The Fresno Grizzlies introduced a new management team and marketing strategy Friday as ownership made clear the changes were brought about by the need to increase attendance.
Entrusted with putting more fans in the stands are new chief executive officer Richard Fleming and new vice president of marketing William Rice, a Fresno State professor.
Both said the Triple-A baseball club would become more connected to the community through the introduction of a team-sponsored ambassador program.
The Grizzlies ranked sixth in the 16-team Pacific Coast League in attendance during the 2010 season, averaging 6,783 fans per game.
While that figure represents a 1.6% bump over 2009, it wasn't enough to prevent ownership from making sweeping personnel changes to the front office.
"We had an increase in attendance, but we want more," managing partner Brian Glover said during a press conference at the Chukchansi Park 600 Club.
"That's what this whole thing is about. We have one real succinct goal and that's to make the Grizzlies the cornerstone of entertainment in the community."
Fleming comes to the Grizzlies following a lengthy career as a legal and management consultant, both in Seattle and the East Coast. He and Rice have been friends since the late 1970s when they met at College of William and Mary in Virginia, where Fleming was a law student and Rice a visiting professor.
In fact, it was Rice who recommended Fleming to the Fresno Baseball Club LLC, the Grizzlies' ownership group, after Rice learned from Glover that the team was considering a management shake-up.
Even though Fleming has never worked in minor-league baseball or for any professional sports team, he said he has played the sport from Little League to adult leagues. Having grown up in the Bay Area, Fleming also counts himself as a lifelong fan of the San Francisco Giants, the Grizzlies' parent club.
"We want to take our excitement for the game and put that into everything we do," Fleming said.
Rice, a fourth-generation Fresnan and well-known professor, lecturer and author, will head up the team's marketing efforts while continuing to teach full time at Fresno State. Rice indicated that several of his students will work for the Grizzlies as marketing interns.
One of Rice's main priorities will be kick-starting a new "Grizzlies Ambassador Program," where 100 individuals will be hired to knock on doors, drum up business support and "spread excitement" about the team throughout both Fresno-Clovis neighborhoods and outlying central San Joaquin Valley cities.
"I want people who have fire in their bellies," Rice said about the ambassadors, who will work for the team on a free-lance basis.
The intent, Rice said, is to form a tighter, more connective bond between the team and prospective fans.
"When's the last time we visited Kerman? When's the last time we went out and touched Caruthers?" Rice asked.
"There's a paradigm shift going on here. [The team's previous management] didn't do a poor job at all. The issue here is we've got to make the stage bigger."
Last week, general manager Andrew Stuebner, senior vice president of marketing Scott Carter and vice president of tickets Shaun Northup were relieved of their duties as part of what the Grizzlies termed a "corporate restructuring." Glover confirmed a fourth front-office manager, director of entertainment and publications Krista Boyd, was let go Monday.
Glover praised Stuebner, Carter and Northup's contributions but used a baseball analogy to explain why the shake-up was needed.
"If you don't hit, you need to make some changes in your swing," Glover said. "That's really what we're doing. We're making changes in our swing, and we're going to engage the community in order to do that."
Neither Fleming nor Rice was given an ownership stake in the Grizzlies, Glover said.
Grizzlies managing general partner Chris Cummings was in attendance at the press conference but did not address the media.