Pat O’Conner has been working in Minor League Baseball since 1991, serving as their president since 2007. Throughout his 36 years, the sport has seen tremendous growth and the future looks even brighter. We had the opportunity to speak with O’Conner about the state of MiLB, rebranding and his career.
When looking at the MiLB landscape, there are many positives driving the continued success of the sport. These successes include strong relationships with MLB, facilities and finances, among other things.
“There’s never been a better time to be involved in Minor League Baseball. Our relationship with Major League Baseball has never been better. Facilities, the internal programs that we’ve put together with BIRCO. We’ve been able to jump start and get some good traction on medical insurance for front office employees. We’re seeing a lot of really hard work over the last 10 years come to fruition. It’s a very gratifying time and never been a better time to be involved.
From an internal analysis perspective, great facilities, great operations. The crowds are coming out in record numbers. From all of that, its liquidity, leverage and all of the financial metrics that you want to measure. We’re in really good shape. Our gross revenues are strong, our margins are strong.”
Current growth is strong, but any business has to keep an eye towards the future. One driving force of MiLB going forward will be technology and its contribution to the fan experience.
“It has to go as technology goes and will take us. We can never lose sight of our core business. The unique thing and great thing about Minor League Baseball is it’s an experiential product. It is best to be there to capture the essence of what we really are. TV, streaming and radio are essential parts of the product and the product offerings. I think you’re going to see more advances in technology. Fan engagement at the ballpark with technology, e-commerce. The quality of our streaming will increase.”
The business side of MiLB goes much deeper than dollars and cents. Other forces that can affect the business side include governance, Wall Street and the global economy.
“People ask me, What keeps me up at night? I don’t worry about the games. I worry about what’s Washington going to do to us and what’s Wall Street going to do to us. Things that are out of our control. We’re going to need to deal in the future with the global economy more than we’ve ever have. We’re going to deal with Washington and governance more than we’ve ever have. The product is going to remain the same at it’s core.”
In these times of economic uncertainty, Minor League Baseball has offered programs that make the ballpark experience entertaining and affordable. Programs such as the Tri-City ValleyCats Sunday Funday promotion offers affordability and value with packages that included four tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas for $25.
“I’m proud of that. I’m proud that our clubs see that. There are certain days that I get up and I feel really smart. I just feel that I’m on top of my game. But I’m not on top of my game to call Rick Murphy and tell him what to do with the ValleyCats. Our local people are entrenched in that community and have the pulse of the community. I’m proud that they’re responsive to that.
I’ve told our guys for 25 years, you should have a low price five dollar ticket on your menu. If you want a box seat, ok, that’s a little more. If you want to sit upstairs and have carved tenderloin that’s a little more. We can reach the entire demographic that way. Today with technology, we know who they are. We know where they come from and in many cases we know what they like and don’t like.”
The past few seasons have seen a multiple rebranding of clubs. Some initial feedback was negative, while most feedback was positive. Overall, these rebranding efforts have further tied the teams to their local communities.
“It’s a local issue with national and international implications. I was not a big fan of some of these names when they came out, but I chalked it up to my age and generation rather than the quality and creativity of the name. The quality and creativity have won out, because these new logos and stuff are going like hot cakes. When you have time to understand the backstory they make a lot more sense. They did their homework and it was the right thing to do locally. These are clubs that are going to show up in our top-25 in the future. They’ve been wildly successful.”
Social media has become a very important interaction and communication tool for teams and their fan bases. It’s an area that some teams do exceptionally well and an area that MiLB as a whole is working to provide support for all 160 of their clubs.
“I understand the power and I understand the effectiveness of it. We are internally trying to provide resources and support to all 160 clubs to enhance that. I think you’ll see tremendous growth individually and collectively in the social media activity of Minor League Baseball and its clubs.”
Looking back at his career accomplishments, there are many things that O’Conner is proud of with his involvement in MiLB.
“I’ve been blessed and I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked really hard along the way and that has been recognized. That’s part of my theme when I talk to young people. I’m most proud of the body of work. We’ve moved an industry into the 21st century in good standing. I think the next 10-15 years is this business is going to be extremely fun, productive and rewarding to be a part of.”
*Photo courtesy of MiLB