With new ownership in the fold and a new ballpark on the way, the Lafayette Aviators (summer collegiate; Prospect League) see plenty of room for future growth.
Earlier this year, the Aviators underwent an ownership change. The team’s original owner, the Milwaukee-based ROC Ventures, sold the Aviators to a group that includes National Sports Services CEO Bill Davidson. National Sports Services owns several teams, including the Wilmington Sharks (summer collegiate; Coastal Plain League), a club that was added to its portfolio last year.
The change in ownership marks a major shift for the club, but it is not the only shakeup on the horizon. Following the 2019 season, the team’s Loeb Stadium is expected to be demolished and reconstructed into a new ballpark that will host the Aviators and other events. A 2021 opening is anticipated for the new ballpark, and Davidson believes that Aviators have plenty of room for growth over the coming years. More from the Journal & Courier:
The down year in 2020 – the team could play somewhere else or go dormant for the season – factored into the calculus of whether to buy a team that drew an average of 847 a game during its first two seasons. But the promise of a new stadium, with room for about 2,000, made the purchase a long-term proposition when MKE said it was open to selling either the Aviators or the Kokomo Jackrabbits, another Prospect League franchise, Davidson said.
“If you have strong attendance without the fancy scoreboard, the plush seats and those kinds of things, that’s a good sign, we thought,” Davidson said. “The potential for growth is what had us focused on Lafayette.”
Davidson, a 1981 Purdue graduate with a communications degree, is CEO of National Sports Services, a Topeka, Kansas-based firm that owns, operates or provides consulting services for sports enterprises, including baseball and hockey teams. He said the company is high on the summer collegiate baseball league, with no shortage of players looking for teams and cities open to the short season that doesn’t require the kind of commitment needed for a full-fledged minor league team.
Davidson and Matt Perry, president of National Sports Services, joined Brent and Stuart Gutwein of Lafayette and Sean Churchill, an orthopedic surgeon from Grafton, Wisconsin, to buy the Aviators in April.
The current Loeb Stadium opened in 1940 and has compiled a long history in baseball, including stints as the home of professional clubs. The Lafayette Red Sox of the Midwest League used the ballpark in 1956 and 1957, and it later served as home to several independent clubs during the 1990’s and 2000’s, including the Lafayette Leopards and the Ohio Valley Redcoats. The Aviators have played there since 2016.
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