Pulling up to the Burlington Athletic Stadium, visitors drive by unkept houses, scattered patches of dead grass and mud puddles. The site is deserted and quiet. Trucks, pillars, traffic cones and construction workers currently invade the space.
"It's moving along," Mikie Morrision, the General Manager of the Burlington Royals said about the renovations being done to the stadium.
Morrison opened the door to the team office and headed for the press room. He sat down and began to search for words to describe his day-to-day job. It is important to note that running a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team is different than that of Major League Baseball (MLB). The Appalachian League is especially different; it is smaller due to the smaller market it targets. The league is associated with 10 teams from small towns in Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia and Tenneessee.
Since the teams in this league are extremely small and cater toward a small audience, Morrison is in charge of dealing with sponsorships, ticket sales and plan the promotional calendar. Morrison relies on corporate sponsorships to be able to connect to the audience while making a profit for the team. Studies from The Pennsylvania State University share that unlike advertisements which focus on mass media, corporate sponsorships rely on fans and consumers to relate a business to a place, event, and service. In order to get word out on promotional events, the Royals hold high relationships with wFM1, their social media accounts, and sending out game schedules.
The Royals host many promotional events, such as their partnership with OT Sports, the 5k fun run to raise awareness of autism. They also auction off themed jerseys to raise funds for the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington. Morrison enjoys hosting and planning events because it is “a pivotal part” of the team and they try “to give to the community because they give to us and anyway we can get involved, we are definitely willing to do so.” Due to their dedication, the Royals recently won the Appalachian League's Community Service Award in September 2018.
Morrison's favorite event that the Royals have put on was an Easter egg hunt for the Alamance Partnership for Children. The event was free of charge for families, which was beneficial as it brought low income families out to play on inflatables and on the field.
In 1960, the town of Burlington in North Carolina, built the Burlington Athletic Stadium, which seats 3,500 people. Up until 2006, the Burlington Royals were affilated with the Cleveland Indians. The Burlington Royals, a minor league baseball team, is a rookie-level team in the Appalachian League and have been an affiliate team of the Kansas City Royals since 2006. Manny Ramirez, Jim Thorne, and Louis Tiant are just a few of the famous players who played minor league here.
In order to continue its success in town, the team must update its stadium. Over the course of the last few years the stadium has completed minor renovations, but it had come to the point where the stadium needed to make big changes. In order to compete with other entertainment in town, the stadium is currently building new restrooms, a ticket booth, team store and concession stands.
Rachel Kelly, the Assistant City Manager of Burlington, said the City of Burlington often works hand-in-hand with the Royals. Four times a year, there is an event at city hall that informs new residents about what there is to do in Burlington. By the time the Royals are discussed, "everyone gets excited that in a small town like this, there is a big town affiliation," Kelly said. Whether it be due to the history or because it is an attraction that’s family oriented and affordable, the locals take pride in this team.
Although an affordable experience, the minor league baseball team has faced challenges with raising the attendance at games each year. While exact ticket sale revenues generated over the past years were not disclosed, ticket prices for the Royals have been $7 for general admission and $9 for box seats.
After the change of affiliation in 2006, attendance fell drastically. Brett Burke, the Director of Operations at the Burlington Royals, claims that the dip is due to the employers not being able to find unison and building a new brand. After finding a common ground, there was steady growth in attendance for a couple of years. Morrision gives credit to Ben Abzug and Ryan Keur, who were the general managers at the time, for the major spike in attendance from 2013 to 2016. They were the ones who were able to form relationships with corporate offices for sponsorships, such as LabCorp and The Times-News. In 2017, the downfall in attendance could have been due to Keur leaving the office and the current construction. Since then, it has been Morrison's mission to be able to maintain the current sponsors, while obtaining additional ones.
There’s nothing minor about the money that taxpayers in the city put into this future stadium. “The allocation for this project" was 1,251,000 dollars, Kelly said. All the costs and work that needs to be done is bundled as a project. According to Data USA, in 2018 there were 52,570 people in Burlington with a 22.1 percent poverty rate, leaving 11,618 people living below the poverty line. Kelly believes the construction is worth the money. After all, it is the stadium that is the home field for many events that bring the community together.
The location of the stadium was one of the first parts of town to develop. It’s older and nothing new architecturally. “Any time that we can spur something new, bright, shiny and renovate in that community the better," Kelly said. The city owns the stadium facility, which enables them to renovate and invest in the stadium every year, typically 250,000 dollars. The renovations which needed to be done, was approved by the city council on August 21, 2018. Kelly explained the process of the construction and how a majority of it was completed this past fall. Since it has been aggressively completed, the city hopes for the stadium to re-open in May, just in time for the opening season.