04-02-2012, 06:27 AM
I had coffee with the owner of the Sea Dawgs last week ahead of their season opener and just haven't had enough time to sit and write the whole thing. Hopefully I will do that later today, so watch this space.
04-02-2012, 08:55 AM
I was invited to have a cup of coffee with Pete Gratale, the owner of the Wilmington Sea Dawgs, to talk about things past and present, as well as his hopes and plans for the future vis a vis the Wilmington Sea Dawgs and the Tobacco Road Basketball League. And speaking of that, I need to say that I had every intention of telling him about the goings on here about the name, but we spent so much time on other things that I didn't get it asked.
We talked a little about last season for the Dawgs and how the team was going to improve for this year and then we got into things more interesting to the basketball world at large. All of the teams in the TRBL including the travel teams, have a shot at the league title. There will not be as of now a playoff tourney. The TRBL regular season champ will be the champ.
While every team has contributed some money to league operations, there isn't a hefty league fee as with other league situations for the team. The league is not flush with "league as a whole" sponsors, but much like what he did with the Dawgs and what his partner in basketball Mark Janas is trying to do with the Invasion, they are trying to build something so that it is easy for a league sponsor to see that there is value there to buy into.
The league is committed to statistics and will be using ScoreTrax to collect and distribute those statistics. Like many things associated with the league and with the teams, ScoreTrax its own independent operation but affiliated with the league to provide league services.
We talked at length about the Sea Dawg model and how the non-Sea Dawg non-Cary TRBL teams want a close look at how the Sea Dawgs do things on and off the court to use as a blueprint to shore up or expand their operations.
The Sea Dawgs could have played in UNCW's larger gym, but he likes the large crowd feeling of having a packed Schwartz Center and will only move when there are consistent overflow crowds.
We talked about the ABA years and how when he started his operation was set up to bleed money, which he corrected without sacrificing team quality or presentation quality. We noticed that only the Dawgs and the Razorsharks survive from that first year of the PBL. (We were both consulting memory, so this may not be accurate.)
He investigated the D-League and found that the money requirement just didn't make sense and that the Wilmington market might not be large enough anyway. We talked about how the NBL got through its first year with no foldings and all the games played and that the TRBL is looking for a similar year in that regard.
He said that the TRBL is willing to be part of the "Tournament of Champions" Mark King proposed as part of that summit. He confirmed my analysis of the ticket giveaway at the Frost Heaves game that year in the PBL, which is that trying to get a no-notice crowd on the weekend of the Azalea Festival would have been attendance suicide. And he also confirmed the value of concessions. He was able to make money with the concessions even with giving those tickets away.
At the end of the conversation, he asked if I would be willing to do some unpaid intern work for the team (and because of what he asked me to do, the league) and I accepted.
I believe that the TRBL model will be successful. Just about every away game in the league is drivable for both the teams and a fan like me. Wilmington to Charlotte is the longest road trip, for instance.
I see the TRBL as taking the PBL blueprint the other direction from the NBL. The NBL went relatively big but geographically small, but made sure it had all of its ownership groups solid and venues solid. The TRBL is going small both, but it allows a team a chance to keep costs down and if they can get and keep attendance up, they can actually make money in an area that seems to be almost defined as a money loser.
I am sure there were things we discussed that I forgot to put here, so ask me and I'll rack my brain to see if we had an answer.
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