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Mustangs turn a profit
News prompts council to approve 5-year contract

Thursday, December 12, 2013

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville Mustangs had their first profitable season this year, which prompted Martinsville City Council on Tuesday to award a five-year contract to the private firm that manages the city-owned baseball team.

The council awarded the contract to Team Cole & Associates of Gastonia, N.C., in a unanimous vote. The firm began managing the Mustangs this year after city officials expressed a desire to improve the ball team’s finances.

The Mustangs are a summer, college league team that plays at Hooker Field and is part of the Coastal Plain League (CPL).

Team Cole’s president, Jesse Cole, said Wednesday the Mustangs had their first profitable season after receiving “significantly higher revenue” this year than in any year since 2005, when the team was founded.

Cole declined to discuss Team Cole’s financial figures in depth. However, he said the firm spent more than $200,000 on the Mustangs this year, including money put toward stadium improvements, activities provided for spectators at games and hiring 27 employees for the Mustangs.

Before this year, most of the team’s workers were volunteers. The new jobs, which include both full-time and part-time ones, include a “director of fun” — activities director — as well as concessions, souvenir sales and ticket sales workers, according to Cole.

Team Cole has added entertainment aspects to Mustangs home games. They include fireworks at games other than those held on July 4 and activities involving spectators to try and boost attendance.

Cole said total home game attendance this year was 43,239. Last year, the Mustangs had total attendance of about 36,750, which was about 7,130 less than the previous season, statistics show.

Average home game attendance this year was 1,603. Cole said that average was up this year. Reached on his cell phone while traveling Wednesday, he said he did not immediately have the comparable figure for last year.

Cole said the Mustangs this year had the 16th highest average home game attendance among more than 400 summer league baseball teams across the nation, as determined by the trade publication Ballpark Digest. That was up from 24th last year.

The Mustangs’ home game attendance exceeded that of every team in the Appalachian League, the region’s other major summer league, Cole said.

He emphasized that includes the Astros, which left Hooker Field in 2004 for Greeneville, Tenn., because the team “didn’t think it was sustainable” to keep playing in Martinsville.

Other achievements of the Mustangs this year, according to Cole, were:

• Season ticket sales increased by more than 400 percent. More than 200 tickets were sold, compared with fewer than 40 last year. Cole said such an increase is “unprecedented in this (summer baseball) industry.”

• Group ticket sales, such as to companies buying large numbers of tickets for employee outings, jumped from zero in 2012 to more than 5,000 tickets this year, and

• The number of team sponsorships quadrupled. Cole did not immediately have exact figures.

Overall, it was “an amazing season” for the Mustangs, he told the council on Tuesday.

City Manager Leon Towarnicki said the city’s goal has been to reduce the amount of money it spends on the Mustangs annually.

The city’s estimated net cost for operating the Mustangs last year was $67,513, which was up from a net cost of $58,464 in the previous year, officials have said.

The city paid Team Cole $50,000 to manage the Mustangs this year as part of a one-year contract. It is to pay the firm $40,000 to manage the team in 2014 as part of the contract for that year, Towarnicki said.

The firm’s new contract runs from 2015 through 2019. Under the pact, the city will pay the firm $35,000 in 2015, $30,000 in 2016, $25,000 for 2017, $10,000 for 2018 and nothing in 2019.

“To go from (roughly) $70,000 to zero has been our long-term goal,” said Vice Mayor Gene Teague. He said the council does not want the Mustangs to be a burden on city taxpayers.

Team Cole gets all the revenue from ticket sales, sponsorships and concessions, Mayor Kim Adkins said Wednesday. “They ultimately want to be in a position to buy it (the team),” she added.

Should the city decide to sell the Mustangs in the future, Team Cole would receive 30 percent to 40 percent of the net gain in the ball team’s value — depending on how far along in the contract the sale occurs — after the city recovers its initial $80,000 investment in the team, the contract shows.

Team Cole will have the right of first refusal if the team is put up for sale, the contract stipulates.

Under the agreement, Team Cole is responsible for Mustangs’ operations, but the city is responsible for ongoing maintenance of Hooker Field and its infrastructure, such as heating, cooling and electrical systems.

Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge on Tuesday initially voted against the five-year contract. She said city money would be better spent on a having a baseball program in which children participate than on “a spectator sport.”

After Towarnicki told her that the city already offers youth baseball, Hodge apologized for her lack of awareness. She asked to be able to change her vote, and other council members allowed her to do so.

Cole said he hopes the Mustangs eventually can host a CPL championship or an all-star game featuring players from across Virginia and the Carolinas.

That would necessitate improvements to rest rooms and other facilities at Hooker Field, according to Cole and city officials.

Such improvements are not part of the five-year contract.

Still, now that there is “some stability” in Mustangs operations, Towarnicki said, the city can “try to get creative” in finding ways to afford making improvements to the stadium.

 

 
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