Mikal Thomsen's Tacoma Rainiers will miss the Pacific Coast League playoffs this year and are among the lowest in attendance of the 16 clubs in professional baseball's most far flung conference. But winding up his third season as leader of the ownership team, Thomsen enthuses that "things have turned out great."
The guy who attended his first Tacoma baseball game with his dad in 1960 at the age of three to watch the triple-A team then called the Giants and grew up rooting for his hometown team, which went through many nicknames, now finds himself living "a dream come true" as part owner of the triple-A team.
More than just a "part owner," it was Thomsen who convinced his business partner at Trilogy Partnerships, John Stanton, to join the ownership team he was putting together to buy the Tacoma PCL franchise prior to the 2011 season.
No less a baseball fan than Thomsen, Stanton was already part of the Seattle Mariners' ownership team and a year earlier had convinced Thomsen to partner with him in the purchase of the Walla Walla Sweets, a West Coast League expansion in a league for college players just below professional ball.
And although Thomsen's regular business card denotes his role as a managing partner in the wireless venture and investment firm populated by icons of the growth of the wireless industry, he prefers to pass out the card identifying himself as the CEO of the Baseball Club of Tacoma.
Tacoma's population of just over 200,000 makes it the smallest market in the league at about 40 percent the size of the largest PCL markets and its attendance this year that will wind up at about 270,000 is just over half of the nearly 500,000 of the Sacramento River Cats.
But despite the challenges to financial success, including being the AAA franchise closest to a major league city (close enough to lose some fans every game who opt to head north to watch the Mariners) with two years of learning under his belt, Thomsen says things have fallen into place in this third season.
"The first year was a learning experience and I felt a little like a depression-era child waiting for another shoe to drop," Thomsen said. "The second year was mostly positive and this year has been great. We're fully capitalized with 20 partners, new investors, and we've started expanding beyond the baseball model."
"We originally had to put more money in than we anticipated, but we have more than enough money at this point," he said.
"I believe our revenue per fan is higher than most franchises because we do a better job of packaging products together," Thomsen said. "And I believe, though I am somewhat biased, that we offer the best food in our concession stands, the best merchandise in our team store, and the nicest park in minor league baseball."
Thomsen says he's "very happy" with Aaron Artman, the team president retained from previous ownership. "He has been able to add a new head of revenue and a new controller who have helped tremendously on the revenue and cost control sides of the business. And everyone is working hard to make a visit to the park a lot of fun for the fans."
Thomsen, a businessman even more than a baseball fan, isn't being Pollyannaish in his enthusiasm for the ownership and management teams he has assembled.
Despite its small-market status and lower attendance numbers, Thomsen says Tacoma, which does not release its financials, "is doing better than many of the PCL teams in both revenue andoperating income."
And while success on the field is mostly in the hands of Tacoma's major-league affiliate the Seattle Mariners, the fifth-place finish has added to the fan appeal.
And he said they're realizing that "we have the stadium for 365 days a year and only need it for 72 days for baseball. So we looking for other ways we can add to our revenue by adding to our use of the stadium and doing other things with our resources."
"We need to find other things we can do with the ballpark and there's not really much of a model out there," he added. "We have to start looking at the things we do that groups would pay for, like using our groundskeepers to work with parks or schools."
"A couple of things that have really developed well this year are merchandising sales out of our team store, where we're making significantly more money this year, and concessions, which we contracted with Ivar's for this year after two years of misfires," he said. "They're doing a great job for us."
That first game with his dad was actually the first Triple-A game in Tacoma since the original Tacoma Tigers departed for Sacramento 55 years earlier.
So one idea that Thomsen shared when I interviewed him for a column two years ago was that he might restore the Tigers nickname. With that in mind, the team had fans sporting Tiger hats at some games, as well as hats with the other nicknames the team has had, including Cubs, Twins, Tugs, Yankees and Tigers until the Rainiers nickname in 1995 stuck.
But he says now that the new-name idea quickly went by the wayside as a survey of fans indicated "they love the Rainiers."
Noting that the Giants' hat was the only one his dad ever wore and recalling the growing-up days watching the team, Thomsen says: "I only wish my Dad, who was a big baseball fan and passed that attribute on to all three of his kids, could have been around to see the new ballpark. He would have gotten a big kick out of it."
And likely as well out of the fact that his son now owns the team.
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