Indians sales staff faced down big-time pressure

March 4, 2010
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Late last September, the Indianapolis Indians stared down the barrel of financial disaster.

Following the 2009 season, three-fourths of the team’s sponsorship deals expired, and in this economic climate that’s enough to make just about any sports business administrator hit the panic button.

But Indians officials stood in the batter’s box, dug in their cleats and didn’t blink. Instead, the team’s front office rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

They re-signed the vast majority of those sponsors and enough new ones to see a 5 percent sponsorship sales increase this year. Ticket sales also look positive a little more than a month before the season opens.

Among the Indians, there was never any doubt. In fact, the team kept with its philosophy of investing in Victory Field.

Since it opened in 1996, the Indians have poured $4 million in improvements to the ball park sitting on the west edge of downtown. Anyone in baseball will tell you no minor league team spends more on keeping its ballpark pristine than the Indians.

Despite the rocky economy and an uncertain future, the Indians stuck with that strategy. Instead of being detrimentally tight-fisted, the minor league affiliate of MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates dropped $600,000 into a new video board on the left field wall and $125,000 into much-needed front office renovations, including a re-vamped conference room and trophy display area. Indians officials also initiated a host of game promotions and specials to enhance the experience for fans during Indians home games.

Remember, the Indians are no major league franchise. The team’s financial performance has been steady, but their margins are thin. It takes solid management to churn out a profit near or slightly above $1 million year-after-year. Indians' total operating revenue for 2009 was only $8.5 million, less than one-fourth the operating budget for the Indianapolis Colts or Indiana Pacers.

It would be oh so easy to miscalculate by $10,000 here and $100,000 there and miss the mark and end up in the red. But for decades, the Indians never have. That’s probably why Indians stock trades as high as $25,000 per share.

So, even when times looked tough, like during this off-season, Indians management led by Chairman Max Schumacher and General Manger Cal Burleson never waivered.

And come the end of the team’s fiscal year Sept. 30, I’m sure they’ll register a solid score.

To read more on the Indians’ off-season initiatives and ramp-up for the 2010 season, see the March 8 IBJ print edition.

  • That's a lot of selling
    As someone in sales, I can tell you that's a dang lot of selling. No matter what economy or under what conditions and no matter what business sector in. Renegotiating 3/4ths of your deals and coming up 5% ahead of last year is pretty darn good.
  • Odd
    It's odd in sports business practices to set up your sponsorships to have so many expire during the same year. A number of NBA franchises have been bitten by this. The Pacers for one, had bunches of suite leases expire the same year (2008) and had to really scramble to get those filled. The Pacers didn't have nearly the success ratio the Indians did. Anyway, you have to hand it to the Tribe staff for pulling this off at a less than ideal time. I bet they're trying to better stagger their deals now.
  • Odd?
    My take on contract expiration is that most of it depends on the clients wants/needs. I'm sure every business would like to stagger renewals but that's not always easily done, especially in the economy. Getting any multi-year deal in this climate is a win. Good timing Anthony on a Tribe post, best weather day around here in a long while.
  • Not so odd, Conseco opened in 1999 or 10 years ago. it might be smart to stagger contracts to expire in multi year groups.

    But in the Pacers defense, who would have seen the perfect storm of the Artest situation, the recession and the emergence of the Colts. All have taken their toll on the interest in the Pacers. They need to get a high draft pick and try to build a team around him.

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  1. Of what value is selling alcoholic beverages to State Fair patrons when there are many families with children attending. Is this the message we want to give children attending and participating in the Fair, another venue with alooholic consumption onsite. Is this to promote beer and wine production in the state which are great for the breweries and wineries, but where does this end up 10-15 years from now, lots more drinkers for the alcoholic contents. If these drinks are so important, why not remove the alcohol content and the flavor and drink itself similar to soft drinks would be the novelty, not the alcoholic content and its affects on the drinker. There is no social or material benefit from drinking alcoholic beverages, mostly people want to get slightly or highly drunk.

  2. I did;nt know anyone in Indiana could count- WHY did they NOT SAY just HOW this would be enforced? Because it WON;T! NOW- with that said- BIG BROTHER is ALIVE in this Article-why take any comment if it won't appease YOU PEOPLE- that's NOT American- with EVERYTHING you indicated is NOT said-I can see WHY it say's o Comments- YOU are COMMIES- BIG BROTHER and most likely- voted for Obama!

  3. In Europe there are schools for hairdressing but you don't get a license afterwards but you are required to assist in turkey and Italy its 7 years in japan it's 10 years England 2 so these people who assist know how to do hair their not just anybody and if your an owner and you hire someone with no experience then ur an idiot I've known stylist from different countries with no license but they are professional clean and safe they have no license but they have experience a license doesn't mean anything look at all the bad hairdressers in the world that have fried peoples hair okay but they have a license doesn't make them a professional at their job I think they should get rid of it because stateboard robs stylist and owners and they fine you for the dumbest f***ing things oh ur license isn't displayed 100$ oh ur wearing open toe shoes fine, oh there's ONE HAIR IN UR BRUSH that's a fine it's like really? So I think they need to go or ease up on their regulations because their too strict

  4. Exciting times in Carmel.

  5. Twenty years ago when we moved to Indy I was a stay at home mom and knew not very many people.WIBC was my family and friends for the most part. It was informative, civil, and humerous with Dave the KING. Terri, Jeff, Stever, Big Joe, Matt, Pat and Crumie. I loved them all, and they seemed to love each other. I didn't mind Greg Garrison, but I was not a Rush fan. NOW I can't stand Chicks and all their giggly opinions. Tony Katz is to abrasive that early in the morning(or really any time). I will tune in on Saturday morning for the usual fun and priceless information from Pat and Crumie, mornings it will be 90.1