Pensacola Owners Think Organization First

Ask Quint Studer, owner of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos (Southern), what makes his franchise one of the best in the minor leagues, and his answer might surprise you.

“We don’t want to be a great baseball franchise,” said Studer, who owns the team with his wife Rishy and two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. “We want to be a great organization that happens to run a baseball franchise.”

And it’s a franchise that earned this year’s Double-A Bob Freitas Award.

Bob Freitas Awards
1989 El Paso (Texas)
1990 Arkansas (Texas)
1991 Reading (Eastern)
1992 Tulsa (Texas)
1993 Harrisburg (Eastern)
1994 San Antonio (Texas)
1995 Midland (Texas)
1996 Carolina (Southern)
1997 Bowie (Eastern)
1998 Trenton (Eastern)
1999 Portland (Eastern)
2000 Reading (Eastern)
2001 Mobile (Southern)
2002 Chattanooga (Southern)
2003 New Britain (Eastern)
2004 Round Rock (Texas)
2005 Tulsa (Texas)
2006 Altoona (Eastern)
2007 Frisco (Texas)
2008 Birmingham (Southern)
2009 New Hampshire (Eastern)
2010 Corpus Christi (Texas)
2011 Harrisburg (Eastern)
2012 Northwest Arkansas (Texas)
2013 Tulsa (Texas)
2014 Montgomery (Southern)
2015 Richmond  (Eastern)
2016 Pensacola (Southern)

After five seasons in existence—after moving from Zebulon, N.C., after the 2011 season—it’s clear that Pensacola has become one of the Southern League’s top destinations.

The Blue Wahoos finished second to Birmingham in the Southern League in attendance, drawing an average of 4,319 fans to 5,000-seat capacity Blue Wahoos Stadium.

Sure, part of the allure is having one of the most picturesque parks in the country. And having a PGA star as a part owner is also a draw.

But it’s also the commitment to fans and staff, Studer says, that makes the franchise thrive.

“We are very good at measurement and training,” Studer said. “We are a big believer not only in training of staff but also training management leaders.”

Studer said the Blue Wahoos have off-site staff training twice a year and they also use Sperduto and Associates, an Atlanta company that uses surveys to measure employee engagement and happiness.

“I’m proud when people recommend that this is a good place to work,” Studer said.

The results bear that out, Studer said, as 94 percent of the Blue Wahoos’ seasonal staff in 2015 returned for 2016, a percentage not usually breached in the minor leagues.

“We make it fun for the part-time employee,” Studer said. “No other business likes turnover; why should we?”

That’s the mentality Studer had coming from a non-baseball background. He was president of a hospital and then owned his own company before agreeing to buy the independent Pensacola Pelicans, agreeing to take on the team’s debt.

He owned the Pelicans for nine seasons and they drew about 50,000 fans, or an average of about 1,500 per game. The Wahoos drew 302,340 in 2016.

And the most important element of minor league success is the fans, of course. Studer says the Blue Wahoos rate highly there. In Net Promoter Score, a management tool that measures customer experience of a brand, the Blue Wahoos scored 85 out of 100, higher than the Ritz-Carlton hotel brand and the Walt Disney Co., Studer said.

Pensacola also pays close attention to the Turnkey Intelligence survey that Minor League Baseball recommends for its franchise. Turnkey helps measure the fan experience and the Blue Wahoos closely monitor the results. Managers huddle their employee teams before each game and go over fan feedback.

Team president Jonathan Griffith said issues can be addressed almost immediately.

“If someone says, ‘Hey, my seat broke,’ we can fix that the next day,” he said. “If someone has a bad food experience, we can give them a free meal.”

“They do put their fans first. Not to mention their great ballpark, which is a wonderful place to watch a ballgame,” Southern League president Lori Webb said. “They have gotten their community behind them. They have such a great support base from the business folks, and that’s fanned out to their regular baseball fans. They’re always doing something in the community.”

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