Monday, December 12, 2011

Michael Pfaff Interview

The Long Island Ducks were a successful minor league organization before Michael Pfaff arrived in 2002, but he took it to another level when he arrived, especially when he was named General Manger in 2006.

On his watch the Ducks lead all of Independent baseball in attendance in 2008. As a result he was named "Atlantic League Executive of the Year." He was also named one of "The Long Island Business Reviews - 40 under 40" for 2009 which commemorates the best 40 business people on Long Island under 40 years old.

In 2010 he won his second "
Atlantic League Executive of the Year and the Ducks again led the Atlantic League in attendance.

In 2011, Pfaff took on role as team president where he was instrumental in the Ducks 1st Half and 2nd Half Championships, and also the 2011 Liberty Division Championship.

Mike took some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions of us.


CM: Prior to working with the Ducks you worked for the NFL in the Commissioners office. The NFL continues to grow and have success, but so do the Ducks and the Atlantic League. Even though there two different sports do you think see similarities between the two?

MP: Sure, there are multiple similarities. They are two different sports, but both the Ducks and the NFL aim to provide fans with the same thing – value for their hard earned discretionary dollar. We both look to appeal to and draw from across the spectrum of socio-economic groups. Both also share the same type of success in their respective arenas. The NFL is widely recognized as one of, if not the very best, major sports organization in the world. The Ducks are widely recognized as one of, if not the very best, minor league baseball operation in America. Both have extremely high expectations and standards and both stop at nothing to create the best possible fan and sponsor experience from start to finish. Whether you are paying $10 for a Ducks ticket or hundreds for an NFL game ticket, both aim for customers to leave feeling like they received a good value. When customers feel like they experienced a good value, they tend to return.

CM: The Ducks continue to lead the Atlantic League in attendance, while other teams have struggled and ultimately left the league. What do the Ducks offer that makes the fans continue to come to the ball park?

MP:
It’s a combination of factors. Part of it is the aforementioned value, part of it is a different approach to doing business than many take and part of it is the market. Long Island has nearly 3 million year-round residents, and while it’s not the only reason the Ducks have enjoyed success, generally speaking, that is where it starts. Add to it a great product that charges a price affordable enough for all to enjoy in a facility that holds itself to the highest standards of cleanliness, staff friendliness and security and you’ve got the makings of a pretty good recipe for success. It doesn’t hurt to work harder, work smarter and never stop trying to improve also.

CM: In 2011, you were named team President as well as already being the General Manager. What do your day-to-day duties include?
MP: My daily routine varies over the course of the calendar year, but in general I am responsible for the day-to-day operation of the team. Sales, marketing, ticketing, promotional, media, financial and operational oversight (ballpark and baseball operations) are all part of the job description. My goal is to make sure we remain true to our mission of providing affordable family entertainment and a quality of life benefit to Long Island and our community, maximize revenue opportunities, keep expenses in check and make our fans and ownership happy.

CM: Every season aside from a hand full of players, who have a totally different roster. How do you go about signing players? Do you have scouts?

MP: There are no scouts and no player personnel “department” for the Ducks. After 14 seasons and hundreds of purchased contracts, the Atlantic League is very well known to agents, players and MLB clubs, so there are many of each that reach out directly to us for the opportunity to play on Long Island. The trick is to make sure that you’ve got the right type of player. Doing homework pays dividends. Checking a player’s background, references, talking to people that know or have played with him - it’s all important. Communication with prospective players is key also. We try to be as honest as possible with everyone we sign regarding expectations and team/individual goals so everyone is on board from the first day of spring training and can come together as a cohesive unit.

CM: When and where are the Independent winter meetings held this year? What is discussed at these meetings?

MP: The Atlantic League will have a few meetings each year – Board of Directors meetings, General Managers meetings, etc. Those are utilized to discuss league issues, rules and regulations and overall business. The independent meetings I think you are referring to, where attendees from all of the independent leagues in operation were invited (and many attended), have not been held for the past few years. They were broader in scope but similar to our league meetings – there was also a program in place for focus groups to break out across their specific areas of interest and share best practices, discuss successful promotions and offer helpful advice on several different topics of discussion.

CM: With the Sugarland Skeeters entering the league next season, is the league going to have an expansion draft? When would that be?

MP: The league will be holding an expansion draft for the Skeeters sometime early in the New Year. Sugarland and the league will announce the exact date in the coming weeks. It will be run the same way preceding Atlantic League expansion drafts were run.
CM: What are going to be the logistics involved in having the Ducks travel to Texas next season?

MP: Logistically speaking, the 2012 schedule has been released. The Ducks will be travelling to Texas by air when scheduled to play the Skeeters. It’s new for the Ducks and the league but Sugarland is working very hard to have everything in place so travel is as smooth as possible for the other 7 member clubs who are traveling further distances than ever before. While I’m sure there will be some growing pains, it doesn’t seem like anything we can’t handle. I know the players are looking forward to it!

CM: The Atlantic League is obviously expanding with the addition of the Skeeters (2012), and the Loudoun Hounds (2013). Ducks Owner/CEO Frank Boulton said in pre-game interview before game two of the Atlantic League Championship series that AL is looking at the possibility of putting a four team division in Texas. Also, the AL has been actively been trying to get a team in Nassau County. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think there will further expansion outside of those two scenarios?

MP: Expansion is exciting for fans to discuss and speculate about and I think that there are a multitude of markets that could stand to benefit from having their own minor league baseball team. After all, what community wouldn’t want to have their own “Ducks”? Ultimately, having 12 strong teams and three 4-team divisions would seem to be a wonderful goal for the league, but the people at the top are very intelligent and will not do anything just for the sake of doing it. Smart expansion is what should be expected; meaning expansion into markets that are hungry for their own team, operators and public officials that are hungry to provide it and a corporate community that is supportive and wants to be involved.

CM: What was your favorite moment with the Ducks organization?

MP: I’m sorry to say it’s impossible to pick one as the most memorable. From an organizational achievement perspective, five million fans, 600 sellouts, the 2004 championship season (including the one game playoff win in Bridgeport and the ferry ride back), setting the individual game tickets sold record on multiple occasions, the 2010 All-Star Game, this past season’s 78-47 club, etc. are all things I am thankful to have been a part of. From an individual perspective there have been some very unique moments (Gary Carter singing “put another candle on your birthday cake” to me comes immediately to mind) and some of the recognition received has been gratifying, but the thing I value the most are the great, long-lasting relationships that have been built and that I hope to continue to enjoy for many years to come!

CM: Not only have the Ducks had so many great players play for them, but they've also had some great people. Do you have a favorite former player?

MP: You’re right – we’ve had a lot of great people. None have been as selfless as Justin Davies. He is also as genuine a “good guy” as you’ll find and it’s always fun to see him come back and visit the ballpark.

CM: Do you feel the social media has helped the popularity of the Ducks, as well as the Atlantic League?


MP: “Get Connected” is at the top of our website’s masthead - social media offers another avenue to continue to expand our reach, stay in front of people and get our message out. I’m proud of the job our staff has done to utilize multiple social platforms to further engage and activate.

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