Ripken Baseball has the stated goal of providing ball players with an experience similar to those of Major League athletes. Ultimately, it gives players, coaches and families special memories that encourage them to continue to enjoy and play the game.
The organization offers events in different formats, including week-long tournaments, three- and four-game tournaments, spring training that allow high school and college teams to tune up their game prior to the season, and a collegiate summer league to provide play when school is out. The Ripken ExperienceTM is a series of purpose-built baseball venues, located in Aberdeen, Maryland; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. The newest facility, located in the Elizabethtown Sports Park, was just announced, and play will begin there in 2023.
Each facility provides a big league experience for players, including opening ceremonies, professional-grade announcers and walk-up music as they come to bat. An MLB Ambassador also participates in the tournament and participates in a private Q&A session with all the coaches.
This year, Ripken Select tournaments were added, bringing the Ripken Experience to cities outside those mentioned above. In 2022, three cities will host: Frisco, Texas; Round Rock, Texas; and Panama City Beach, Florida. The MLB Ambassadors for these events are as follows:
- Panama City Beach: Andruw Jones
- Frisco: Rusty Greer
- Round Rock: Cal Ripken, Jr. and Bill Ripken
SDM sat down with Amanda Shank, Vice President, Business Development, to learn more about the organization and what it looks for in tournament sites.
Sports Destination Management: It sounds like Ripken Baseball is really devoted to creating a great experience for players. What is the season for tournaments?
Amanda Shank: We run events from March through November. This summer, we’re taking our weeklong tournaments to some new markets. Last year marked our first time to do that; we did a pilot with the Nolan Ryan Partnership and brought a tournament to Round Rock; in 2022, we’re expanding to also go to Frisco and Panama City Beach.
SDM: What do you look for in a city as a potential host?
Shank: First, there’s the venue. We’re looking for a minimum of eight fields, all in the same complex. They can be synthetic turf or natural grass; however, if they’re natural grass, we want to have grass on the infield as well. Then there’s the destination – we want to find someplace a family would want to explore for a week, since a majority of our kids are between 9 and 14 years old. We look for things nearby like theme parks, attractions, a beach, the mountains – the idea is for them to not only have a great experience on the field but as a family. The third spoke is having a collaborative partner on the market side – a group like a sports commission or convention & visitors bureau that can share our vision. They will recognize that this might be the first time a family visits the market, and they’re committed to helping them have an enjoyable time.
SDM: What about logistics?
Shank: Something we’ve found is that parents don’t want to drive more than 15 minutes to get between their hotel and the sports complex. They also shouldn’t have to drive any longer than that to get to attractions, restaurants and so on.
SDM: How did you select your locations for this year?
Shank: We did an RFP last year so that destinations could let us know of their interest. The 2024 RFP will go out later this summer. We’re still identifying markets and finalizing selections for 2023, with the markets identified by July 1. The opportunity to give this experience to more kids, and to have them share Cal and Bill Ripken’s knowledge, is really exciting. Editor’s note: A copy of the RFP for Ripken Select Tournaments to be held in 2022 can be found at this link, for those who want to familiarize themselves with Ripken Baseball and its needs in advance of the 2024 RFP.
SDM: When do teams start signing up for the season?
Shank: We typically announce our events for the following summer in late July of the previous year.
SDM: What are some of the numbers from the Round Rock event last year?
Shank: We saw over 3,800 room nights and over 16,000 non-local visitors days. The big differentiator between this and many other tournaments is that because people regard it as a family vacation, each athletes brings about 3.5 people with them. They also tend to add a day on the front end and a day on the back end to explore the area. Most of our families, actually more than 90 percent, are driving in and out to get to the tournament, generally up to 11 hours. Something also to keep in mind is that we provide a full experience; we send in a full staff of experienced team members to manage the event from start to finish. Ultimately the goal is to introduce them to what the Ripken brand is. We’d like to have them visit our other complexes and we’re looking to grow our overall venue footprint.
SDM: Do you think you’re accomplishing the goal of creating a great take-away experience for participants?
Shank: I know we are. I actually went house hunting not too long ago and I can’t even begin to count the times I visited homes where the families had kids and in the bedrooms were trophies from Ripken tournaments. That’s really what this industry should always be about.