Saw this on Yahoo: http://biz.yahoo.com/weekend/ripken_1.html

Sports
Cal Ripken's Big Bet
Forbes.com
By Tom Van Riper

Cal Ripken Jr. thinks he's found the next big thing in the baseball business.

After a career as one of history's greatest shortstops, the Iron Man of the Baltimore Orioles thinks there's serious money in pairing young professionals with even younger instruction-seeking amateurs cheek by jowl.

Even the most sports-crazed investors might think twice about diving into minor league franchises or youth instructional camps, Ripken's two businesses that he's now hoping to turn into one big pot of gold. Risks would seem to abound when one (minor league ball) has experienced a rapid rise in franchise values to the point where many see the makings of an asset bubble, and the other (youth baseball) is a shrinking market that's seen participation drop 27% over the past nine years.

But none of that fazes Ripken, who now runs Ripken Baseball, an 80-employee firm whose mission is tying the youth baseball experience to the professional ranks. Even though a typical minor league club costs ten times what it did in 1990, Ripken has laid out millions to build not just a field of dreams in his hometown of Aberdeen, Md., but to build several of them for minor leaguers and kids alike.

At the Aberdeen complex, counselors teach kids baseball across seven fields right in the shadow of a $21 million state-of-the-art ballpark (Ripken personally kicked in $7 million, the rest came from public funds) that houses the Class-A minor league Aberdeen Ironbirds. A second full stadium, used for national youth tournaments, also sits on the property. Over 2,000 campers, paying between $300 and $1,195 per week, are expected this summer, about ten times the number they drew in 2001.

And he's just getting started. The goal is to replicate the Aberdeen experience in as many as ten other small cities over the next decade.

"We want to have kids learning the game while looking at the professional park they could be aspiring to," says Ripken, who four years ago withdrew from consideration for a top front office job with the Orioles to pursue the business.

The common risk in sports investing, of course, is emotional owners buying in for the love of the game, a driving force in pushing franchise values higher. Also, markets with a one dimensional economy, such as Texas oil, have caused periodic difficulties in places such as El Paso, Texas, and Midland, Texas.

And Ripken's strategy of selling pure baseball is a risky departure from the modern trend of a broader real estate play, with a stadium used as an anchor to develop an area along with a movie theater or shopping center. Imploring local politicians to support a stadium in a vacuum can be tough.

But the business can be a big audience draw. Tickets averaging about $7 for Class-A make it tough to beat for local family entertainment value. Aberdeen has sold out every game in 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium since moving from Utica, N.Y., four years ago, thanks to a spanking clean facility complete with luxury boxes and an outdoor café.

A record 41 million people attended minor league baseball games in 2005, more than attended games of the National Football League or National Basketball Association. And the teams are on pace to break that record this year. Experts have likened investments in minor league clubs, with predictable valuations and steady cash flows, to those in public utilities, only more fun.

"It's not rocket science. If you're an aggressive marketer, you'll get people to come back," says sports investment banker Sal Galatioto, whose Galatioto Sports Partners group occasionally structures deals for investors looking to buy into a team. Costs generally run from $3 million for a small-town Class A franchise to about $20 million for a Class AAA team in a And he's just getting started. The goal is to replicate the Aberdeen experience in as many as ten other small cities over the next decade.

"We want to have kids learning the game while looking at the professional park they could be aspiring to," says Ripken, who four years ago withdrew from consideration for a top front office job with the Orioles to pursue the business.

The common risk in sports investing, of course, is emotional owners buying in for the love of the game, a driving force in pushing franchise values higher. Also, markets with a one dimensional economy, such as Texas oil, have caused periodic difficulties in places such as El Paso, Texas, and Midland, Texas.

And Ripken's strategy of selling pure baseball is a risky departure from the modern trend of a broader real estate play, with a stadium used as an anchor to develop an area along with a movie theater or shopping center. Imploring local politicians to support a stadium in a vacuum can be tough.

But the business can be a big audience draw. Tickets averaging about $7 for Class-A make it tough to beat for local family entertainment value. Aberdeen has sold out every game in 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium since moving from Utica, N.Y., four years ago, thanks to a spanking clean facility complete with luxury boxes and an outdoor café.

A record 41 million people attended minor league baseball games in 2005, more than attended games of the National Football League or National Basketball Association. And the teams are on pace to break that record this year. Experts have likened investments in minor league clubs, with predictable valuations and steady cash flows, to those in public utilities, only more fun.

"It's not rocket science. If you're an aggressive marketer, you'll get people to come back," says sports investment banker Sal Galatioto, whose Galatioto Sports Partners group occasionally structures deals for investors looking to buy into a team. Costs generally run from $3 million for a small-town Class A franchise to about $20 million for a Class AAA team in a And he's just getting started. The goal is to replicate the Aberdeen experience in as many as ten other small cities over the next decade.

