An interview with a minor league general manager

I had the opportunity to interview Pat Day, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays’ Midwest League affiliate, the Lansing Lugnuts. Day has spent time with four different minor league baseball teams and prior to coming to the Lugnuts, he was the assistant general manager for both the Charleston Alley Cats and the Montgomery Biscuits. He’s a graduate of Concord College with a degree in mass communications with an emphasis in public relations and advertising.

Brian Borawski: Did you want to go into baseball right out of college?

Pat Day: How I got into baseball was that I was going to a Division II school in West Virginia called Concord College and my degree is in public relations and advertising with mass communications major with an emphasis in PR and advertising. There was a rookie ball team in Princeton, West Virginia called the Princeton Delrays, which is actually the smallest town in America to have an affiliated baseball team. Its population is like 2,200 or something, and the college that I went to is just 10 minutes away from there, and I had to do a $200 internship for my degree in order to graduate, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do exactly.

I was a young kid in college, wasn’t sure what exactly I’d do when I got out, and I knew about this team and I left a voicemail for the general manager of the team. He called me back and said that he was starting an internship program and he asked whether I could come down to the ballpark the next day. I did and he explained to me how he wanted to have everything set up now for when the season started in June.

I did an internship there and it was really bare bones, grass roots minor league baseball. I did a little bit of everything. It was a really neat experience and I learned quite a bit. I apparently did a good job because he was friends with the general manager of a full season team in Charleston, West Virginia. They gave me another internship right out of school. I wasn’t guaranteed a full time job at the end of the season but started in January…

Brian Borawski: Now that was in Charleston?

Pat Day: Yes, it was in Charleston. I happened to be a December college grad, so starting in January worked out perfect for me. My first job title was the assistant director of public relations and media relations so I was an intern for the radio broadcasts. The way that organization was set up was everybody did a little bit of sales and I think I made, like, $800 a month and got 5% on anything that I sold, so I was out of school, I was really hungry like most kids are right when you get out of school and really hit the pavement hard and really started to like the sales side of things.

By April of that year, I still did some media relations for them and they had me do some group sales during the season and once I got done doing that, they offered me a full time job. You have to remember that the ballpark they have now is a new one. The ballpark that I worked at, this was in 1999, was celebrating their 50th anniversary. It was called Watt Powell Park. It was an older stadium with a smaller staff and they only had five full time jobs and I happened to get a full time job at the end of the season. Two years after that, Tom Dickson and Sherrie Meyers, the owners of the Lugnuts, bought that team.

I was the assistant general manager at that time and that operation is a smaller operation so I was really doing a little bit of everything but I was still focused on sales. I was ultimately sales manager. I also helped them work with the city council to get a stadium built down there, which turned out to be a big part of my job. They sold the team after the 2003 season, but it was perfect timing cause they were getting ready to get an operation started in Montgomery, Alabama.

I then got a job with the Montgomery Biscuits and my first job title was the director of sales, which is an interesting job because it was starting from the ground up. I literally had to teach people how to buy which was different than being in a market that was 50 years old because they knew how to buy tickets. The next year I was promoted to assistant general manager, and I stayed with the Biscuits for three years under that role.

Then in the middle of this past February, Jeff Calhoun, , the former general manager of the Lansing Lugnuts, stepped down to take a job with Farm Bureau Insurance. Dickson and Meyers asked me to move up here as the team’s general manager and here I am.

Brian Borawski: I wouldn’t envision a public relations graduate being a general manager of a baseball team. I just kind of envisioned it being more of a business school type of job but that doesn’t sound like it’s the case.

Pat Day: No, I get a laugh out of it too. My degree is in mass communications with an emphasis in public relations so things like advertising, television, radio and interested me. What does pay off a little bit is having the marketing emphasis which plays right into this job.

Brian Borawski: On any given day, how many different hats do you have to wear

Pat Day: One of the real advantages that I have compared to other general managers is that I have a great support system around me. It’s actually a business called Professional Sports Marketing that owns this team, the Montgomery Biscuits and also does food operations in Midland and in South Bend, so we have a corporate office which has four or five different employees that work out of their office in Chicago and I receive a lot of help from them.

On any given day, if you think about this industry, on site I am ultimately responsible for a food service department, a stadium operations department which is maintenance and cleaning, a marketing department, a retail operation, a finance department, a sponsorship sales department, ticket sales, group sales department and a box office. I don’t think I left anybody out, but my job literally weaves in between all of these functions. Fortunately, I’m able to spend about half of my time focusing on our sponsorship sales clients. I have some really, really good key managers here that make my life a lot easier and we work well with each other.

