Ripken's Empire Gets a Boost From Election To Hall of Fame
Monday, April 2, 2007
Since retiring from baseball in 2001, Cal Ripken Jr. has taken his talent for grind-it-out reliability on the field and turned it into a sports business empire.
Now his upcoming induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame is giving him the chance to leverage his reputation once again. Next week, he begins a 10-city tour to promote his two new books -- "Get in the Game," a motivational book about his rules for success, and an illustrated children's book, "The Longest Season," about the Baltimore Orioles' 21-game losing streak in 1988.
"There's a heightened awareness, and there's a heightened popularity, I guess," said Ripken, speaking at his Baltimore County offices. "It's a good feeling when you go around and everybody's congratulating you. This is going to be four or five months of that. I look at it as sort of a celebration."
Not everything is cause for celebration. Ripken is in the middle of discussions with Aberdeen, Md., over the six-figure losses that the town is footing as his partner in Ripken Stadium, home to Ripken's minor league Aberdeen IronBirds, a Class A affiliate of the Orioles.
Ripken put up more than $7 million toward the $18 million cost of the 6,000-seat stadium, and he is considering buying out the town's interest and taking over the entire facility.
But in general, business is good at Cal Ripken Incorporated.
It is a continually evolving enterprise that includes the stadium, two Class A teams, a youth league, clinics, tournaments and a Cal Ripken World Series, featuring kids who play in the Cal Ripken Baseball League. Ripken appears on television commercials and XM Satellite Radio. He sponsors conventions where baseball stars sell autographs. He has published five books and created several DVDs. He is a popular motivational speaker.
He drove the pace car for Chevrolet -- one of his sponsors -- at the Daytona 500 in February. He recently expanded his lucrative stable of endorsement deals with a one-year contract with Holiday Inn involving corporate appearances and national television ads. He is in demand as a speaker, and his fees are at a premium, according to John Truran, vice president of Keppler Speakers of Arlington, which handles Ripken's schedule.
Most of his ventures are part of Ripken Baseball, a holding company. "We're in this business of creating experiences," Ripken said. "We create content."
Ripken has expanded his empire much the same way he created his baseball legend -- one step, one day at a time -- since partnering with Aberdeen and Harford County to build Ripken Stadium five years ago. He went on to build several baseball fields next door, where he holds lucrative clinics and tournaments throughout the year. He owns not only the IronBirds but, for the past year, the Augusta (Ga.) GreenJackets, a Class A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. He launched Ripken Experience, a youth baseball complex in Myrtle Beach, S.C., last June, which offers an experience similar to that of the campus in Aberdeen. A 196-room Marriott Hotel will open at the Aberdeen campus in April.
"We have a long-term approach," Ripken said. "It takes a while to seed those [clinic and tournament] businesses and get the word out that this is a great place to play baseball and compete. But our tournaments are starting to build up, and so is our reputation and the quality of our fields. We don't take a short-term approach to something and hope to get the money back right now. We want to do it well, and we want to do it right, and we're willing to be in business for a long time."
Chris Flannery, Ripken Baseball's chief operating officer, said he is concerned with how Aberdeen's losses from Ripken Stadium reflect on Ripken Baseball, which pays $1 a year for use of the facility and keeps the money generated from the games.
Nearby development that was supposed to generate enough revenue to cover the municipality's debt has not materialized. A spokesman for Aberdeen Mayor S. Fred Simmons said he was not available.
"We've signed a 40-year lease and put $7 million into the stadium," said Flannery, adding that 300,000 people attended events at the stadium and surrounding youth baseball fields last year, producing $17 million in economic impact. "The city is financially not where they'd like to be. We're looking for a long-term solution that's a win for us and a win for them."