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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Firm will manage Mustangs in 2013
$50,000 contract with Team Cole proceeds

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A private sports management and consulting firm will direct the Martinsville Mustangs next year, but the city will continue sponsoring the baseball team.

In a 4-1 vote, Martinsville City Council on Tuesday authorized Interim City Manager Leon Towarnicki to finalize negotiations with Gastonia, N.C.-based Team Cole & Associates and execute a $50,000 contract with the firm.

The council plans to ratify the contract during its next meeting Nov. 27.

Vice Mayor Kimble Reynolds Jr. cast the dissenting vote. He said he thinks the city should get out of the baseball business altogether.

“We’ve lost money each year” on the team, Reynolds said, adding that he thinks sponsoring a baseball team is not a function of city government.

However, Councilman Gene Teague said having a baseball team could help Martinsville lure new residents and businesses because it improves the local quality of life. He expressed confidence that Team Cole will turn around the team’s finances.

Council members previously have said that next year could be the summer college-league team’s last if its bottom line does not improve.

Team finances for 2012 are not yet settled. The city estimates its net cost for sponsoring the Mustangs this year at $67,513. That is up from a net cost $58,464 last year.

The city budgeted $79,885 to sponsor the team next year. By hiring Team Cole to manage it, the city will save about $30,000, Towarnicki noted.

Basically, it will be Team Cole’s problem if the Mustangs’ 2013 revenues do not meet or exceed expectations, he has said.

A general manager has overseen the Mustangs each year since the college-league baseball team started playing at Hooker Field seven years ago. The most recent manager, Dean Hennis, decided not to return next year.

Towarnicki maintains that the team needs more than one person to run it effectively.

Team Cole President Jesse Cole said his firm will hire a general manager — which it will recruit in a nationwide search — as well as a “director of fun,” similar to an activities director. They will live in the area, he emphasized.

Interns also will be used, Cole has said.

Under its contract, the firm will be responsible for all aspects of Mustangs operations, including marketing, selling advertising, hiring coaches, running concession stands and coordinating players’ travel to away games.

Making baseball games more entertaining is the key to attracting more people to Hooker Field to watch the Mustangs play, including people who generally are not baseball fans, Cole told the council.

Team Cole now manages two other Coastal Plain League teams it helped revive, the Gastonia Grizzlies and the Forest City (N.C.) Owls.

Cole mentioned promotions and activities used at their games, including occasional choreographed dances performed by players, free haircuts for spectators and burying a diamond ring somewhere in the stadium for a spectator to find and keep.

“We believe in having a circus atmosphere,” Cole said. But “it’s not a complete circus.”

In addition to the fun, “we make sure our players are ready to play ball” competently, he said.

He called the Mustangs’ Matt Duffy “one of the best coaches” in summer college-league baseball anywhere.

Cole said his firm will not increase prices for tickets or concessions. He said the firm will try to find ways to reduce the prices.

Team Cole’s contract will enable the firm to develop a different logo for the Mustangs, change the uniforms or even change the ball team’s name if it is determined that such changes ultimately will help the team, Towarnicki said.

The firm’s vice president, Ken Silver, now owns the Grizzlies and the Owls. That is his personal venture, not Team Cole’s, he emphasized.

The council has indicated it may consider selling the Mustangs to a private owner at some point in the future. If that happens, Silver said he might be willing to make an offer for the team if its finances improve.

At least, if the team becomes more successful, its value will increase, and that would make it easier to find a buyer, Towarnicki said.

Also Tuesday, the council learned that the Phoenix Community Development Corp. has placed plans to develop a three-story apartment and office building on Fayette Street on hold.

Phoenix Executive Director Ray Gibbs said the nonprofit developer is trying to find out costs for modifications to the building that are being considered due to concerns voiced by nearby property owners.

More on that and other matters discussed during Tuesday’s council meeting will be reported in the Martinsville Bulletin on Thursday.


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