Big news for the Holly Springs Salamanders hit earlier this month. The team has been bought by local media company Capitol Broadcasting Company, Inc (CBC). If you’re not familiar with the company, chances are you are familiar with some of their holdings.
CBC owns and operates Fox 50, WILM-TV, WRAL-TV, CBC Sports Radio, Sunrise Broadcasting, WRAL-FM Mix 101.5, American Tobacco Historic District, and the Durham Bulls. Did I mention the Durham Bulls?
The Raleigh-based company has a few reasons for buying the Salamanders, but at the top of the list, they love baseball. This takes the team from having a non-local owner to a local one. The owners and employees for CBC live and work in the Raleigh area, and some even live in Holly Springs.
I had an opportunity to sit with Mike Birling, Vice President of the Durham Bulls Baseball Club, and asked what I figured was on the mind of most of the residents of Holly Springs upon hearing about the new ownership: “So what?”
“Under new ownership” is often just another way of letting you know that nothing is going to change, but you’ll now be paying someone new. New owners often have lofty goals and visions of change, but don’t have the means to make the changes that they’d like to. I was happy to hear that was not going to be the case with the Salamanders. CBC is committed to taking the Salamanders to the next level.
CBC is excited about the potential that the stadium and the team bring to them. To hear Mike speak, it’s clear that he feels he’s found a team that’s still new enough that they are going to be able to build the team up, staring with a new and stronger foundation. Although we know that the Salamanders won’t reach the status of the Bulls anytime soon, the new owners bring a lot of experience to the table.
Just to give you a very brief history of the Bulls, the team was formed in 1902 as the Durham Tobacconists. In 1912, they took on the name Durham Bulls. The team went through quite a few changes over the years, but I’m going to fast-forward to 1988. In 1988, the team was owned by Miles Wolf. 1988 was the year that the movie “Bull Durham” was released, creating a huge interest in the team. “Bull Durham” was a comedy starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon, which won six film awards and was nominated for six more, including an Oscar and two Golden Globes. In 1991, CBC bought the Bulls, and in 1992, Wool E. Bull was introduced at the new team mascot. In 1995, the new Durham Bulls Athletic Park was opened.
I tell you that to tell you this – the company that brought you the Bulls that you know today, is the same group that has just bought the Salamanders.
To go back to Mike and his answer to my “so what?” question, they have big plans for the park and the Salamanders. Their mission is clear, although it’s too early to know the exact timeline for all the changes. They are going to work as quickly as possible to make changes for the 2018 season. “The food options will change immediately. We have two full-time chefs with Bull City Hospitality (another division of CBC) and plan to offer a wide variety of meals. At the Bulls stadium we have stations throughout the park with all different types of food. We have the space here [Ting Stadium] to do the same type of thing, and it’s just a matter of making some layout changes. We’d like to use the current merchandise space as another concession stand, and even add some grills and other stations in the available open space that’s currently not being used.”
Another goal for the new owners is to help make the team a true home-town team. “We’ll be definitely increasing the merchandise available and the amount of merchandise given away. We’ll have bigger promotions as well. We’ve done well with the promotions in Durham, and we’re excited to bring that experience here. Bigger and better.”
Other changes that the new owners will be looking to make moving forward include on-site cooking and broadcasting the games using some of their media channels. They also look to use the stadium as a venue to attract entertainment and events to Holly Springs. “This is a great stadium. We could set up a stage in mid-field and have some significant shows,” Birling added.
For the past 26 years, CBC has honed their skills as a baseball team owner. Holly Springs gets to benefit from those 26 years of ownership experience. The Bulls haven’t just existed since being acquired by CBC, they’ve thrived.