Wednesday, June 13, 2012

City of Victoria signs three-year deal with WCL team

Ken Wilson, John McLean, Dwight Willett & Dean Fortin
The City of Victoria held a press conference late this morning to announce that it has entered into a three-year agreement with a (yet unnamed) West Coast League baseball team.

The new team will be the anchor tenant at Royal Athletic Park beginning in June of 2013, but the park will remain a multi-purpose facility. In order to allow that to happen, a new home run fence will be purchased that can be installed at the beginning of a home-stand and removed when the team goes out on the road. This will allow for non-baseball use of RAP for roughly half of the WCL season, which runs from June to August. As part of the new agreement, the city will continue to run the concession stands at RAP and there will be a similar sharing of revenue as per the previous arrangement with the Victoria Seals.

Mayor Dean Fortin
The West Coast League has been trying to setup shop in Victoria since 2008 and those efforts quickly ramped back up hours after the demise of the Victoria Seals in November of 2010. Mayor Dean Fortin deserves much of the credit for bringing a WCL team to our fair city and he spoke passionately about the game of baseball at today's press conference. Hats off to the mayor for all of his efforts.

For over a year now, we have known about the existence of an anonymous Vancouver-based businessman who was trying to bring an expansion WCL team to Victoria. Today we found out that there are actually two businessmen in the team's ownership group: John McLean and his partner Dwight Willett. McLean is a Managing Partner at Ansera Capital Partners and Willett is a semi-retired executive who has worked at Bruce Power and Enbridge. Although Ansera is a private equity / venture capital firm, McLean is quick to point out that his personal ownership of the team is completely unrelated to the venture capital business. McLean also went out of his way to praise Mayor Fortin, saying that he and the entire staff at the city's Parks and Recreation department were "tremendous to work with".
John McLean

After spending some time with the new owners, I was impressed with both of these gentlemen. Not only do these guys have impeccable business credentials, but they also appear to be quite fond of the game of baseball. Twice during the press conference, McLean referred to baseball as a "magical sport" and he was clearly well-versed in Victoria's lengthy baseball tradition. He pointed out that Victoria was once home to a minor-league affiliate of the New York Yankees and that Yankees star Gil McDougald played the 1949 season at Royal Athletic Park. Two years after hitting .344 for the Victoria Athletics, McDougald won the 1951 American League Rookie of the Year Award with the Yankees.

WCL President Ken Wilson was on hand at today's press conference and he also deserves a great deal of credit for bringing baseball back to Victoria. Not only does Wilson have an incredibly impressive background as a sportscaster, but he has done a outstanding job of steadily growing the West Coast League since he took over as president in 2008. Although the league has been operating with an odd number of teams in recent years, the WCL waited until the right opportunity presented itself before expanding to ten teams. With Victoria now in the fold, the league is looking to add two more teams for 2013 -- likely Medford (Oregon) and Chico (California). If that were to happen then the league would switch from an East-West to a North-South divisional alignment. The nine current WCL teams are the Kelowna Falcons, Bellingham (WA) Bells, Bend (OR) Elks, Corvallis (OR) Knights, Cowlitz (Kelso / Longview, WA) Black Bears, Kitsap (Bremerton, WA) BlueJackets, Klamath Falls (OR) Gems, Walla Walla (WA) Sweets and the Wenatchee (WA) AppleSox.

Ken Wilson
Our new team will be running a "select a name" contest in the coming months. It's unclear if the team will propose a small number of names from which to choose (like the Victoria Royals hockey team did last year) or if fans will be free to suggest any name. My personal preference is to call the team the Victoria Marmots (or better yet the Fighting Marmots) after the endangered (yet tenacious) species found on Vancouver Island. Another option is to revert back to the Victoria Seals. Feel free to kick-start the brainstorming by leaving a comment to this blog post.

The West Coast League prides itself in providing affordable family entertainment and the new team projects average ticket prices to be under $10. By comparison, the Kelowna Falcons charge $10-$12 for adult tickets and $5-$7 for children and seniors. That's considerably cheaper than what the Victoria Seals were charging, but the new team will be operating under an entirely different cost structure. Not only are the (NCAA) players not paid, but the cities in the league are close enough to allow teams to travel entirely by bus. Unlike in the Golden Baseball League, WCL team owners aren't burdened with the cost of flying to Maui, Texas or Mexico.

The media "throng"
Looking back on what happened to the Seals and the Victoria Capitals, it's easy to be skeptical about this new venture. But given the strong ownership, viable business model and the stable nature of the West Coast League, there is good reason to believe that this new, yet-to-be-named baseball team will be here in Victoria for a long, long time. Now it's up to the city's baseball fans to come out and support it.