Ex-team exec wants to buy Snappers

Conerton: Board to discuss private ownership of team

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As team president of the Beloit Snappers, Dennis Conerton says he’s used to fielding interest from potential buyers of the Midwest League franchise.

“It’s no secret we periodically hear from people who want to buy the Snappers,” Conerton said. “That’s a normal process. Of course most people will offer to buy the franchise, but they’re going to want to move it to Timbuktu.”

Conerton said the interest shown by former Snappers board president Brian Christianson has been a bit more unique. He read about it in a minor-league blog post.

Kevin Reichard, who posts for Ballpark Digest.com, authored a story with the headline: “Christianson: Time for Snappers sale.” 

Conerton had the story emailed to him unsolicited on Monday night.

Reichard wrote that Christianson “wants to buy the team, put it on better financial footing and keep it in the Wisconsin city.”

Conerton had already received a copy of the three-page memo Christianson sent to many past and present Snappers board members outlining challenges the Beloit franchise faces as well as building a case for private ownership.

“We already know all about the challenges in marketing and other areas we face,” Conerton said. “We’re also exploring the merits of private ownership.”

Conerton has yet to receive an actual offer for the team from Christianson, who was elected team president in 2013, but re-signed after about a month in office.

“There is a sensitivity in minor league baseball,” the team exec said. “They don’t like to hear about this in blog posts. They take team ownership very seriously. There is a lengthy, regulated process. There are background checks. There is a full disclosure of the financial deal. You have to show a plan for maintaining the stability of a franchise. The final approval is with the Commissioner of Major League Baseball. There are many hurdles you have to cross to become an owner and this isn’t even at the first hurdle.”

Contacted Tuesday, Christianson said he is eager to purchase the team, hurdles or not.

“If we could agree on a price, I’d be willing to buy it tomorrow,” he said. “I understand, however, that there is a process you have to go through and I’m more than willing to do that. I think it’s a positive sign that Dennis (Conerton) agreed to put this on the agenda for discussion at the (Snappers) board meeting next month. I would love to have the opportunity to speak that night to the board.”

Conerton acknowledges the team has experienced its share of concerns, starting with antiquated Pohlman Field. While the facility currently meets Minor League Baseball standards, there is a strong feeling it could fall short when the current contract expires in 2020.

“We are quietly discussing the options of the new stadium with some folks around here,” Conerton said. “There’s no question that it’s the right answer long-term for the team. We talked about two different sites the last time the discussion came up, and we ran short of money from our fundraising efforts. There were some areas where we only received 80 percent of what we thought we would get. As a board, we’ve talked about that.”

The Snappers franchise is publicly owned and has a not-for-profit status, but unlike the publicly-owned Green Bay Packers, it is restricted from selling stock.

“That option wasn’t available to us in 1981 when we started,” Conerton said.

Due to that status, the team can’t raise capital. 

“We’ve made some money some years and lost some in other years,” Conerton said. “We would hope that in a year where we lost money, we’d have enough in the balance sheet from prior years to make it up. If not, there have been times in the past where the directors have injected loans into the equation. We can’t take capital in. We are a non-stock Wisconsin corporation.”

In 2014, the Snappers drew 63,505 fans in 65 dates for an average of 977 fans. Only two other MWL teams drew under 2,000 fans per game — the Burlington Bees at 1,054 and the Clinton LumberKings at 1,713.

Conerton said the Snappers hope to improve on that in 2015, boosting the marketing of the team both in the surrounding area as well as in the Milwaukee area. He said when the team played a game at Miller Park he talked to a number of fans there who were unaware the Snappers were so close.

The team will also look at a number of other ways to increase revenue at the ballpark.

“We have discussed a lot of strategic planning as a board,” he said. “Right now, our working capital is limited. We’re tenants of the city at Pohlman Field and the city doesn’t have a lot of funds to invest in ballpark improvements. One of the ideas we’ve discussed is private ownership. We’re actively pursuing facts so we that can understand what options we might have.”

If there was an interested party in the Snappers, Conerton said one of the main criteria would be a commitment to the community.

 “It’s clear that we want to keep the team in the greater Beloit community,” he said. “We feel responsible for maintaining this asset to the three men instrumental in  bringing the team here — Joe Moen, Everett Haskell and George Spelius — as well as the other original investors.”

Christianson said he signed a confidentiality agreement when he was a board member of the Snappers and still feels bound by it. He will say that it’s his mission to keep the team in Beloit, too.

“The Beloit community has many wonderful things going on and the Snappers are a real asset that it shouldn’t lose,” he said. “I believe it can be a success there.”

He said the Snappers’ long-term success will hinge on a new ballpark, however.

“I firmly believe the team needs to have shovels in the ground before that deadline of 2020,” he said. “The park will no longer be grandfathered in and it won’t meet the criteria.”

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