SAN DIEGO — Minor League Baseball ("MiLB") today announced the 2022 winners of the Organization of the Year Award, Executive of the Year Award, Future Star Award and the CommUNITY Champion Award. Nominees from each league were selected by their peers and were candidates for the overall awards.
Organization of the Year – Nashville Sounds (Triple-A Affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers)
The Nashville Sounds claimed the first Organization of the Year Award in their 45-year history after a banner year in the Music City. The Sounds led Minor League Baseball in total attendance (555,576) and set a club record for season ticket revenue, topping the previous record by nearly $700,000. The Sounds also saw an increase in Full Season Equivalents by more than 10% from 2021.
The Sounds’ league-leading attendance total was made possible by coordinated efforts across multiple departments, led by the ticket sales and service staff. Every member of the Sounds’ ticket sales team exceeded their individual revenue goal, a feat never accomplished since the move to First Horizon Park in 2015. The Sounds smashed franchise records for revenues in hospitality and groups, more than doubling sales from 2021 and shattering the previous record by nearly $1 million. Suite lease revenues were up 33% in 2022 and the Sounds had seven staff members surpass $500,000 in ticket sales in 2022.
Corporate partnership revenues increased by nearly $500,000 in 2022 and the club saw the two largest crowds in ballpark history (12,409 and 12,140). The Sounds had 13 sellouts in 2022 and the Sounds’ overall attendance increased by more than 118,000 fans from 2021.
Nashville’s community relations, marketing and communications efforts continue to be industry leaders, particularly in the evolving digital and creative space. From March 1 to October 4, the Sounds garnered 16.7 million impressions on Twitter, 2.45 million impressions on Facebook and 1.2 million impressions on Instagram.
Nashville’s email marketing campaigns played a key role in attendance and revenue generation as their email campaigns reached a total of 3.33 million inboxes with a 25.6% open rate and 1.6% click through rate. In total, $1.5 million was generated from the campaigns.
A pillar of the Nashville community, Sounds employees totaled more than 250 volunteer hours during the season and the club was an active participant in MLB and MiLB’s Play Ball Weekend, the Copa de la Diversión Latino fan engagement initiative and MiLB’s Black fan engagement program, The Nine.
“I’m so proud of our whole organization, because people make an organization and it’s a total team effort to win an award like this,” said Sounds General Manager and Chief Operating Officer Adam English. “Our owner, Frank Ward, does such a great job of supporting us and leading us, and I’m just so happy for our community to win an award like this and I can’t wait to bring this award back to Nashville.”
Executive of the Year – Mike Nutter, President, Fort Wayne TinCaps (High-A Affiliate of the San Diego Padres)
A 31-year veteran of Minor League Baseball, Mike Nutter has spent 22 seasons with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, getting his start with the club in the fall of 1999 as the Assistant General Manager after stints in Kane County, Brevard County and Nashville.
After just one season in Fort Wayne, Nutter was promoted to General Manager (now referred to as Team President) prior to the start of the 2001.
Over the years, Nutter has helped guide Fort Wayne’s franchise to tremendous success, navigating the club through a re-brand and move to Parkview Field in 2009. The TinCaps earned MiLB’s Community Champion Award in 2015 and Organization of the Year Award in 2016. Parkview Field has perennially been at, or near, the top of ballpark ranking lists, including Stadium Journey’s most recent edition before this season.
On the field in 2022, the TinCaps finished with the worst winning percentage in the franchise’s 30-year history. But off the field, under Nutter’s leadership, the club performed at franchise record-setting levels.
On the business side, the TinCaps registered their best per fan numbers ever, surpassing $20 per fan for the first time, with each individual member of the sales staff posting a record year in 2022. The TinCaps had a record year for corporate sales and merchandise store sales (both in-ballpark and online), while topping $4 million in ticket revenues.
Nutter has long been passionate about developing and mentoring young professionals in the industry, and once again in 2022, 100% of the TinCaps’ college-graduated interns found a job placement or grad school program, after their time with the TinCaps.
A fixture in the Fort Wayne community, Nutter is typically at Parkview Field’s front gates to greet fans as they enter for a game and appears weekly on local radio and TV programs. Additionally, he’s an active volunteer with non-profit organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Erin’s House for Grieving Children, Greater Fort Wayne Inc., and Visit Fort Wayne. Nutter’s community involvement sets the tone for the rest of the TinCaps staff, as every full-time team member volunteers with at least one local non-profit.
