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.

Construction workers upgrading the main 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.

The Burlington Athletic Stadium, 1960. Photo derived from Burlington Royals.

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.

Yearly Attendance At Burlington Royals

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.

"There are not many places in Burlington you can seat 4,000 people and thankfully we are one those places."
— Mikie Morrison, Gneral Manager of The Burlington Royals

Tony Laws, the Director of Recreations and Parks of Burlington, has worked with the city for over 50 years. Over this period of time, he has seen the city and stadium change drastically. Laws said, "city council wouldn't allocate so much time and funding into this project if they didn't think it was a positive project for the community or well-needed." Laws and Kelly believe the fans deserve a better stadium to enjoy their experience further and hopefully visitors will discover the close-knit community.

Burke is in charge of overseeing the stadium set up and hiring game day staff. Burke's issue with the old stadium, was that it was limiting their growth. It is difficult to increase ticketsales when the facility is not as professional looking and running as it should be. With the construction, Burke is most excited about the multiple concession stands that will be scattered throughout the park. He hopes this will be beneficial for the fans because "waiting in line and missing an inning or two because you are in line is not an expereince" they want people to have.

Not only will the concession stands be improved, but the men and women bathrooms facilities will have better plumbing. There will also be a real ticket booth with windows, making everything feel more official, unlike handing out tickets from a table. Burke said, merchandise, which used to be sold in a tent, will now be in a walk-in store, to give the feel of a major league ballpark, rather than a high school one.

Hogan May, a junior at Elon University and local resident of Burlington, grew up going to Royals games. His childhood home is only a few minutes away from the stadium and he has seen the team grow with the city. May is aware that the project is worth a major price, but "this place is a center piece for the city," May said. While the surrounding neighborhood of the stadium is not well kept, it is not a detterant for people to go or not go to the games. It is about the expereince the audience has while at the stadium. Bingo, the team's mascot, is one of May's favorite aspects of the ballpark, as it brings energy in and out of the stands.

There is a certain charm that the stadium brings to the city. Once you arrive, you realize it wasn't that far from downtown. "All it takes is a little awareness and you'll have an amazing time," Kelly said.

It's easy to see how the Royals play a major part for the city, but Kelly looks at the Royals as a business partner and often works with Morrison. Through communication, Kelly, Morrrison and their organizations find ways for the Royals to positively augment a good door-to-door expereince from the moment fans leave arrive to the stadium to the moment they get home.


The design for what the Burlington Athletic Stadium will look like after construction. Graphic by Burlington Royals

Minor league sports don't put cities on the map or make outsiders think of them as "major cities." These games and the success of the team rely on the fans. As a local team, the Royals are able to give back and connect to the community, unlike major league teams. The owners of minor league teams focus on making games accessible for casual fans, with affordable costing promotions and events within the games.

As the stadium comes close to being completed, Morrison and Burke expressed their dreams for the Royals and the Burlington Athletic Stadium. By taking every renovation and event day-by-day, Morrison hopes for the facility to be used in a multi-purpose way. After watching Abzurg and Keur create success for the team, Morrison has begun the process of finding ways to raise the attendance. He recently attended an Appalachian League meeting in Johnson City, Tennessee, where each team discussed their most successful promotional nights and how they can improve those nights even further. Burke believes that the newly constructed buildings will increase attendance in the long run and not just for the season. With dedication and good management, Morrison and Burke's plan for success will work out in their favor.

“We’re a family. We hold a special bond with the City of Burlington and hope to continue that relationship,” Morrision said.