Wednesday, November 10, 2010

City clubs the Seals, ends professional baseball in Victoria

Seals owner Darren Parker greeted some thirty members of the local sports media (including the Seals Baseball Blog) with the same handshakes and casual "thank you for coming" comments you would hear at a funeral. And that is exactly what transpired over the next hour.

"We are disappointed to announce that the Victoria Seals have ceased baseball operations as of today" Darren spoke, much to the surprise of none
of the attendees after rumors started flooding morning news reports, the Times Colonist, and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Staff and players were informed yesterday of the situation. General Manager Roxann Bury spent most of the night and early morning texting and talking to players about the situation, and where the Seals go from here.

It's quite clear however, that they go nowhere right now. Many of the key players from last year had already been retained on options, and all of them are disappointed to not be coming back to the city they called their home last summer. No names w
ere given, other than T-Mac, whom Darren expressed as being saddened by the announcement. Immediate tasks for Darren are to find homes for all of his boys, whom you could tell he felt badly for.

Darren himself was noticeably shak
en up at times during the announcement, as were other members of the Seals staff in attendance. Curtis Clarke, Mike Walker and Roxann Bury stood quietly during the conference, hearing many of the comments themselves for the first time.

Most of the conversation around the root cause of why this happened centered around the City of Victoria, and their inability to support and partner with a professional sports team in a city-run venue. Darren was quick to point out that at this level, you
don't run a franchise to make money, you do it because you love the game. Still, you need to at least break even. Over the two years here, the Seals experienced losses mentioned as being "well over a million dollars".

It seems the city treated the Seals like crap, never embracing the "partnership" aspect of the agreement. For instance, being a union facility only city workers could work at the venue. No volunteers were allowed to help - which is the life blood of many small market teams. Even when given advanced warnings that games were selling well, or big crowds were expected, the city was not able to step up to help, and the Seals paid the price. Where big games could have helped fill the needed revenue void, all they did was lower the fan's experience at the park.

The lease was way too high, the revenues from concession and alcohol sales were nowhere near what they should have been, and the facility was
never upgraded as expected. The Seals couldn't acquire sponsors for things such as hot dogs or beer - huge revenue draws for sports teams.

The Seals even asked about buying RAP and managing it, in much the same way as the Salmon Kings ownership group owns the SOFA, and the city's response was a f
lat NO due to more "union agreements". Something about the fact that the facility would be required to sit dormant for two years if sold...

Both Darren Parker and his father Russ, a thirty year veteran of running professional sports teams admitted that with a different venue to play in, or w
ith better city support, the team would have remained viable.

Darren remains the Seals owner, and will remain living here in Victoria with his family. He commented that he has fielded offers from "other Mayors" about options, and would also welcome offers from other ownership groups both local and outside of Victoria. In the back of the room, while all the negative talk about Victoria swirled through the air, Langford Mayor Stu Young stood quietly listening, and checking his em
ail. Langford at this point though, is not a short-term solution, as there is no venue capable of holding the Seals. The future? Who knows.

Darren made special note thanking the fans of Victoria, the corporate support they received, and the dedication of his staff. He pointed to the shared sense of community he had hoped the Seals would bring, and the positive impact the team had on families in the area. Speaking from my own experience, bringing the kids out to the ball park many times over the summer provided moments they will cherish for years. The charity work the Seals did, both on the field with 50/50 sharing, and off the field, were a key part of what the Seals stood for in the community, and will be missed.

Seals' staff members Roxann Bury, Mike Walker, and Curtis Clarke

Was it all about the city though? The GBL will have big problems next year as well, and would have regardless of what happened to Victoria. They are currently in danger of having six or fewer teams in the league - at least two of them league owned, which is not a sustainable model. How much of a factor did the potential demise of the GBL play into the decision is unknown, but it had to have some impact on the decision. There was some talk about other leagues such as the Northern league, but other leagues are having similar issues due to the economy in many cities. Darren was quick to point out that at this level, with these expected revenues, the league has to remain a "bus league" to achieve true success. Having to fly to far-away locations is a killer.

Oh and the scoreboard is for sale as well, if you want to impress your neighborhood, or just keep track of major league games at home...

So that's it blog fans. Over the next while we will spend some time analyzing and recapping, complaining and bitching, and generally feeling sad about the loss of our boys in blue. After that? Who knows. We invite you to share a few last comments, share some stories of the old boy if you like, and take this one out with a bang. Damn guys, we hardly knew ya. Rest in Peace.