Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Dawgs Rant: 10 Years Later

In the summer of 2009 I wrote a blog entry about the state of the WMBL and it's relationship with it's flagship franchise, the Okotoks Dawgs. Through some changes to this website and such, that article is no longer available online. I made some bold statements and some predictions about the future of the league if things continued to change the way they were. Basically, I predicted doom for the league if all other teams were forced to keep up with the riches of the Okotoks franchise and suggested their success was mostly the benefit of some lucky bounces. I remember the points I made very well. Lets see how they hold up ten years later.

Prediction: The league would lose it's small market teams if recruiting rules changed and schedules continued to add more games.

What happened? The league did lose it's franchise in Saskatoon. One could argue that team was doomed regardless of league rule and schedule changes. The league has also added teams in Brooks and Fort McMurray. While there have been well documented stability issues in Yorkton and Melville, Weyburn seems to have adjusted well, becoming a contender each year. Swift Current, ironically enough, has been the league's most successful team since then on field winning three championships. Swift has also seen the most drastic upgrades to it's facilities, with a new clubhouse, concession and increased fan involvement in the community.

Was I right? The jury is still out on the long term viability of Melville and Yorkon, but with a new team added in Brooks and Swift Current and Weyburn thriving, the forecast of imminent doom for small market teams was mostly wrong. Swift Current winning three league titles since then and Melville capturing the 2014 championship proved the small market teams can hang in there.

Statement: A wealthy philanthropist building Seaman Stadium for the Dawgs is the main reason for their success. I crassly stated filling a ball park is easy when a 'gazillionaire' builds you a nice stadium.

Was I right? Nope.

In 2009 when I wrote the original entry, my vocation was broadcasting. Working in sports and sports marketing pays a large chunk of the mortgage now. I know firsthand the challenges in filling a stadium. If having a new, state of the art facility was the only ingredient in selling out a crowd, the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Regina Rams, Medicine Hat Tigers, Moose Jaw Warriors and Fort McMurray Giants would have packed houses every game regardless of the on-field product.

The fact is: in good economic times and bad, Seaman Stadium is ALWAYS full. Regardless of the team's on field product, there are always butts in seats and people having a good time. The novelty of the facility has long worn off and attendance continues to grow. Okotoks has a population between 25 and thirty thousand. Crowds of 3,000 are not uncommon. Sure, they are on the doorstep of the mega city of Calgary, but people aren't going to make a commute of 20-30 kilometres just to sit in a nice seat.

Not only was I wrong, but I owe the Dawgs organization and their leader John Ircandia an apology. I was dismissive of their success and their efforts not just with the Dawgs, but in baseball and their community. How the Dawgs market their team and their game day experience should be in a text book somewhere. While every team would benefit from a multi-million dollar facility, the off-field team in Okotoks has continued to provide a great experience even after the shine of the new stadium has worn off.

Why I wrote this. After seeing the fabulous new clubhouse unveiled in Swift Current, one has to give credit where credit it due. That clubhouse is a lifelong dream of former Swift Current coach Harv Martinez. He was worked tirelessly to forge the required relationships to see the project through. 57's coach Joe Carnahan has changed with the times and maintained Swift Current's status as one of the league's premier franchises on the field. Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault and city council has been open minded and supportive of the team. Wallace Construction, Crutch's Plumbing and Flyer Electric were more than generous in their building of the facility. Many hands within the community made that clubhouse a reality. Would the clubhouse, patios and game day experiences have happened without a team like the Dawgs raising the bar in the league? Maybe. Maybe not.

The Dawgs are the keystone species of the WCBL. Ten years ago, I predicted they would wipe out the ecosystem they were in. Instead, it has flourished.