Is new Westfield pro baseball team taking aim at Indians?

June 23, 2010
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A trio hoping to start an independent minor league baseball team in Westfield said they have no intention of stealing business from the Indianapolis Indians, the storied AAA minor league team that plays its home games in Victory Field downtown.

But rest assured, news this week that a 5,000-seat multipurpose stadium to house a pro baseball team is part of sports complex in a mega mixed-use development just north of Indianapolis got the Indians' attention.

The as-of-yet named team is being spearheaded by well-known local sports marketer David Morton, local insurance executive Tom Leix and Matt Perry, owner of National Sports Services, a Topeka, Kansas-based firm that handles management operations and business transactions in the worlds of minor league baseball and hockey.

A business plan for the Westfield franchise is not finalized, and the three principals can’t yet even confirm when the team will take the field. But the 40-game home schedule could draw fans from all over Hamilton County, northern Marion County and as far away as Kokomo and West Lafayette, team officials said.

Morton stressed that the goal of launching the team is to enhance life in Hamilton County and the surrounding areas, not to compete directly with the Indians. Hamilton County was chosen as home of the new team due to its burgeoning population and up-scale demographics.

“If the pie gets bigger and more people are aware of baseball, that’s good for everyone in the sport,” Morton said.

The new team also stresses creating an entertaining atmosphere where winning and losing is almost secondary. If that sounds like a common refrain, that’s because it’s one often trumpeted by the Indians.

The Indians have cranked out profits of about $1 million annually like a clutch hitter. The team has a string of profitability that goes back decades.

But the Indians have the luxury of having the bulk of its player payroll covered by its Major League Baseball parent club, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The new independent team will have to cover its own player payroll, forecasted by baseball industry insiders to be about $200,000 annually for the season which stretches just a little over three months. Despite the expenses of running the team, Morton is confident the franchise can make money.

If Indians officials are nervous about the new local competitor, they’re not letting on.

“Our response is to stay true to our mission of providing affordable and memorable family fun,” said Cal Burleson, Indians vice president and general manager. “We feel the Indians have always been in a very competitive environment.”

Burleson added that the competitive market environment simply highlights the Indians' positive offerings.

“The more competitive the environment is, the better off the Indianapolis Indians will be,” Burleson said.

Of course, playing in Victory Field, voted by Baseball America Magazine as one of the nation’s top minor-league ball parks, doesn’t hurt either. The Indians are in their 15th year in the facility on downtown’s west edge.

Burleson said the Indians are tracking slightly ahead of last year’s attendance mark, with a chance to reach 600,000 for the season.

  • Yes, they are competing against the Indians, anytime you bring another entertainment venue to the region there is competition. but a single A team is just a good College level team. It will hurt them some, but not a lot.

    Curious to see if they actually get this thing off the ground.
  • no demand
    Worst idea ever. It takes 30 to 45 mins to get from Westfield to Victory Field. This is Empire Building by the elected officials in Westfield.
  • Wow.
    Have they seen the empty stadium for any weeknight Indians games? This is a terrible idea.
  • Different Fan Base
    Independent baseball caters to a different fan base than affiliated baseball. The "entertainment" value at independent venues is independent of the quality of the baseball. The fan of affiliated baseball demands a quality of baseball not provided by independent ball. Very minor potential affect on the Indians as long as they play up and keep up the Knot-Hole Kids program.
  • maybe good idea
    I'm not quite clear if Westfield is 30+ minutes from Victory Field, how that makes this a bad idea. It seems like a lot of folks who wouldn't want to drive all the way to downtown Indy, might enjoy watching pro baseball a bit closer to home. Also, independent pro baseball is a higher quality than single A.
  • Dumb idea
    Matt, you can't be serious. Any baseball player worth anything would play Single A ball before playing on an independent team as that gives him a shot at moving up the latter towards the bigs.