"We want to have kids learning the game while looking at the professional park they could be aspiring to," says Ripken, who four years ago withdrew from consideration for a top front office job with the Orioles to pursue the business.

The common risk in sports investing, of course, is emotional owners buying in for the love of the game, a driving force in pushing franchise values higher. Also, markets with a one dimensional economy, such as Texas oil, have caused periodic difficulties in places such as El Paso, Texas, and Midland, Texas.

And Ripken's strategy of selling pure baseball is a risky departure from the modern trend of a broader real estate play, with a stadium used as an anchor to develop an area along with a movie theater or shopping center. Imploring local politicians to support a stadium in a vacuum can be tough.

But the business can be a big audience draw. Tickets averaging about $7 for Class-A make it tough to beat for local family entertainment value. Aberdeen has sold out every game in 6,000-seat Ripken Stadium since moving from Utica, N.Y., four years ago, thanks to a spanking clean facility complete with luxury boxes and an outdoor café.

A record 41 million people attended minor league baseball games in 2005, more than attended games of the National Football League or National Basketball Association. And the teams are on pace to break that record this year. Experts have likened investments in minor league clubs, with predictable valuations and steady cash flows, to those in public utilities, only more fun.

"It's not rocket science. If you're an aggressive marketer, you'll get people to come back," says sports investment banker Sal Galatioto, whose Galatioto Sports Partners group occasionally structures deals for investors looking to buy into a team. Costs generally run from $3 million for a small-town Class A franchise to about $20 million for a Class AAA team in a mid-tier city.

Galatioto thinks the minor leagues have a chance to grow on television, currently a small slice of the revenue pie, as the multiplicity of cable channels in most markets demands more filler programming.

While Ripken's strategy of multiple-team ownership does bring some minor economies of scale in staffing, retail merchandise and food concessions, each market still needs to be analyzed and run separately, industry veterans say.

"You do it because you believe in each market," says Tom Dickson, who owns minor league clubs in Lansing, Mich., and Montgomery, Ala. An astute owner, he says, knows who attended last year's Fourth of July fireworks game, and will market to those same people to try to lure them back this year.

Ripken Baseball, meanwhile, just bought into a second minor league team in Augusta, Ga. That business is augmented by a youth tournament facility three hours away in Myrtle Beach, S.C., that has already booked 11 tournaments for this year.

"When the price of entry goes up, it means you have to make money doing it," says Chris Flannery, Ripken Baseball's chief operating officer, of the spiraling franchise values. "It used to be more a hobby ownership situation."

Flannery is convinced that youth camps, which have been snapping back in the southeastern U.S., have international potential, especially in Japan and Korea. And he holds up Augusta, Ga., as a model minor league location.

"It's the second biggest metro in Georgia, has its own newspaper, but is still two-and-a-half hours from Atlanta," Flannery says.

Ripken trades on his name by swapping promotional work for sponsors such as Constellation Energy, Comcast and General Motor's Chevrolet. Other sponsors include large national companies with a local presence, such as Bank of America and XM Satellite Radio.

And unlike many ex-jocks, he's more than an investor and promotional tool for the company. A tour of the complex in the back seat of his Chevy Tahoe makes it clear he's in charge.

"This area is for drills, we've put arcs around all the bases so each can be used as a second base," he says, pointing to a small field used to practice defending against base stealing. The rest of the tour brings a whirlwind of his thoughts on pricing, the feasibility of renting the stadium for concerts and the exasperation of dealing with overcharging contractors.

And many of the ideas for Aberdeen's modern stadium were his own. As the wave of "retro style" major league parks opened during the 1990s, Ripken would request a formal tour each time the Orioles visited. He bombarded officials in Cleveland, Arlington, Texas, and other cities with questions about stadium design, from placement of concession stands and restaurants to the construction of open concourses.

"It allowed me to see the stadium from the outside in, rather than from the inside out like I had when I was playing," he says.

The next link will take you to the Forbes ranked 10 best minor league stadiums: http://www.forbes.com/2006/08/01/cx_...&partner=yahoo

Personally, I've been to Raley Field in Sacramento and it was great. Great seats, great crowd, great skyline, etc. Great family atmosphere and I thought this line in the review had some merit: The wonder is why Sacramento serves as Oakland's minor league city, rather than the other way around.

I know alot of you have been to 5/3rd Field and I invite your replies on other field you may have been to and liked. For instance, I've been to Lake Elsinor, the home of the A ball Storm and found it to be very nice and sort of a replica of the Jake with a a nice lounge and restaurant in Left Field. San Bernadino, OTOH, while it was clean and modern, left you in the sun for almost any seat during a day game and that can make for a very unpleasant experience.

Rem