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El Paso MountainStar Sports Group Exec, Baseball an 'Ideal Match'

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Alan Ledford says he's addicted to baseball, but not as a player on the field or even a spectator in the stands.

"I was always a sports fan, but I was never a very good athlete," said the 50-year-old Ledford, president of El Paso's MountainStar Sports Group.

"What led me to the sports business was a combination of that affinity for the experience of sports, but also an interest in business," he said. "The combination represented an ideal match for me."

In his role with MountainStar Sports, the group that now owns the Triple-A minor league Tucson Padres baseball team, Ledford oversees the day-to-day work in relocating the franchise to El Paso, including creating a sales, marketing and advertising plan.

MountainStar hired Ledford as its president last year after he helped acquire the team for El Paso. MountainStar will lease the city's new ballpark from the city when it opens in 2014.

The local investment group learned about Ledford through Barrett Sports Group, a consulting firm that was helping in its efforts to purchase the team.

Ledford is principal owner of Perfect Game Ventures, a consulting firm that specializes in sports and entertainment and minor league baseball team management.

"It took one look at (Ledford's) resume to know he was the right man to help us navigate the process to gain all the necessary approvals needed to get a Triple-A team to El Paso," said Josh Hunt, one of the MountainStar partners. "He has extensive

experience, credibility, and extremely valuable relationships with leadership from Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Pacific Coast League."

Ledford's experience includes nine years with the Sacramento River Cats, where he worked as president, general manager and chief operating officer.

He also was executive vice president with MGO Marketing Group out of Lafayette, Calif., where he created business plans for venues and franchises such as the River Cats, the Albuquerque Isotopes and the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.

Before that, Ledford worked with the Oakland A's for 14 years, last working as the vice president of business operations responsible for team business activities, including sales, marketing, merchandising and in-stadium entertainment.

From Ukiah to El Paso

He grew up in Ukiah, Calif., northwest of Sacramento, in a farming family, which he said was "where you learn to work and work hard."

He graduated with a business degree from the University of California at Berkley.

With "persistence, good timing and a little bit of luck thrown in," Ledford said, he turned an internship with the Oakland A's into a long-term job, launching a career that combined his fondness of sports and his business savvy.

During his time with the River Cats, he helped in the acquisition, turnaround and ultimately the sale of the Portland Beavers, which became the Tucson Padres and is now El Paso's team.

Part of the Pacific Coast League's Pacific Conference, the team will play in Tucson for the 2013 season, which will begin in April. The conference and division in which the El Paso team will play will be determined later by the league.

In the meantime, Ledford has been more than busy behind the scenes.

He still lives in the Bay Area in California and commutes to El Paso frequently. And during the past few months, he has traveled across the country with Hunt and other MountainStar investors touring ballparks to study what has worked, what hasn't and what ideas may work in El Paso.

"I'm very excited about this project for El Paso and being involved in it at this stage," Ledford said. "This team and this ballpark will be seen as sort of a fulcrum to the resurrection or the rebirth of Downtown and this region."

A baseball affair

Listening to him talk, it's clear he's on a mission to have El Paso fall in love with baseball all over again.

"There's a romantic element to baseball," Ledford said, his voice turning serene. "It's unlike any other sport in that it's not necessarily about the sport. It's an experience. Some will treasure getting to see or getting to know the players; others will like the activities around the ballpark, or just the atmosphere of being outdoors in a state-of-the-art ballpark that feels like home."

Ledford said baseball tends to attract people who aren't necessarily fans of the game.

"People are looking to be entertained, to do something with the family, friends, kids. Oh, and there's a baseball game being played," he said with a smile.

The businessman in Ledford will tell you that it's about creating a brand.

"Our goal is to build an affinity for this brand, for this team, that year-in and year-out grows regardless of the team performance," he said.

Team performance is important, Ledford noted, but not something the group can control because the parent franchise, the San Diego Padres, ultimately selects the team's managers, coaches and players.

The Tucson Padres ended its 2012 season with a 56-88 record (25-46 at home) -- ranking second from the bottom in the 15-team Pacific Coast League. The team's attendance also dwindled, averaging about 3,000 fans per game.

"It's obviously a challenge anytime you're in a lame duck situation," Ledford said. He added that some people in Tucson will come out to see the Padres in their last year there, while others may feel frustrated that they're losing another minor league baseball team and not come out. "But there's certainly an affinity for baseball in Tucson."

Under the terms of its lease with the city, MountainStar will manage all of the El Paso ballpark operations. Ledford said he expects to hire a manager in the coming months, and is planning to put together a full-time staff of 30 to 35. A few hundred more will be hired part time to help run events, he said.

"Our real role in management is to create an experience for the fans that, regardless of what the team does, they'll want to come back," Ledford said.

To sell the brand, Ledford hopes the players will become part of the community that will in turn embrace and support them.

"We'll create among the players something that's intangible, that's hard to really measure, but in the aggregate, leads to a better experience for all," Ledford said. "And hopefully, it leads to a better performance on the field and a better result from the team's aspect."

El Paso is one of 30 Triple-A cities in the nation, and the second in Texas to have a Triple-A minor league team. Round Rock, near Austin, is home to the Express team. The Reno Aces in Nevada and the Albuquerque Isotopes in New Mexico are among the teams in the Pacific Coast League.

Half of the season's 144 games will be played at home.

"The 72 home games -- the 72 opportunities to entertain and put on a show -- that's the payoff," Ledford said.

Not that he'll be sitting back watching.

"My wife often comments that I'm worse than a kid when it comes to sitting still," Ledford said. "It's hard to take in a game like a fan does. My wife will say, 'Just watch the game.' It's hard to do. I want to watch what's going on around the game."

-- Name: Alan Ledford. -- Hometown: Ukiah, Calif. -- Age: 50. -- Education: Bachelor's in business administration, University of California at Berkley. -- Experience: President, MountainStar Sports Group, El Paso, 2012; principal, Perfect Game Ventures (Minor League Baseball team management and acquisitions) Danville, Calif., October 2011 to present; president, general manager and chief operating officer, Sacramento River Cats, 2002-2011; executive vice president, MGO Marketing Group, Lafayette, Calif., 1997-2002; vice president of business operations, Oakland A's, 1982-1996 -- Notable: 2006 Minor League Baseball Executive of the Year by Baseball America. -- Family: Ann, his wife of 27 years, and three college-age children.

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