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From Bedlington to Buffalo: Lessons Learned

It’s all baseball for Rich’s soccer lads from England

If there is one thing the Buffalo Bisons have to brag about, it is their front office operation, which is among the elite in minor league baseball. From executive management to public relations, to marketing, to game day presentation, to greenskeepers, the team has received continual recognition for their accomplishments.

This past week, as the Bob Rich-sponsored Bedlington Terriers came to town to challenge the local FC Buffalo team in a soccer “friendly,” the Brits also got an opportunity to have an extensive tour of everything the Bisons had to offer, taking in baseball games here in Buffalo and in Jamestown, home of the Rich-owned Class A Jammers, and getting a behind-the-scenes tutorial in everything involved in operating a sports franchise successfully. It all culminated with the Terriers being honored on the field at last Sunday’s July 3 Independence Day extravaganza at Coca Cola Field, before the team headed back to the United Kingdom on Monday.

Bisons vice president and general manager Mike Buczkowski had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with his counterparts from Bedlington and made the most of the experience. “Baseball and soccer are so different in terms of what the games are like and what one can do to engage the fans, but what we spent a majority of time talking about were marketing and sales,” he says. “What are some ideas to try to get young people more involved in soccer in Bedlington. The future fans are young people. So what are the things they will do to appeal to young people and families who enjoy the sports of soccer, the same as we do here with baseball.”

Just as the folks in Buffalo are so excited to have a new hockey owner in the form of Terry Pegula, so the fans in Bedlington are pinching themselves, as this wealthy magnate from faraway has swooped in to help their team. “They have been blown away,” says Buczkowski. “It’s been over-the-top for them for what Bob and Mindy have done even before here. To help sponsor the jerseys, a new playing surface, and a new scoreboard, which is coming in. So now to be able to come here and do all the things they were able to do, whether it be Niagara Falls, taking in the baseball, playing the game at All High Stadium, it’s just been a fabulous trip for them.

Bedlington’s goalkeeping coach Bob Walker could barely contain his enthusiasm as he spoke about his team’s time in Buffalo. “Your ballpark is absolutely awe-inspiring,” he says. “I give credit to everybody involved here, especially Mr. Rich. We’re trying to do things in Bedlington on a similar scale, but this is absolutely jaw-dropping.”

One of the things that caught Walker’s eye was the quality of customer service in the stands at baseball games, something that doesn’t happen at soccer matches. “Here your people serve cold ales and peanuts and sausages to hungry and thirsty fans right at their seats, and that is so nice,” Walker says. “Back home we don’t do as much of that, our patrons come in and they are focused on the game more. Everything here is geared towards the spectator. Hopefully we are going to try and replicate that sort of thing at Bedlington.”

The reception by friendly Buffalonians has been humbling for Walker and his team. “People in the streets stopped us just to shake our hands, to ask for an autograph. The warmth of the Buffalo people on our journey here and everywhere we have been to has simply been more than we ever expected. Buffalo is such a tremendous and gracious community, I just can’t say enough.”

As the Bedlington players were being introduced near home plate this past Sunday, eager fans were snapping their photos, while at the same time the guys were taking photos and videos of the scene around them, just trying to soak it all in. “This has been magnificent, if not a bit surreal,” says Terriers defender Peter Snowdon, as he watched the flags displayed and the anthem being performed prior to that evening’s Bisons game. Snowdon admitted that he and his team wanted very badly to take home the newly commissioned Bedlington Cup, but his team succumbed to the FC Buffalo squad by a 5-1 score at All High. “We’ve been so busy with touring, appearances, and having played the night before, it all caught up with us. We’ll get them next time,” he says.

Snowdon and the other players not only got to catch the packed house at the Bisons game, but also got to take in a few hacks in the service level batting cages before taking their seats. Team chairman David Holmes was given the honor of throwing out the ceremonial first pitch. All in all it was another memorable Independence Day celebration at the ballpark, sprinkled in with a British invasion, soccer style.

Around the Bases

• Back in the USA: Former manager Marty Brown, working as skipper for the AAA Las Vegas 51s, the top affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, after spending five seasons managing in Japan. Brown managed the Bisons to its most recent Governors Cup championship back in 2004. We caught up with Brown in Reno, Nevada, on our most recent Ultimate Sports Road Trip journey. Brown was touting the prospects in the Jays pipeline, saying, “The fans in Buffalo would love to have these guys.” With the Mets affiliation in Buffalo set to expire after the 2012 season, would Brown relish the thought of coming to manage in Buffalo again, if the Bisons and Blue Jays were to hook up? “In a New York minute,” Brown replied.

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