Q&A with Erie SeaWolves GM Greg Coleman

 

Last weekend Erie SeaWolves GM Greg Coleman was kind enough to participate in a Q&A with us here at MCB. The 2012 season will be his 15th year in professional baseball. Prior to joining the AA-Erie Seawolves, Coleman spent time with the Rays, Yankees, Athletics and Cubs.

 

 

Q&A with Erie SeaWolves GM Greg Coleman, after the jump

MCB: What is the role of a Minor League General Manager? How does your job differ from that of a Major League General Manager, and what are the
similarities? Are there any challenges that are specific to your job that
aren’t there for a Major League GM?

Greg Coleman: The General Manager’s role is very different in the Minors.  If you’re
the GM of an MLB team, your main focus is baseball operations.  You’re
trying to use the tools available to you, like trades, free agency, and your
player development system, to put a championship product on the field.

In the Minors, a General Manager’s role expands beyond baseball operations.
I am responsible for ensuring we build our brand in the community, grow our
fan base and sponsorship revenues, and create a memorable fan experience at
the ballpark.  I do have baseball operations responsibilities, but those
duties are largely about providing resources to enhance the player
development process.

If there’s a unique challenge for me though, it has to be delivering the fan
experience.  Fan expectations continue to evolve based on the technology and
environments delivered by retailing giants like Best Buy and Target.  Ten
years ago, there was no guarantee you’d have an ATM at a Minor League park
or be able to pay for your hot dog with a debit card.  We are tasked with
continually advancing our service delivery, but we’re often faced with fewer
resources when compared to our Major League counterparts.

While the responsibilities differ in the Minors, there are number of
similarities too.  At both levels PR is a big part of the job with plenty of
speaking appearances and media interviews.  Communication is key and that
includes how you communicate within your organization.  We set
organizational goals, put together a talented team (our staff), and give
those folks the resources and guidance they need to achieve the goals.  We
shoot for different goals than the Tigers, but our goals complement theirs.
The Tigers want to win championships and the SeaWolves want to break
attendance records and help the Tigers get as many players to the Major
Leagues as possible.

Q: During the season how much time do you spend with the coaching staff and players? Do you have any input at all on scouting and player development?

GC: In 2011, I didn’t get to spend as much time with the players and coaches
as I’d hoped.  I started in my role seven weeks before Opening Day, so I had
some key transitional challenges that kept me from spending as much time as
I will this season.

I like to spend time with the coaching staff each homestand to see how
things are progressing.  It might be sitting down for a few minutes to see
how the last road trip went and discuss what’s on the horizon.  As for the
players, you often build relationships with them as you participate in
various community events together.  We’re expanding our community affairs
efforts in 2012, so it should give me more opportunities to connect with our
guys.

The Tigers are responsible for scouting and player development, so that’s
really their area of expertise.  A few times in my career, I’ve had scouts
or front office personnel ask my opinion on a player.  Most of those times,
they were looking for insight into a player’s makeup or character.

With that said, our biggest impact on player development will be the
resources we provide.  We’re responsible for travel and lodging on the road,
uniforms, facility and clubhouse conditions, and helping the Tigers execute
their player moves.  Our biggest impact though has to be filling the seats
at Jerry Uht Park.  In the Eastern League, there are typically larger crowds
and more media demands than in the Florida State League.  It’s an important
part of the progression for the players as they get ready for Comerica Park.

MCB: How much interaction do you typically have with the Detroit Tigers and their Minor League affiliates?

GC: We interact with the Tigers on a pretty regular basis.  During the
season, we’re always in touch with them in regards to player transactions.
Dan Lunetta and Avi Becher are great to work with, and we’ll typically see
each of them in Erie one or more times during the season.  Recently, I’ve
also started working with other departments to see how we can expand the
Tigers brand in our market.  There are natural synergies, especially when it
comes to promotions, which we hope to tap into in 2012.  We love seeing what
the other affiliates are doing and determining if their best ideas can be
applied effectively in Erie.

MCB: What do you consider some of your most treasured accomplishments in your time in this profession?

GC: I’ve been very fortunate to work alongside many great people over the
years, and I’ve really enjoyed watching their success as they’ve advanced in
their careers.  On a personal level though, there are three accomplishments
that stand out to me.

