The Dayton Dragons (Low A; Midwest League) have been a model of success since beginning play in 2000, thanks to an operation led by team President Robert Murphy. For furthering that excellence in 2019, Murphy is being honored with the Executive of the Year citation in the annual Ballpark Digest Awards.
Murphy has led the Dragons front office since the beginning, joining the organization in February 1999, before the Dragons franchise relocated from Rockford and began play at downtown Dayton’s Fifth Third Field in 2000. Ever since, the franchise has built an impressive track record that includes the longest sellout streak in professional sports history and a strong slate of community programs. The 2019 Executive of the Year Award from Ballpark Digest recognizes Murphy’s role in setting the tone for that success, but he is quick to credit the entire organization office for its efforts.
“I always feel like when something like this happens, it is really more of a reflection on the performance of the organization and I think that the performance of the organization is dependent upon having great people,” Murphy said. “It’s not false humility, I think, and if anybody’s ever been in charge of an operation they realized very quickly and clearly how important it is to have great people around you.”
One of the accomplishments that has become synonymous with the Dragons is the team’s sellout streak. Beginning in 2000, the sellout streak continued through the 2019 season and now stands at 1,385 consecutive games.
Maintaining a sellout streak for as long as the Dragons have can be a challenge, but Murphy credits a few factors for helping to keep the streak intact, including the commitment of the team’s fan base and the operation’s emphasis on blending the baseball and entertainment experiences. The Dragons also pay very close attention to their sales efforts, recognizing the challenges that come with selling tickets.
“We believe and recognize that selling a ticket to a sporting event is probably the most difficult thing that we could ever do here, and we know it’s hard,” Murphy said. “So we hire good people, we train them extensively, we manage them thoroughly, we have high levels of expectations, we have goals, we have compensation structures that guide this, we have ongoing and continuous training and education for these guys to get better at what they’re doing. I think it’s hard to sell a ticket, you have to work hard at selling a ticket, and I believe that we do work very hard at selling tickets. It’s our number one priority, and the most important thing we do.”
The sellout streak is one part of the team’s attendance success, though, as the Dragons continually out draw Minor League Baseball’s other 29 teams at the Low-A classification. They have also finished among the top-10 MiLB teams at all levels for 20 straight seasons.
Helping to bolster the team’s presence in the community is the number of programs that the Dragons have implemented over the years, from their long-running Dragons MVP Program—an initiative that allows fourth- and fifth-grade teachers in the five-county area (Clark, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, and Warren counties) to reward students in their classrooms—to recognitions of military service members, veterans, and their families. (Dayton has a strong military presence, as it is located near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.)
“You have to identify a need in your community and then you have to come up with a program that’s going to meet that need, then you need to be able to execute it at a high level so that it can be impactful.” Murphy said. “I think that we have been very good at doing that.”
The Dragons also took steps during the 2019 season to help the community during trying circumstances. After the Memorial Day tornadoes, the Dragons responded by collecting 144,069 pounds of non-perishable goods for the local Foodbank, while fans donated $28,449 to the American Red Cross.
Early in the morning of August 4, a mass shooting occurred in Dayton’s Oregon District, taking the lives of nine victims. The Dragons postponed their game that afternoon, rescheduling it as part of a doubleheader that took place the following evening. To recognize the events, the Dragons staged a ceremony between games of the doubleheader and managed to raise nearly $12,500 for the Dayton Oregon District Tragedy Fund from fans over their home dates on August 5-6.
In planning their first games following the tragedy, Murphy and the organization recognized the need to do what it could to help the community heal in a time of need.
“We kind of look at the Dragons experience as one where people can get away from all of the realities of the world, and kick back and relax and have fun as a family and friends, and enjoy the experience of being at a Minor League Baseball game,” he said. “But nonetheless, this was a very important day. We were going to be very first major event in our community following the shooting, and we wanted to take a moment and reflect and begin the process of having our community begin to move forward in some small way, and begin to heal, and show that everybody was united in the Dragons region and the Dayton community.
The success of the Dragons has been lasting, thanks to an attention to detail at the well-maintained Fifth Third Field, an emphasis on family entertainment, robust sales efforts, and community outreach efforts. Murphy helped the organization further those accomplishments in 2019 and will work closely with his staff to ensure future success.
“Organizationally, I think the thing that everybody has bought into here is that they all want what we produce—every program, every touchpoint with fans, everything we do with corporate partners—to be great,” he said. “How do you get it to be great? You can never really, especially when you’re looking at 20 years, let your guard down. We are always looking to get better each and every year.”
Image courtesy Dayton Dragons.
Past Ballpark Digest Executive of the Year Winners
2018: Doug Scopel
2017: Ryan Keur
2016: Chris Allen
2015: Eric Edelstein
2014: Dan Rajkowski
2011: Martie Cordaro and Alan Stein
2010: Katie Dannemiller, Liz Kern and Amy Venuto
2009: Rick Brenner
2008: Joe Ricciutti
Best Ballpark Improvement (Over $1M): City of Baseball Museum
Ballpark of the Year: Las Vegas Ballpark
Team of the Year: Las Vegas Aviators
Best Ballpark Renovation: American Family Fields of Phoenix