The news that Ripken Baseball® had acquired Sports Force Parks at Cedar Point Sports Center in Sandusky, Ohio landed on the national sports business radar with an impact like a meteor and turned a lot of heads – which isn’t exactly surprising.
After all, Ripken Baseball® is a diamond sports-specific entity and Sports Force Parks at Cedar Point Sports Center is the very definition of a multi-sport venue. Its fields provide a capacity for 11 baseball/softball synthetic turf diamonds or eight full-size soccer fields that are convertible to create up to 21 youth soccer fields, in addition to one ADA-accessible field for adaptive sports.
Over the years, the state-of-the-art playing surfaces have allowed the complex to host baseball, softball, soccer, lacrosse and youth football tournaments. Ripken Baseball will take over the operation of Sports Force Parks beginning with the 2023 season, which is underway with over 50 tournaments on its schedule. The acquisition raises Ripken Baseball’s total number of youth sports complexes to six nationwide.
As part of the acquisition of Sports Force Parks, Ripken Baseball also assumes control of youth baseball tournament operator 17 Tournaments, and travel planner Oakwood Lodging Group. Named after the size of home plate, 17 Tournaments brings youth baseball tournaments to Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Ohio. Oakwood Lodging Group creates a seamless experience for youth teams traveling outside their home market to book hotels, flights, and other travel needs efficiently.
Michael Kenney, CEO of Ripken Baseball, sat down with Sports Destination Management to talk about the merger and what is ahead for events at the new complex.
Sports Destination Management: This is exciting news! What changes can we expect to see in the near future?
Michael Kenney: The majority of the schedule for 2023 is already booked so we won’t be making any changes there; the next open window, the 2024 season, is the time when we’re most likely going to see changes. We anticipate we will start planning events with Sports Force in 2024.
SDM: What caught your attention about Sports Force?
Kenney: They have built a great business over the years; in fact, they are getting ready to host a 110-team soccer tournament at the complex. Their work with tournaments that use rectangular fields has been very similar to ours on the diamond side. Plus, they’re in what is known as the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, which means there’s a lot for kids to do after games are over.
SDM: Has Ripken been looking to expand into the rectangular field side of the industry?
Kenney: The rectangle side is something that is important to us; it is aspirational. There is a lot going on in soccer, flag football and lacrosse, as well as other sports.
SDM: Do you plan on making physical changes to the park?
Kenney: We’re not planning on that. The complex is truly spectacular. They do have replica fields there already, and kids really enjoy those.
SDM: Obviously, Ripken has become known for creating a great experience for kids; would you like to carry that over to tournaments at Sports Force?
Kenney: As we think about the business and about Sports Force, we want to carry over the same experience, and that is to make every kid feel like a professional athlete. We pride ourselves on the way we service the customers, the experience we provide; we want to continue doing what makes us special. There are a ton of great tournaments out there, but we look at what we do as being unique.
SDM: How significant is it that you chose Sandusky, which has so many amusements for kids, for your big expansion?
Kenney: We know that when it comes to travel sports, families are making quite a commitment; their kids are obviously playing in tournaments, but they as parents, and often other children in the family, are along for the ride. We want to make sure they feel like they have had a great experience. That is really part of our model – we don’t want them to just come, play and go home; we want them to go out and explore the community.
Each community is different, too. In Sandusky, there are the roller coasters. In Aberdeen, there’s access to everything in Maryland. In Elizabethtown, there’s Churchill Downs and so many other things to explore; it’s an unbelievable community. In Myrtle Beach, there is the ocean. In Pigeon Forge, there are the Smoky Mountains. Kids can go on a vacation while they’re at their tournament, and at each location, that vacation will be completely different. It’s not just a tournament; it’s a memory that will last the rest of their lives.
It was the vision of Cal and Bill Ripken to treat every kid like a big leaguer because this is the closest they might get to that experience. The majority of kids in these tournaments will not go on to be pros but they will remember their time here, the way they were able to drink Gatorade in the dugout and have fun with their teammates. These are the experiences that shape the rest of their lives.
SDM: This is your first Midwestern location. Is that significant?
Kenney: We are very strategic in how we plan our growth. We have been looking to the Midwest and we want to continue our march westward, but strategically, it has to be the right fit. We want to make sure any location lives up to the standards we have built for the brand, and we will continue to vet different opportunities across the country. We’re constantly evaluating opportunities for us to strategically grow our business all over the country.
SDM: Are there other parks from whom we can expect to see similar announcements about relationships with Ripken Baseball®?
Kenney: We’re working on things in other locations.
SDM: If an entity would like to work with Ripken Baseball®, who should they contact?
Kenney: They can contact Amanda Shank, Ripken Baseball’s vice president of business development, by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.