June 25, 2012

Q&A With Todd Breighner, CEO Of The Worcester Tornadoes


TITLE: CEO, Worcester Tornadoes HOMETOWN: Baltimore RESIDENCE: Baltimore EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree, Purdue University; MBA, Johns Hopkins University

In the U.S., not many may have realized that Worcester has a baseball team. Until April, that is, when the Worcester Tornadoes signed former American League Most Valuable Player Jose Canseco to a contract. In 2009, a group that included Maryland-based entrepreneur Todd Breighner bought the franchise, and it's taken up enough of his time that, when he was interviewed last month, he said he had been living in Worcester for 72 of the previous 74 days. But because he lived in Boston during the 1990s, Massachusetts isn't totally unfamiliar territory.

Minor league baseball, or anything that's not labeled "Major League," historically has had a hard time catching on in New England. But that has changed in recent years. Why?

I'm not sure it has changed. In the Massachusetts general market, anything that doesn't have "Bruins" or "Red Sox" on it hasn't typically done well. Why that is I'm not quite sure because the (Lowell) Spinners do pretty decent and the PawSox do well. And the Providence Bruins do pretty well from what I understand, which is interesting because — in other parts of the country — minor league clubs, a lot of times, do real well.

Can you give me a couple of examples of how you've handled the challenges of the Worcester market?

I think minor league sports is all about affordable family entertainment. As a general rule, if a ticket is $7, most people can afford $7 if you look at the major league alternative. And a lot of people around the country like to run two-for-one (deals) and stuff like that. I don't think there's any reason to discount your value. Here in Worcester — and I don't know if this goes back to the Spag's mentality — people want a deal. I kind of went with my general principles, and we've continued to offer deals. To me, the general price is a deal. But here in Worcester, they want a little bit extra. And I don't look at that as a negative thing. That's just the way it is, which is fine.

Is that the most important part of running a baseball franchise in a market such as this one?

The most important thing is to sell tickets. A new owner (can) come in and spend a lot on advertising because they just assume it's all about marketing and advertising. I'm not saying 'don't advertise,' but just straight advertising does not equate to ticket sales. Why? I'm not quite sure.

The driving force is your season seats and your groups. And in order to do that you have to make direct contact and you have to establish relationships.

Worcester has had minor league hockey for many years; the Tornadoes, of course; and now semipro soccer. What do you think is the outlook for this area as a team sports venue?

I think it's a tough market. I think it's really tough. I don't have anything to back that up. I'm not quite sure why. It doesn't necessarily apply to anything that has to do with success for us. We're profitable. I'm reasonably happy with the numbers we have. The energy I've had to put into this and the sacrifice and commitment to do what I've had to do has been extreme.

Who or what has been your biggest influence as an entrepreneur?

Probably it's my parents. I didn't necessarily grow up thinking I was going to be an entrepreneur. My mom was a motivational speaker and my dad was a sales guy and businessman. My dad was (worldwide) director of sales for World Book Encyclopedia, and a lot of the same principles in getting up every day and getting out the door were preached by my folks. I guess for whatever reason, I didn't have any other choice. It just kind of worked out that way.

How has Jose Canseco helped in the dugout and at the gate?

In the dugout, you'd probably have to reach out to the general manager or our manager because, as a general rule, I don't get near the dugout. Undoubtedly the gate will be up. I'm really guarded. I can't say in this business, "He's here; you're going to do great." You can't make that assumption. But I think a lot of people are going to be anxious to get out and see him.

This interview was conducted and edited for length by Rick Saia, Worcester Business Journal Staff Writer.

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