CHARLIE ESHBACH is president of the Portland Sea Dogs, the AA Eastern League affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. Purchased as a minor league expansion team by the late Dan Burke, the team began play at Portland’s Hadlock Field in 1994, originally as an affiliate of the Florida Marlins. Eshbach talked about the team, which is in the middle of its 20th season and currently in second place in its division:
Q: Describe the financial relationship between the Red Sox and Sea Dogs. Who pays for what?
A: It’s a rather complex thing, The contract is about 300 pages long. It’s a player development contract. In a nutshell, they (the Red Sox) provide the players and we provide everything that goes along with their playing. It goes down to what percentage of the balls that they pay for and we pay for. They provide all the players and the manager and the coaches. We provide the place for the players to play and get them from point A to point B. We also pay a fee to Major League Baseball. It’s a percentage of our ticket sales. It’s standard for all Minor League Baseball teams. And we work through Major League licensing if we sell Red Sox merchandise.
Q: How about with the city?
A: The city owns the facility (Hadlock Field). They used to do the grounds-keeping, but we changed that a few years back. The city provides major capital improvements and we do the minor ones. The whole ballpark is the city’s, but when we expanded and put in the new right-field stands, we paid for that, but it all belongs to the city.
Q: How many employees do you have?
A: Full-time and year-round, we have 13. We have a ticket director, we have group sales people, we have a guy that handles our finances and we have a guy that does stadium services and we have marketing people who do more than sell tickets, they also sell advertising. Then, during the season, we could have as many as 250 or so on the payroll — not that they’re all here at the same time. We have concession people, ushers, a cleaning crew, security, a lot of people. It depends on the game, too. Early in the year, it would be fewer than during the middle of the season (when the crowds are larger). Then it could be upwards of 150 people.
Q: How difficult is it to find and keep those game workers, when they might be on for a week of home games and off for a week of away games — and, when they do work, it’s sometimes during the day and sometimes at night?
A: It’s not too bad. It’s a great first job for kids, it’s a great second job for college students and a great second job for people with regular jobs. If they can’t work during the day, they can work a night game. It gives us a good cross-section of people to work here.
Q: What was attendance last year and what has the average been over the team’s 20-year existence?
A: It was 374,000 last year and we’ve averaged close to 400,000 for our 20 years here.
Q: What are you anticipating for this year?
A: We aim at 400,000 every year. The weather in early April hurt us, but we hope for a nice summer.
Q: What’s the break-even point?
A: One, I haven’t figured it out, and two, if I had, I wouldn’t say. But we’ve been profitable every year. We’s a business and some years are better than others, but we have been profitable every year.
Q: How important is the affiliation with the Red Sox versus other teams?
A: It’s obviously the natural affiliation for us. We started off with the Marlins and did very well, but the Red Sox are the team that most people care about in Maine. With the Red Sox, we went from selling out to selling out faster.
Q: What kind of impact does it have when a veteran Red Sox player comes here to recover from an injury and start playing ball again?
A: A few years back (David) Ortiz was here on a rehab stint and they announced it (the assignment) on a Saturday at 4 p.m. Our ticket office was closed by then because the Sea Dogs were out of town at the time. We had about 2,500 tickets left, so I was driving in on Monday and called the ticket office and I said, “Are you ready for this?” And they said, “There’s not much to be ready for — between Saturday and Monday morning, all the tickets sold out online.”
Q: This is the Sea Dogs’ 20th season. What has surprised you most during the team’s two decades?
A: The very first year surprised the heck out of me. Dan Burke brought me in because I was considered the “expert on minor league baseball” and I thought we might sell 250,000 tickets the first year and need six people (to run the team). We ended up selling about 400,000 tickets and the staff doubled. It’s been a much better success than I thought it would be.
Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: