A silent film was the big winner at this year's Academy Awards, and artists on small independent labels now regularly earn Grammys. Perhaps it's time for a Minor League Baseball team to be recognized as the best franchise in professional sports.
The Dayton Dragons sure hope so. On Monday it was announced that the Class A Midwest League franchise was one of five nominees for the SportsBusiness Journal Professional Sports Team of the Year Award. This annual honor, chosen by a panel of industry experts, is bestowed upon the one sports franchise that best exemplifies "excellence, growth, creativity, innovation, sound planning, implementation and outcomes."
The winner of the Professional Sports Team of the Year Award will be revealed during a ceremony in New York City on May 23. The Dragons are the first Minor League Baseball team to be nominated for the honor, which in its previous four years of existence has gone to distinguished entities such as the San Francisco Giants and Boston Bruins.
But the Cincinnati affiliate has achieved success on a more outsized level than some Minor League contemporaries. The club made national headlines last July when it established a new professional sports record by selling out its 815th consecutive game at downtown Dayton's Fifth Third Field. The Dragons went on to sell out the remainder of the season, and team president Robert Murphy reports that they're well on their way to doing the same in 2012.
"The most important thing a team does is sell tickets, and the most difficult thing a team does is sell tickets," said Murphy, who has been with the Dragons since their inception in 2000. "We're at 844 consecutive sellouts now, and getting ready for another 70 in 2012. Those within the sports industry know how difficult this is, so there's a high level of respect for what has been accomplished in Dayton."
The Dragons -- and Minor League Baseball teams in general -- are an anomaly in that the front office has no control over the product on the field as that belongs to the parent club. In 2011, the team compiled a Midwest League-best 83-57 mark, a nearly 180-degree turnaround from 2010's 53-85 (which included a staggering 24-game home losing streak. It is the front office's job to remain absolutely consistent and on-message in the face of such on-field schizophrenia.
"We can't depend on a winning record and key signings. We know what we can control, so all of our time and all of our energy goes into making the fan experience great," said Murphy.
This means a relentless focus on customer service, in-game entertainment and stadium cleanliness. These are hallmarks of the Minor League Baseball experience, and the Dragons' success has helped illuminate the strengths of the industry.
"When you talk about Minor League Baseball playing a role in urban renewal, Dayton comes to mind pretty quickly," said Minor League Baseball president Pat O'Conner, speaking this past July. "[The streak] has provided us with a platform in which to spread the gospel and share the good news."
This platform is only expanding as Monday's Professional Sports Team of the Year nomination makes clear.
"We'll go the Academy Award route and say 'It's just great to be nominated,'" said Murphy. "But we're going for the win."