When I was GM of the Modesto A’s, we set new franchise attendance records
and won Baseball America’s Bob Freitas Award, which recognizes the top
Class-A organization in the country.  Modesto is now regarded as the
California League’s model franchise, but much of that credit goes to their
current staff.  Their GM, Mike Gorrasi, was my Assistant GM and he’s really
taken things to the next level.

In 2006, while working for the Trenton Thunder, I staged a baserunning
marathon to raise money for Autism New Jersey.  I ran around the bases 500
times (which is more than 34 miles) in one day to raise over $11,000 and
valuable media exposure for the cause.  As a side note, my longest run prior
to that day (and since) was 12 miles, so I am hardly a distance runner.

More recently, I helped launch the Rays’ newest Class A affiliate, the
Bowling Green Hot Rods.  In about two and a half years in Kentucky, we were
able to start a team from scratch and weave it into the fabric of the
community.  MiLB.com named our “What Could’ve Been” Night its 2009 Promotion
of the Year and Bowling Green’s Professional Marketing Association
recognized me as Marketer of the Year in 2010.  I am really proud of the
foundation we built there.

MCB: You attended the Winter Meetings in Dallas this past December. What is your role within the organization at the meetings and what sorts of things did you do there? 

GC: In the Minors, the Winter Meetings provide an opportunity to share and
collect best practices with other teams and identify new trends that may
impact business.  One day is almost exclusively dedicated to seminars and
small group discussions designed to do just that.  I also attended meetings
pertaining to Eastern League business matters and Minor League Baseball’s
national marketing efforts.  A lot of the discussion in Dallas pertained to
industry-wide topics like an extension of Minor League Baseball’s
partnership with PBUC (Professional Baseball Umpires Corporation) and what
to expect from MiLB’s partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media,
which provides the framework for how content is delivered on our website.

The Winter Meetings also feature a major trade show and job fair.  While we
did not have any positions to hire this year, the job fair is great
opportunity to interview and spot talent.  I did spend plenty of time in the
trade show though.  It’s a way to identify new ideas, products, and
suppliers.  At the trade show, you can buy everything from a 30-foot tall
inflatable jersey to uniforms and ticketing systems.  One strong, new idea
from the trade show can evolve your planning for the upcoming season.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the Winter Meetings also provide
a great time to reconnect with colleagues and spend time with your business
partners and Major League affiliate.  The setting really allows you to
strengthen relationships with the people you do business with during the
season.

MCB: You’ve been around the Cubs, Rays, Athletics, Yankees and Tigers in your 15 years of service. Over those years you’ve come across many talented players. I realize that you don’t have much to do with player development but I’m sure you seen some amazing talent. Name a player or two that really exceeded or surpassed their ceiling, taking their talents to The Show. Someone kinda off the grid that you didn’t expect much out of.

GC: I was fortunate to be with the A’s organization during the “Moneyball”
draft years.  It was amazing how many players came through at that time and
stuck in the big leagues.  That includes guys that you don’t ever associate
with the A’s – Gerald Laird, Miguel Olivo, Ryan Ludwick, and Mark Teahen to
name a few.  I wouldn’t say either of these guys were “off the grid” guys,
but Andre Ethier and Nelson Cruz are both guys that have far exceeded my
expectations.  Both showed they could hit in A-ball, but it’s amazing to see
how their power developed.  That tool is supposed to arrive last, but I’ve
been blown away by their performance in the Majors.  Interestingly enough,
both of those guys were in our Opening Day lineup in 2004.

Brett Gardner with the Yankees is another guy.  He was a college walk-on and
his speed was clearly a gift, but I wasn’t sure how he’d fare against big
league pitching.  It was really special to see him score the final run in
the history of the old Yankee Stadium.

MCB: On the flip-side, was there anyone that you thought was a sure bet to
make an impact at the Major League level that fell short?

GC: The Yankees were really high on Eric Duncan.  He was a first round pick
out of Seton Hall Prep, the same school Rick Porcello attended.  At one
point, he was MVP of the Arizona Fall League and the Yankees’ top prospect.
The Yankees promoted him up to AAA in hopes that he might rise to the
challenge, but he struck out a lot and never really hit for average in the
way they’d hoped.  He’s still at it though, and hopefully he finds the right
situation that helps him put it all together.

MCB: Lakeland is home to the Detroit Tigers in Spring Training. Both West
Michigan and Toledo are also fairly close to Motown. Erie on the other hand is quite a hike from Detroit. Is it difficult to sell the Tigers brand to
residents in that area? What is the baseball atmosphere like there? How are the fans?

