What is it really like working in Minor League Baseball? Kurt Landes, Lehigh Valley IronPigs President and General Manager joins the Work In Sports podcast to share his experience in MiLB.
Hey, everybody, I’m Brian Clapp VP of Content and Engaged Learning at WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast…
ESPN had it right when they named their network in 1979. While most of us hear ESPN and immediately associate it as a sports brand, the actual name stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.
Sports is entertainment – the overarching theme of attending a movie or going to a sports event is the same — you want to be entertained.
Nowhere is this concept of sports as entertainment taken more seriously than in Minor League Baseball. 176 teams, often in smaller cities like Eugene, Biloxi and Lake Elsinore, unifying under a perspective that to get people to buy tickets, merchandise and concessions means they need to be entertained by more than the game itself.
This is the platform every night in Minor League baseball — what can we do tonight that will make people see value in the money they spent, a sense of community and just have a good time?!
How do we create an environment where fans say, man, I had so much fun at the game last night.
It’s the perfect calculus between affordable tickets, food and concessions, creative marketing and entertainment… and sponsorships.
In minor league baseball, everything has to be seen as a sales opportunity. And that is where the role of President and General Manager in minor league baseball differs from the majors.
In major league baseball GM’s are in charge of player development, the roster, coaches and more — in minor league baseball it’s all about the business of entertainment, and turning a good time into revenue for the operation.
In my mind, there is no better training ground to work in the business of sports than minor league baseball — the opportunities to learn all angles of the business, how decisions relate to revenue creation and gain experience are without parallel. But even more, to understand the importance of entertainment and keeping the fans happy, because without fans there is no product.
No one knows this better than today’s guest Kurt Landes, President and GM of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, winners of the 2019 Larry MacPhail award given to the top promotional team in minor league baseball…
Questions for Kurt Landes, Lehigh Valley IronPigs President and General Manager
1: I have so many questions to ask about minor league baseball and your role as president-general manager of the IronPigs – but before we get into all of that, let’s get into your background a little.
You’ve been in minor league baseball since 1995, starting out in community relations for the Toledo Mud Hens and never looking back. Of all the sports, all the leagues and all the roles available in the sports industry – why baseball, and why the minors?
2: So many people I’ve interviewed for this show have jumped sports, or changed from team to media, or team to an agency – but you’ve been rather consistent. What benefit has it provided you to focus solely on the business of baseball?
3: There is no denying the baseball season is a grind. Long seasons, long road trips, games every night – after 25 years in baseball you are an expert on surviving the grind, what advice would you give people starting out in baseball to survive the day-in and day-out?
4: The role of a general manager in the minors is much different from that of an MLB general manager – you’ve been GM and Team President of the IronPigs since the team inception — can you explain a little of your role and expectations as President and GM of the team and how that differs from an MLB GM?
5: Let’s talk about branding and overall creativity – minor league baseball as a whole is incredibly gifted at branding. The IronPigs have incredible merchandise, gear, bacon-themed nights, giveaways and so much more. How important is it to have a team identity that relates to the region, but also brings people in?
6: The team recently was awarded the Larry McPhail award as the top promotional team in Minor League Baseball – I can’t imagine a more competitive field, as we just stated, Minor league teams are super creative, innovative and full of hustle, so to win this is quite an honor.
What led to this recognition this year? And how important is being creative to the overall fan experience?
7: Creativity is incredibly important, but you also must be able to execute on the ideas – how important is it for you when hiring and developing staff to balance the creative skillset with the operations/organized type?
8: Let’s dig deeper into staffing here – I think MiLB is the greatest training ground for jobs with sports teams because staff and interns are involved in so many facets of the organization. Overall the staff is smaller for minor league teams as compared to major league teams, but the expectations of pulling off incredible events and growing revenue are the same.
I’m sure thousands of people want to work for your organization when you are hiring – what makes someone stand out from the pack? We all know attitude and work ethic matters, but that’s hard to convey on a resume. How do you identify and develop talent?
9: Attendance numbers at IronPigs games are the best in minor league baseball – routinely selling out games or going over capacity, I’ve been to 10 games and every single one is packed. What’s the secret? I know there is no one thing, but what is the organizational attitude toward bringing in the fans?
10: Most minor league teams are in smaller cities that don’t have a competing professional team in the region. You are in Allentown, so around an hour and a half from New York and Philadelphia – you can really own the region’s sports fans – how important is it to be out in the community and getting your players to be visible?
11: The season is over, but the business never stops. I checked out your twitter feed and you are already on to promoting 2020 – what is your attitude and approach to running the business in the off-season?
12: We’ll finish with this — It seems baseball as a whole is facing an existential crisis – the game has changed, it seems every at-bat is either a walk, strikeout or home run – which results in slow games, less action and a lack of rhythm. Fans, especially young fans, have noticed.
Minor League Baseball is far more aggressive in attacking the pace of play issues plaguing the game – in your view what else can be done, and what should Major League Baseball adopt from the minors?
I love the small-town feel of Minor League Baseball — hearing Kurt say on game night the stadium is essentially the largest restaurant in the region gives a lot of perspective on the local community feel of sports…
Kurt also made it clear after the interview, that right now, in the offseason, is when they are looking to set up internships and seasonal roles for the next season — I’m going to post a few of their openings on our private facebook group, just another reason to join the group — search for the work in sports podcast on facebook, answer a few quick questions and you are in!
Alright everyone thanks for listening — now get back to work…