Rotary Club and serves on the advisory board for the Dahlkemper School of Business at Gannon University.
“This is a great honor for the SeaWolves organization, and it reflects the hard work of our entire team,” said Coleman. “I’d like to thank our fans, partners, staff, and team owner Fernando Aguirre for their support and commitment.”
FUTURE STAR AWARD (Top Executive 25 or Younger) – Kennedy Schull, Eugene Emeralds (High-A Affiliate of the San Francisco Giants)
Kennedy Schull began working with the Eugene Emeralds in 2018 as a summer intern selling walk-up tickets at the box office. Upon her college graduation in 2020, she returned home to Eugene and began volunteering her services to the Emeralds to gain more experience in the sports industry.
In January 2021, at the age of 21, Kennedy was promoted to Director of Tickets, where she promptly led a push toward digital ticketing by creating education materials for fans and staff members and oversaw the initiative’s implementation. The result was a 74% increase in tickets sold online and a 320% increase in mobile scans versus 2019.
To further the team’s tech push, she created a ticket promotion called “Tech Tuesdays” that was aimed at increasing online ticket sales. While this promotion was implemented halfway through the season, it was a resounding success, posting a 201% increase in single-game tickets sold online compared to 2019.
In an effort to grow the Emeralds season ticket base, Kennedy designed, managed and advertised the new Season Membership Waiting List to collect ticket plan leads in 2021 and beyond. The list currently has 367 submissions and continues to grow.
Schull also developed a method for the Emeralds to begin selling parking passes through their digital ticketing platform, which resulted in 10,293 parking passes being sold via the ticketing platform. Scanners were also outfitted with devices to take payment allowing the team to take credit and debit cards in the parking lot at PK Park for the first time.
Schull also placed an emphasis on reaching out to season ticket holders who were not using their tickets, which resulted in significantly higher ticket usage rates and created a customer touchpoint to improve relationships and solve problems in real time. This was especially useful as the club transitioned to digital ticketing because it created an opportunity to educate and solve digital ticketing issues for patrons with low usage rates.
Schull also organized a ballpark outing for a local teacher that survived a major COVID scare. This outing was extremely impactful for everyone involved and was picked up by local and national news outlets.
“I am honored to receive this award, but more so I am thankful that the Emeralds were willing to take the chance on me and provide me with the incredible opportunity to learn and grow in this industry,” said Schull. “I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I did this past year without the help of so many different people. This award is as much theirs as it is mine.”
“We are so proud of Kennedy’s work and this recognition is so well deserved,” said Emeralds General Manager Allan Benavides. “Without her creativity and passion, we would simply not have been able to navigate such a difficult season and have the success that we did as a team.”
CommUNITY Champion Award – Worcester Red Sox (Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox)
In their inaugural season in Worcester, the Worcester Red Sox took every opportunity available to become a valued member of their new community. Whether they were hosting baseball clinics for children, building awareness for charities or providing scholarship opportunities, the WooSox always went above and beyond.
Since the announcement in August 2018 that the Worcester Red Sox were moving to Polar Park, the valuable perspective of fans and community leaders has been instrumental in shaping the franchise’s goals and values. The Red Sox show their appreciation for those in their community on a nightly basis, using pregame ceremonies like “Hometown Hero,” “Heart of Worcester” and the ceremonial first pitch to recognize and honor the contributions of community leaders and unsung heroes.
Their nightly “In Debt to a Vet” promotion honors the sacrifice and bravery of local veterans, and all fans are invited onto the playing field following Saturday and Sunday games to enjoy the Polar Park experience with a game of catch or running the bases with friends and family.
In celebration of the diverse identities and cultures of the City of Worcester, the team introduced “Los Wepas de Worcester” in 2021 and highlighted a different Spanish-speaking country in each of the Copa de la Diversion games. From Mexico to Puerto Rico to El Salvador, Polar Park transformed into a hub of that country’s local culture, music and food during “Los Wepas” games. Hispanic and Latinx leaders were honored in pregame ceremonies, the national anthem of the featured country was performed, local vendors were invited to sell their food at concession stands and the on-field “Worcester Red Sox” jerseys were replaced by “Los Wepas de Worcester” jerseys, with “Wepas” being a Spanish expression of excitement.
In an effort to strengthen the organization’s spirit of empathy and inclusion and create a clearer understanding of how they can make baseball more inclusive and celebratory of differences, the club played host to several events throughout the season. In July, the Red Sox hosted “Autism Acceptance Night,” where the volume of public address announcements and music was turned down across the ballpark to reduce stimulation and highlighted Polar Park’s Unum Sensory Room, which offers a quiet space for fans to take a break on the comfortable couches, borrow noise-reduction headphones and play with kinetic sand, fidget spinners and coloring books. In August, “Peanut Allergy-Friendly Nights” were introduced to allow a safe, stress-free experience for fans with peanut allergies to enjoy a game at Polar Park, and in September “Deaf Awareness Night” included an interpreter on the videoboard to communicate pregame ceremonies, in-game promotions and PA announcements.
The WooSox took advantage of the extended season by supporting Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and “Going Gold” in September 2021. The WooSox put the spotlight on children, families and heroes who are helping to conquer cancer. Dressed in gold, children and families in the battle as well as their nurses and doctors gathered in center field in the shape of a ribbon as fans raised gold signs from the stands to honor loved ones who are currently in, or have lost, their battle with cancer. In their inaugural season, the team and the WooSox Foundation collectively donated over $50,000 to UMass Memorial Children’s Medical Center, which works to treat and cure cancer and provide resources and comfort.
The WooSox Foundation also launched the “WooSox Scholars” Program to provide college scholarships to ensure young students’ dreams of education are funded. In July 2021, four Worcester Public Schools eighth graders stepped onto the field in front of a crowd of cheering fans and were presented with various gifts from the team and a certificate honoring their achievement. The WooSox have already invested $40,000 into the college funds of local students in just one season.
The WooSox introduced the “WooSox Book Nook” in the Worcester Public Library — a collection of baseball-themed books donated by WooSox President Dr. Charles Steinberg and WooSox Chairman of the Board Larry Lucchino. The Book Nook provides young readers a chance to learn the history of baseball and the power of sports in community while developing their reading skills.
“We are so happy, so proud, and so grateful to so many for recognizing the special bond between the Worcester Red Sox and the Greater Worcester community,” said Worcester Red Sox President Dr. Charles A. Steinberg. “Larry Lucchino has established charitable foundations with every franchise he has led, and he has committed that we would be active participants in the community; we are thrilled to honor that commitment. In particular, our thanks go to the leaders and the residents of ‘The Heart of the Commonwealth.’ Their compassion and excitement inspire these synergistic collaborations. May this year, our rookie year, only be the beginning.”