GC: We are fortunate to have a passionate fan base in Erie.  They’re very
knowledgeable and very proud of the players that have come through Erie on
the way to Detroit.  We have our fair share of Pirates and Indians fans
locally, but many of those fans also have an interest in following the
Tigers because of the SeaWolves connection.  I run into people all the time
who share great stories about meeting and watching guys like [Justin] Verlander and [Curtis] Granderson to current fan favorites like Brandon Douglas and Deik Scram.  We try to create unique and memorable ways for fans to interact with our
players, and we find that to be the most direct route to convert casual attendees into fans of the SeaWolves and Tigers.

Jerry Uht Park in Erie has nice sightlines for the fans.  It doesn’t have
all the amenities that some of the ballparks built over the past decade
might boast, but it has a bit of a “throwback” feel to it without being
outdated.  The ballpark sits right next to the Tullio Arena in downtown
Erie, so home run balls to left field hit off the south face of the arena.
We have a really nice LED video board in right center that was added a few
years ago, and that really allows us to add layers to the fan experience.
We try to make sure that the experience is fun and continuously evolving in
ways that appeal to one-time visitors and season ticket holders alike.

MCB: The marketing landscape has drastically changed in recent years because of social media. How much time do you and your people devote towards those marketing outlets to attract fans and revenue?

GC: It’s amazing to see how technology has evolved the industry over the past
15 years.  Social media channels now offer teams the opportunity to create
an ongoing dialogue with their fans and increase their fan avidity.  We try
to engage fans through social media about three times per business day, and
our main efforts are through Facebook and Twitter.  We run photo caption
contests and ask fans to post their own favorite photos.  We link to feature
stories on players and alumni and game highlights.  It’s a significant time
commitment, but it allows us to engage fans and advance those relationships
in a way that’s difficult to replicate through mass media.

Another key benefit to social media is that we’re able to seek real-time
input from the fans and use those suggestions to enhance the ballpark
experience.  This past season, we used Facebook to give fans the opportunity
to vote for their favorite T-shirt design, and the winning design appeared
on a T-shirt giveaway just a few weeks later.  It’s just one small example,
but promotions like these definitely give our fans a deeper sense of
involvement.  If we can engage our fans through social media and they come
out to just one more game per season as a result, the impact on revenue is
significant.

MCB: Can you discuss your intern program a bit? Any advice for those out there thinking about a career in the front office of a baseball team?

GC: There are a number of good internship programs out there, and ours is a
little more specialized than others.  We bring on eight interns per season
and give them the full experience of working in Minor League Baseball.  It
requires long hours, but that’s a part of the training.

Half of the interns spend 100% of their time learning about ticket sales,
and we give them the training and tools that they’ll need to be successful.
The easiest way into the front office is demonstrating success in ticket
sales, so we try to give our interns the experience that teams value.  The
remaining interns work alongside our department directors in operations,
entertainment, promotions, and administration, and each will receive hands
on experience in their department of choice.  Our objective is to help them
advance in their career.  If we do our job correctly, graduates of our
internship program become some of our best ambassadors in the industry and
help us attract the best young talent.

On a related note, we’re creating a new Student Ambassadors Program this
season that will give about 30 area high school students the opportunity to
explore a career in sports while also working alongside SeaWolves players
and staff on community improvement projects.  We think this can be a
powerful way to develop future talent and develop the next generation of
SeaWolves fans.

As for advice, I recommend that students study some combination of business
and communications.  I also encourage people to gain selling experience
because sales is required at every level of our business.  We have to sell
tickets and sponsorships.  We have to sell the media on the merits of
carrying our human interest stories.  We have to sell others on the value of
the skills and ideas we bring to the table.  If you can sell, you can create
value for your organization.

 

A special thanks to Erie SeaWolves GM Greg Coleman for taking the time out of his busy day to answer our questions. Be sure to follow him @SeaWolvesGM

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Tags: Andre Ethier Brandon Douglas Brett Gardner Curtis Granderson Deik Scram Down On The Farm Eric Duncan Erie SeaWolves Gerald Laird Greg Coleman Justin Verlander Mark Teahen Miguel Olivo Nelson Cruz Q&A Rick Porcello Ryan Ludwick

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