World's Business Leaders Forbes
Standing out of the rain along the first base concourse, Frank Boulton, the Ducks' owner-and the founder and CEO of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs.
Charleston (I-Newswire) August 25, 2013 - As the raindrops pelt the Bethpage Ballpark field, interrupting the second inning of the Long Island Ducks' June game against the Bridgeport Bluefish, the grounds crew is struggling. The tarp they're rolling out to cover the infield keeps getting snagged, exposing the last 15 feet or so of dirt around first base and threatening to turn it into unplayable mud.
Standing out of the rain along the first base concourse, Frank Boulton, the Ducks' owner-and the founder and CEO of the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball Clubs-stares daggers at the crew. "That was the worst tarp pull we've ever had in 13 years," he mutters. "We could lose the field."
In the end the shower was brief, the game resumed, and the Ducks sent the fans home happy with a 4-1 win. And Boulton had an item for tomorrow's checklist. From the sparkling concourse walkways to concession-stand workers uncapping soda bottles for the customers, details matter in a business based as much on bargain family fun as on winning. Boulton's high standards led him to hire and fire seven cleaning companies during his first eight years of owning the team. "We want you to be able to throw your peanut shells on the ground and then come back tomorrow night and see no peanut shells," he explains.
Boulton's attention to detail has helped make the eight-team Atlantic League, an independent professional baseball organization with no major league affiliations, the most successful operation of its kind in America.
His Ducks (he owns a stake in the Bluefish, too) expect to gross an estimated $9.6 million this season and will clear about $3.5 million before taxes. The team will sell roughly 5,500 tickets a game at its county-owned, 6,000-seat ballpark during the 70-game home season. Ticket sales account for 40% of revenues (the county takes a buck a ticket), with food, merchandise and sponsorships bringing in the rest-parking is free.
If it's not FORBES 400 money, it's still a handsome profit. And Boulton, 62, a former Smith Barney bond trader and baseball junkie from Long Island, is living every fan's dream: running his own league.
Growing up in nearby Brightwaters, N.Y., where he still lives, Boulton was the starting catcher and team captain at Bay Shore High School in 1969 but let the game go when he went to Villanova University to set himself on a profitable course to Wall Street. But as he did bond deals and worked the phones in lower Manhattan, he found himself envisioning ways to somehow get close to the diamond again.
"I became a student of minor league baseball," Boulton says. "I started to see this critical mass-areas that wanted baseball with the demographics and corporate bases to support it. Cities were getting ready to make public investments in it. It was changing, and we were right on the cusp of it."
In 1989 Boulton found a way to make his dream come alive, buying a 50% stake in the New York Yankees' Class A affiliate in Prince William County, Va. valued at just under $1 million. Two years later he traded up, buying the Yankees' Class AA Albany, N.Y. team for $3.3 million.
After the 1994 season Boulton sold the Albany team and partnered with minor league club owner Peter Kirk to kickstart the Atlantic League. Boulton put up $3 million to start the independent Ducks, and other franchisees put up similar investments. The league now includes teams in Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Maryland, as well as Kirk's Sugar Land Skeeters, near Houston, the only league franchise outside of the Northeast corridor. The teams are stocked with minor leaguers who have been cut by major league farm teams and also with occasional big names looking to work their way back to "the Show."
The tightly controlled Atlantic League demands uniform standards from its team owners: Stadiums must be close to major-league caliber for playing surface and lighting, and player salaries are usually maxed at $3,000 a month. According to Boulton, all but a team or two are making money.
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Published On:August 25, 2013
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