Brian Borawski: Can you take me through a typical day or is there no such thing as a typical day?

Pat Day: There really isn’t. There isn’t and that’s one of the beautiful things that I like about this job in that no two days are the same. A perfect example is last night. I got out of here about 12:20 p.m. and I got home about quarter to one, by the time I fell asleep it was 2:00 a.m. I was back up at 6:00 this morning to come in and try to get ahead on some emails. What I’m doing that late at night is I’m closing down the operation and making sure that all the cash is counted, everything is in the safe properly and that the stadium operation crew is out of here and the place is secure.

Brian Borawski: How much easier is your life when the Lugnuts are on the road, or is there really no difference when they’re out on the road or whether there is a home game?

Pat Day: The amount of hours actually put into work is more when the team is at home obviously because there’s the game, but I’m still here until 6:30 p.m even on those evenings. I am a total workaholic and I have my wireless computer at home and I’m always trying to stay ahead of things. We do a lot of email. Probably on an average day I’ll get 350 emails and probably about 15 to 25 voicemails that I’ll have to work through plus managing and leading 25 full-time employees.

Brian Borawski: How about during the offseason? How do things change once the season ends?

Pat Day: We’re actually already starting to talk about next year planning and we’ll start selling tickets. The playoffs will end Sept. 15 and we’ll start renewing our season ticket holders and group clients probably the third week in September. Then I do reviews with all of the sponsors just setting up for the next year. There’s a little bit of a lull probably from Dec. 23 until the first of the year. That’s when I squeeze in my one vacation of the year.

Brian Borawski: How tough is it to market a minor league team, especially considering that a lot of times your best player, if he does really well, is going to end up leaving the team via promotion to the next level?

Pat Day: The beauty of minor league baseball, and I really like to think of it as a positive, is that at least in our marketing efforts, we don’t market the team at all. The Lansing Lugnuts as a business can control how warm your hot dog is, how cold your Pepsi is, how clean your seat is, how clean the bathrooms area is and how good our in game entertainment is. Those are the types of things we can control, what we can’t control is the play on the field and the players so you stay away from that.

I’ve been doing this for about nine years now and I’ve been around some winning teams and I’ve never seen the attendance increase or decrease any more than 2%. The actual team on the field usually doesn’t make a difference. We market affordable family entertainment and we set up our promotional schedule around that idea.

Just to put this into perspective, we’ve done some exit surveys and 50% of the fans coming to the game don’t know who won or lost and 90% of them don’t know what the score of the game was when they leave the game, which is pretty cool. I always like to think we’re not doing our job well if people are really focusing on the winning or losing.

Brian Borawski: How much interaction do you have with your parent club, the Toronto Blue Jays?

Pat Day: Ultimately, if you count all of the ways we communicate now, including cell phone and e-mail, we have some type of communication with the Blue Jays every day. It’s usually about a player move or something of that sort because we do help them with travel, and they will notify me around the same time that the manager is notified to let me know when a player is going to be let go or called up. They usually don’t do that until after the game but they’ll let me know the travel itinerary so I can set our staff on it. Our Assistant General Manager, Nick Grueser, really handles a lot of that and he does a tremendous job doing it.

Brian Borawski: Do you have any interaction with the Jays’ other minor league affiliates?

Pat Day: Yes, we do. Minor league baseball does the promotional seminars and we take part in the winter meetings where there’s a trade show and a job fair there for prospective kids that want to get into the industry. There are about three different league meetings where the general managers and the owners get together throughout the year to talk about league issues. I also nteract with the visiting club manager the first day they’re in town, let them know what’s going on at the ball park, check and see what time they want to do batting practice if they’re going to do batting practice and to make sure he has my cell phone in case he has any problems. Those are just some of the courteous things that you do when a team’s in town.

Brian Borawski: How do you measure the success of yourself and the team?

Pat Day: That question can be answered on multiple levels. One, a measure of success as a general manager is the growth of the employees that I work with. Two, it’s also measured by the enjoyment of the fans and really being able to listen to them and use their suggestions to come up with better and brighter ideas. You can sit in a room until you’re blue in the face and try to come up with ideas, but if I really do my job it’s going out and listening to the people and working with Professional Sports Marketing, my ownership group, and coming up with ideas and constantly challenging ourselves to do better every day. The third way I measure success overall as a business is coming to work every day, wanting to do better than the past.

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