    Back to this idea -- seems awfully risky for Westfield taxpayers to take on $15-20 million in debt for something that may not draw much at all. For me, living in Fishers, I'm more inclined to drive an extra 15 minutes to downtown Indy to watch players that actually might wind up doing something in the bigs.
  • Soccer!
    we need professional soccer!!!!!! I mean... every little kid, boys and girls on the north side of Indianapolis from Fishers to Brownsburg plays freaking soccer...... they could make it work!!! Especially at a brand freakin new stadium!!!! please bring soccer instead of baseball..... the Indians have a nice stadium that people can go to
    • Please
      The powers-that-be on the north side need to have a big time reality check.
    • I have to say the minor league, if there is such a thing, soccer makes more sense. Popular on northside, with the world cup success now and future world cup coming to US, it would be popular without competing directly with Indians.
    • Auggie
      Man, you sure know how to embellish your thoughts with gutter plus. Fitting for a sissy sport lover.
    • Independent League
      The quality of baseball in the independent leagues varies. Some teams are really good, because they pick up players that were once pretty decent on the major league level and are still trying to hold on. If a team can sign one or two of those guys it is great for attendance. Remember, Michael Jordan was playing on an independent team during his baseball try and the place sold out all the time. Players like Jose Conseco and others like him have gone the independent route to try to salvage a career or collect a paycheck. Not great baseball, but good for drawing crowds. Some independent teams are God awful. Players that at one time may have been good in HS and now think they can make it through the independent leagues. Those teams are horrible and sad to watch.
    • Not everyone......
      Plays son plays Lacrosse and we live on the south side!
    • Three words: Saint Paul Saints
      The various naysayers should try Googling "Saint Paul Saints" before they prematurely dismiss an independent baseball team as a waste of time and money. At their inception, the Saints were panned by critics who didn't think they'd be able to compete with the Minnesota Twins. And yet today they're one of the most successful franchises in independent baseball. The team is so popular that Bill Murray jumped on board as a part owner. It's true, one can argue that the Saints are an exception to the rule, but there are several teams in the American Association of Independent Baseball that are financially stable.

      If done right (i.e., the players perform at a level roughly the equivalent of A or AA ball and the owners aren't afraid to think outside the box with screwy promotions) then this venture has a chance to be quite successful without being a threat to the Indianapolis Indians. But there has to be that "hook" that gets people to the ballpark and keeps them coming. A conservative approach simply won't work here.
    • Soccer? Are you kidding?
      Kids soccer games are only attended by the kids parents, and its free. I'm not even sure MLS is going to make it. I cannot see any kind of professional soccer viable in Indianapolis.
    • Independent League
      Michael Jordan played for the Birmingham Barons, a AA team, not an independent.
    • AA Equivelant
      I used to work in the minor league baseball industry. The level of play depends on which league this team is in.
      Most likely, it will be a Frontier League team because there are several in the region including Evansville; Florence, Ky, Normal, Ill, Gateway, Ill; Southern Illinois and Windy City, Ill.
      This league is probably a bit below AA. Their is an age limit for the league (I think 25 or 26), so unlike the Atlantic League, Northern League or American Association; you don't get former MLBers of Triple A players.
      You do get a lot of really good small college players that might have fallen below the radar. As well, you can get decent A or AA players who may have lost out in the numbers game in an organization; or are coming back from an injury.
      The FL has a history of successful franchises in Major League suburbs qne regions Washington, PA (Pittsburgh); Gateway and River City (St. Louis); Windy City (Chicago); Florence (Cincy); Oakland County (Det.) and Lake Erie (Cleve).
      A team in Westfield would fit perfectly into the FLs footprint and would do little to hurt the Indians. And I do believe it could be an economic success.
      Teams like these live off of corporate sponsorships. The demographics of Ham County are very attractive to most corporations and I would imagine that the media income of your average Westfield baseball fan would top that of your average Indians fan.
      I think it's a great idea.

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