Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In Your City, and In Your Life - Fort McMurray Professional Baseball

A couple of weeks ago I received an invitation that both delighted and perplexed me. It was from the Fort McMurray Professional Baseball group, and they were inviting me to an introductory information session. I was delighted because I always love invitations, but a little perplexed because I've made it pretty clear that my understanding of sports is minimal - except in relation to what those sports mean to the community. It wasn't until I attended the session this past Thursday that I understood why they invited me - because the vision they have isn't all about pro baseball, people. It's about how pro baseball fits into community, too.

The information session was presented by "The Sport of Business", consultants that Fort McMurray Professional Baseball (FMPB) engaged to help them flesh out this idea of pro baseball in Fort Mac. The session wasn't so much about baseball but rather about what having a pro ball team can do for the community, and how the community can benefit from it. Of course, in exchange they hope the community will support pro baseball, too, by attending games and filling up the stands in the new stadium planned for MacDonald Island Park. And people - I like what I heard. I might not know baseball but I know a tiny bit about our community, and I think having a pro ball team here is going to be very, very good for all of us - whether we are sports fans or not.

At the introductory information session FMPB discussed their mission and vision for the team, and while the word "baseball" came up a lot so did words like "community", "engagement", and "sustainability". And those words are a lot closer to my heart than baseball is, but there is a clear connection, I think.

In order for the team to be sustainable it needs to engage the community. It needs to develop a connection with the residents of this city, both in terms of creating fans and showing that it wants to provide benefit to the community. The baseball team is not a charity - it's a for-profit organization - but I can see in their vision a determination to help our community, like helping those non-profits I consider so vital. The team doesn't want to exist simply as an entertainment option but rather as part of the fabric of the community.

The phrase that came up a lot during the session was "In your city and in your life", which is an intriguing statement. FMPB wants to be considered a "first-call" - eg, when a non-profit is looking for ways to do fundraising they'd like FMPB to be one of the first calls they make to see if they would like to be involved. They want to engage our local youth, and they want to show the community that they are committed to being here long-term.

The mission of FMPB is simple - "contributing to quality of life through professional sport". They want to establish a first-class organization that is customer-focused, has a meaningful connection to the community, and that has long-term sustainability. Their vision is equally clear - "quality family fun entertainment in a clean, safe, comfortable environment" - and I can think of no place better to achieve this than at MacDonald Island Park, which is on the cusp of a major expansion that takes my breath away with excitement.

There are a lot of details still to be ironed out - ticket prices, and opening date (this depends on the construction schedule of the stadium at Mac Island, of course). There are lots of ideas floating around still - theme days, how to set up sections for families and groups and for those who enjoy a cold beer on a hot summer afternoon (and ballpark hot dogs, I hope!). And there is one very important question that remains undecided, and one where community engagement is not only being hoped for but actively sought - team name, colours, and logo.

You see, FMPB knows this is a team for this community, and they don't want to just pick a name and colours and a logo and say "well, here it is, this is what you get". Nope, they want to hear YOUR ideas, people. What you like, and what you don't (I suggested keeping "oil" out of the name altogether, focusing instead on some of the other things that make this community so great). They want to hear what name you think best reflects our community - and remember, this team will play 48 home games, but an almost equal number of away games, and they will take with them that name and logo. They will be representing all of us on the road, so the question becomes : who do you want the world to see when they see OUR baseball team? What do you want their name and logo to say about us? What do you want everyone to think of when they see our team out there playing baseball?

I was delighted to attend the introductory session for Fort McMurray Professional Baseball, and in the end I was no longer perplexed as to why I had been invited. My connection to sport may be a bit fuzzy but my connection to community is clear, and if they want to improve the community, to contribute to it, then they've got my support - and enough of it that one day I suspect you will find me in the stands cheering on our team, even though someone might have to explain some of the rules of baseball to me on occasion.

I'm also looking forward to another thing - when the name "Fort McMurray Professional Baseball" ceases to exist and is replaced instead with a team name, a name that perhaps we have contributed to, chosen, or helped to develop. I hope it will be a name which we can proud to sport on T-shirts and ball caps as we make our way around the world, too, and a name of which we can say "yes, that's our baseball team!" when asked. I gotta admit - I'm personally pretty excited to be in on the very beginning of this new stage of life in our community, but I don't think I need to be alone in my excitement. You can all be involved, people. Start thinking about names, and colours, and logos. And then start sending those ideas to Fort McMurray Professional Baseball. I may not know much about baseball, but I do know one thing - the folks at FMPB are listening to the community. This is our time to tell them what we want, and what our mission and vision is. This is our time to engage them, and to start to develop the kind of relationship with them so that on opening day they are not only in our city, but in our lives, too.

My sincere thanks to
Fort McMurray Professional Baseball
The Sport of Business
for inviting me
to learn more about
sport and community!

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