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Sports Business

Is new Westfield pro baseball team taking aim at Indians?

June 23, 2010
KEYWORDS Sports Business

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.

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