BILLINGS, Montana - Main Street Baseball, owner and operator of the Billings Mustangs, has won Ballpark Digest's 2016 Organization of the Year award. Main Street Baseball is led by CEO Dave Heller and runs four affiliated Minor League Baseball teams; the Billings Mustangs (Pioneer League, Cincinnati Reds), Lowell Spinners (Short-A, Boston Red Sox), Quad Cities River Bandits (Midwest League, Houston Astros) and Wilmington Blue Rocks (Carolina League, Kansas City Royals). The honor was announced Friday by Ballpark Digest, who will officially present the award to Heller and Main Street Baseball at the Baseball Winter Meetings in December.
Heller and Main Street Baseball have earned a bevy of awards for their four organizations, but this is the first award won by the ownership group itself. With a deep-seated commitment to affordable family fun, Heller has presided over some of the most successful eras in each of his organizations' history. The River Bandits have averaged at least 3,500 fans per game in each of the last eight seasons and recently set the all-time attendance record based on a per-game average. The Bandits success helped earn the Quad Cities the top spot in the latest Sport Business Journal biennial minor league sport market rankings. With luxurious expansions to Modern Woodmen Park, including the Budweiser Champions Club, Heller has helped Modern Woodmen Park become one of the most renowned event sites in the Quad Cities, hosting over 150 non-baseball events per year.
"There's no doubt Main Street Baseball is one of the leading groups in all of Minor League Baseball, and we're so pleased to recognize that status with this award," said Ballpark Digest Publisher Kevin Reichard. "All four Main Street Baseball teams are leaders in their leagues, and all four are distinguished by a commitment to providing the best fan experience possible."
"I am so pleased to accept this award on behalf of our staffs in Billings, Quad Cities, Wilmington and Lowell," said Main Street Baseball CEO Dave Heller. "Over the years, we have worked hard not merely to bring together a group of outstanding franchises but also to provide outstanding affordable, family-friendly fun to each of our host communities. By adding Ferris wheels and bumper cars and zip lines and swinging pirate ships, we're taking fun at our ballparks to a whole new level. The resulting attendance increases - and this wonderful award - shows it's working!"
The Billings Mustangs earned Ballpark Digest's Best of the Ballparks award for a rookie-level team in 2016 for Dehler Park, the second consecutive year a Main Street Baseball team has won the award after both Quad Cities and Wilmington earned those honors in 2015. Heller purchased the Lowell Spinners just before the 2016 season and led the team to a top-five finish in New York-Penn League attendance while introducing the fun new Gator Gondola ride for fans. The Wilmington Blue Rocks averaged over 4,300 fans per game in 2016 and won a trio of Carolina League awards; earning the Matt Minker Community Service Award, Carolina League marketing and promotions award and Director of Ticket Operations Stefani Rash was named the league's Female Executive of the Year. The team was also named the Carolina League nominee for Minor League Baseball's Larry MacPhail Award.
Each year Ballpark Digest awards the best and the brightest in Minor League Baseball. The award for Organization of the Year originated in 2015 and is considered the most prestigious of all by the publication.
"Creating a successful franchise is one thing, but creating multiple successful franchises is a much harder task to achieve," said Reichard. "And when you look at the four teams under the Main Street Baseball umbrella, it's clear there's a high commitment to elevating the fan experience."
Heller and Main Street Baseball first purchased Quad Cities after the 2007 season and, after a critically-acclaimed rebranding to the River Bandits moniker prior to the 2008 season, will celebrate a decade in the Quad Cities in 2017. In December 2014, Heller purchased the majority share of both the Wilmington Blue Rocks and Billings Mustangs. He acquired the Spinners in May 2016.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.