In an effort to share best practices and exchange ideas with clubs in the Midwest League, Nutter and the TinCaps hosted the “Heartland Seminar,” an event similar to the MiLB Promotional Seminar of the past.
In addition to his focus on the club’s bottom line, Nutter also created an office environment focused on the health and mental wellbeing of TinCaps employees, advocating for his full-time staff members to focus on their own wellness and taking time away as necessary. The TinCaps already had mandatory days off on select non-game days during the season and allowed staff members to miss an increased number of home games in 2022.
Nutter’s open-door policy for his own office, which he stocked with protein-rich shakes and sugar-free energy drinks, led to more cohesion among the staff, where co-workers could discuss everyday life issues and not just talk about work issues. In this spirit, as a team, the TinCaps hosted their first ever Mental Health Awareness Night in May, where the team wore specially designed jerseys that were auctioned off to benefit the local chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI).
As a result of his success with the TinCaps, Nutter has been inducted into the Northeast Indiana Baseball Hall of Fame and received the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana’s Individual of Integrity Award. He has also garnered the Midwest League’s selection for Executive of the Year three times (2004, 2009 and 2015).
Nutter, and his wife, Beth, have two children, Carson (a freshman at Indiana University) and Katelynn (a high school senior).
“I’ve spent 31 years working in Minor League Baseball and in my opinion it’s the greatest game in the world and the impact we can have in our communities cannot be understated,” said Nutter. “I share this with everyone I work with, our owner, Jason Freier, and certainly my family. It’s just an absolutely incredible blessing.”
Future Star Award (Top Executive 25 or Younger) – Rebekah Rivette, Bradenton Marauders (Single-A Affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates)
Bradenton Marauders Manager of Marketing and Game Presentation Rebekah Rivette joined the club in 2019, and has been adding responsibilities ever since, making a positive impact on the Marauders organization every step of the way.
Rivette, 25, oversees marketing, game presentation, in-game entertainment, promotions, public relations and communications and fan and community engagement. She has enhanced the fan experience at LECOM Park by introducing new and engaging contests and promotions, while also adding new content initiatives from graphic design, photography and videography to ensure a consistent brand across all social media platforms.
During games, Rivette directs the game presentation and all press box operations with the Marauders seeing extensive growth in their social media impressions and engagements.
Rivette was a large reason the Marauders saw a 30% increase in average attendance over 2021 and she oversees the club’s MiLB.TV broadcasts to ensure fans are receiving the best video feed possible.
Rivette is also active in her community as a member of FPRA (Florida Public Relations Association) and serving on committees for Make-A-Wish and Manatee Technical College.
“This award really means a lot to me, and I want to thank the Bradenton Marauders and Northwest Arkansas Naturals, who gave me my first job in baseball,” said Rivette. “I’m really proud of the effort we put into our community initiatives and the way we market our team to bring fans to the ballpark.”
Since the inception of the franchise, the Richmond Flying Squirrels have focused on being a valuable community partner and making a positive impact throughout the Richmond region. The organization has continued to launch new initiatives to meet evolving needs of the Richmond community and the baseball industry.
Founded in 2014, the team’s 501(c)(3) organization, Flying Squirrels Charities, had an original mission centered around “Renovating Richmond’s Recreation,” a program designed to upgrade youth baseball facilities. The initiative has led to the renovation of 16 youth baseball fields in the greater Richmond area.
In 2022, Flying Squirrels Charities expanded its areas of focus to fully encompass all the ways the Flying Squirrels impact the greater Richmond community. The newly rebranded Flying Squirrels Charities focuses on four pillars: Education, Athletics, Social Determinants and Inclusion.
Flying Squirrels Charities raises funds through a number of avenues including in-stadium initiatives during the season and events around the region all year. In 2022, fundraising events included the annual Hot Stove, which took place in November and the Turn Left Golf Classic, an event in partnership with Richmond Raceway Cares that raises around $20,000 each year. The team raised more than $30,000 through jersey auctions to benefit various organizations, including the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and the Alzheimer's Association of Greater Richmond. On Military Appreciation Night, Squirrels players wore the name of a fallen soldier, veteran or active-duty service member. Following the game, each player placed their jersey on the mound recognizing the person honored.
In February 2022, a fire destroyed Fox Elementary School, which sits just over a mile from the Flying Squirrels’ ballpark. Flying Squirrels Charities put together a drive for books and supplies and the staff helped prepare a temporary space for students to return to school by painting and delivering meals to students and faculty. The students performed the National Anthem at the ballpark on the night they were honored by the club.
