In an industry that is largely driven by private ownership, Franklin County has managed to make the Columbus Clippers (Class AAA; International League) a continued success.
The model of franchises owned by local governments and community organizations has come and gone over the years, with teams such as the Memphis Redbirds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) and the Harrisburg Senators (Class AA; Eastern League) eventually being sold to private groups. Others—including some of the Clippers’ fellow International League squads, the Rochester Red Wings, Syracuse Chiefs, and Toledo Mud Hens, as well as the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Low A; Midwest League)—continually use the community/government model at the full-season level.
Franklin County first purchased the Clippers back in 1970’s for $25,000, a price that has offered a good return on investment. The Clippers have been a solid draw over the years, and the team has taken off even more since the opening of Huntington Park back in 2009.
In managing both the Clippers and the ballpark, Franklin County has set up a model in which all profits are reallocated to team-related needs, preventing a situation in which the Clippers need to dip into the general fund. This has not only proven to be a viable model in operating the franchise, but in keeping the fan support consistent. More from Columbus Business First:
The Clippers this season are second of 14 International League teams in average attendance and third in overall attendance. Those rankings were the same in 2015.
[county administrator Kenneth] Wilson said he can’t recall anyone approaching the county about buying the Clippers in at least the last decade. Even if an offer came in, a county spokesperson confirmed it has no intention to part with the team. County officials in 207 signed a covenant agreement not to sell the team for as long as Huntington Park is leased to the Clippers.
Despite its rarity, the public ownership model, at least in Columbus, seems to be a success. The team usually turns a profit and continues to pay down the debt owed for the construction of the 10,000-seat Huntington Park in a timely manner — some of it early.
One reason, as also noted in that story, for the drop in community and government owned models has been the rapid increase in price for purchasing teams. Clippers president and general manager Ken Schnacke told Columbus Business First that the team is currently worth $25 million.