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Ripken Baseball expands beyond owned properties and explores additional sports

By Erik Bacharach

The Ripken name is synonymous with the sport of baseball, both at the professional and youth level.

 

Now, baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. is leading the youth organization he and his brother, Bill, founded in 2003, to expand to new locations and, eventually, to sports such as lacrosse, field hockey and flag football.

Still, the goal of Ripken Baseball hasn’t changed. “Now,” Ripken Jr. said, “we’re just trying to impact more kids.”

Nearly 20 years old, Ripken Baseball owns and operates facilities in Aberdeen, Md.; Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; and Myrtle Beach, S.C., that draw hundreds of players and their families each year. In 2021, each venue had its highest revenue and team participation counts in the company’s history. The company has already begun branching out by building new fields — including four new fields in Pigeon Forge and replicas of Citi Field and PNC Park in Aberdeen — and staging tournaments at other locations.

2022 Ripken Select Tournament dates

June 5-10: Panama City Beach, Fla., Publix Sports Park
June 19-4: Frisco, Texas, Harold Bacchus Community Park
July 17-22: Round Rock, Texas, Old Settlers Park

The Ripken Select tour debuted last July in Round Rock, Texas, through a partnership with Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. This summer, there will be Ripken Select tournaments in Florida and Texas, all at locations that Ripken Baseball does not own (see below). Dick’s Sporting Goods, recently designated as the official sporting goods store of Ripken Baseball as part of a new multiyear sponsorship, will be the first brand incorporated in the tour.

The organization also is developing plans to expand into other sports through acquisitions. Michael Kenney, Ripken Baseball executive vice president who joined the organization in 2019, estimated the timeline for the company to be up and running in other youth sports is three to five years.

“Those other sports are too mature at this level for us to try to start from scratch,” Kenney said. “So we’ll make acquisitions, and I do expect multiple acquisitions across the different sports, so we can start with a base. There’s people out there that are doing this really well. What we want to bring to the table is our structure, our systems and our backing to make their business bigger.

“We turn these tournaments into experiences. We can bring more scale with marketing and we can lighten the burden with the systems that we have in place.”

Kenney, a former executive vice president of live event marketing for the Harlem Globetrotters, presented to the company’s executive board in December a new vision for Ripken Baseball that was much bigger than three permanent sites. “On the baseball side, we’re so authentic, we’re so pure in terms of the experience and what we want to provide to the player, the coach and the family,” Kenney said. “We want to be able to scale that into other sports.”

Just how big can Ripken Baseball get?

“I think of my dad saying, ‘Don’t get too big for your britches,’” Ripken Jr. said. “But [when Ripken Baseball first launched] I wouldn’t have thought that we would have three really successful complexes and that the Ripken name would be embraced all the way across the country. So we want to do it the smart, methodical way, and there is a little bit of an urgency to move. We’re really comfortable and happy with the models that we built. We’ve learned a lot along the way. And now we want to apply that so we can affect more kids so they can have more great experiences in sports.”

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