In recent years, the Flying Squirrels have pushed to create opportunities to help diversify front offices throughout baseball. In 2021, the Flying Squirrels started their Executive Trainee Program (ETP), offering opportunities to students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities to gain hands-on, professional experience working in various capacities with the team. The program is designed to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce with the goal of elevating more minorities into leadership positions throughout the professional baseball industry. Over the past two seasons, the three participants in the program have gone on to land full-time positions in the Flying Squirrels’ front office.
The ETP was launched as one of the Flying Squirrels’ initiatives created in recognition of the Richmond 34, a group of Virginia Union University students who were arrested in 1960 following a peaceful sit-in protest at the whites-only lunch counter of Thalhimers Department Store in downtown Richmond. The Richmond 34 sit-in ultimately led to the integration of Thalhimers and influenced legislation in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Flying Squirrels’ “Richmond 34 Legacy Weekend” began in 2021, recognizing members of the Richmond 34 and other leaders past and present who have made contributions in the push for social justice and racial equality. The team wore special jerseys for the two games which were auctioned, generating over $5,300. The proceeds went to the Richmond 34 Legacy Scholarship Fund, which awards $5,000 toward freshman-year expenses for a local student attending an HBCU. The 2022 Richmond 34 Legacy Scholarship went to Marisa Greenhow, a freshman at Virginia State University.
As part of the team’s All-Star festivities in 2019, Flying Squirrels Charities launched the All-Star Legacy Scholarship in partnership with Genworth, awarding between 1-3 scholarships annually to students from Richmond Public Schools to help continue their education at a four-year college of their choice.
Flying Squirrels Charities hosted the “Have Funn, Go Putt” golf tournament, which raised over $9,300. From that event, $2,200 was used to provide jerseys for the Metropolitan Junior Baseball League (MJBL), a non-profit founded in Richmond in 1966 that focuses on providing urban youth with opportunities to play baseball they would not otherwise have. This year, Flying Squirrels Charities provided all jerseys for the MJBL’s Inner City Classic in Columbia, South Carolina.
For nearly a decade, the Flying Squirrels have partnered with the ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation to host the annual 5K & Funn Run and ASK Childhood Cancer Night at The Diamond. In 2022, ASK kids designed special jerseys worn by the team and, before the game, the players and coaches received cards telling the story of the child who designed the jersey they wore for that game. The jersey auction raised more than $5,500 for ASK.
During the seventh inning stretch, ASK kids, including survivors and children still receiving treatment, took the field for a lap and received high fives from both teams. The ASK Night ceremony has become one of the most moving annual events at The Diamond and has driven five different members of the Flying Squirrels’ front office to become ASK Ambassadors, raising money and volunteering for the foundation year-round. Flying Squirrels players and mascots also visit the ASK wing at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU each year.
Another new effort in 2022 centered around the Friendship Circle of Virginia (FCVA), which donated sensory bags for the stadium. The bags can be checked out at fan services and include noise canceling earphones, fidget toys and more to create a comfortable ballpark experience for fans of all abilities. The Friendship Circle is a non-profit organization that aims to create an inclusive community by facilitating friendships and social opportunities for people with and without disabilities to connect through meaningful social experiences at home and throughout the community.
The Flying Squirrels commitment to building a more inclusive community continued through their annual partnership with Virginia Pride for a community night involving LGBTQIA+ organizations at the ballpark. This year, the Flying Squirrels hosted their largest Pride Night to date and participated in the Virginia Pride Festival in downtown Richmond.
The Flying Squirrels are visible in the greater Richmond community well beyond the baseball months. Through mid-October, mascots Nutzy and Nutasha had made more than 400 community appearances in 2022 around the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The Flying Squirrels continue to promote educational causes in schools around the Richmond region, including the “Go Nuts for Reading Program,” which challenges elementary and middle school students to read eight books over a two-month span to receive a free ticket to a Flying Squirrels game. This year, more than 10,000 students from 68 participating schools completed the challenge. The three nights eligible for Reading Program ticket redemptions averaged nearly 8,400 fans.
“This means so much to our organization because the Squirrels and Richmond are really a match made in heaven,” said Flying Squirrels Director of Entertainment Caroline Phipps. “Since we came to Richmond 10 years ago, it’s all been about the community, and we are so appreciative of this award.”