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Harris, Blitzer invest in Ripken Baseball, youth sports

This should be a big deal if you work in the youth sports facilities world, a hot area: sports entrepreneurs Josh Harris and David Blitzer have completed a strategic investment in Ripken Baseball and Cooperstown All Star Village.

Harris and Blitzer, via their respective family offices, announced the investment this morning. Ripken Baseball operates five baseball facilities across the United States, including four complexes operating as The Ripken Experience. As part of this announcement, Harris and Blitzer announced a goal of supporting and accelerating Ripken Baseball’s vision of bringing big league experiences to young athletes. 

The pair founded Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, a sports and entertainment platform that includes the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center, while Blitzer was a former co-managing partner of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple-A; International League) and an investor in MLS’s Real Salt Lake. The pair reiterated a commitment to creating sports and educational opportunities for youth in the communities they serve. The family offices for Harris and Blitzer, according to a press release, will sustain and expand growth for Ripken Baseball and Cooperstown All Star Village by investing in systems, technology, and facilities.

A key strategy and initiative for the platform, they say, will be to grow inclusion efforts across the properties by creating opportunities for children to experience baseball at an early age. This includes prioritizing partnerships with organizations like the Cleveland Guardians, who will sponsor one underserved, Cleveland-area team to travel to and attend Cooperstown All Star Village this season.

“We have long believed that sports like baseball can teach young people valuable life skills on and off the field, creating a positive impact on their lives and helping them develop critical leadership skills,” Harris said via press release. “By bringing together two incredible youth sports brands and partnering with Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. and his team, as well as the talented people at Cooperstown All Star Village, we have a unique opportunity and responsibility to ensure more youth have access to these life-changing experiences.”

“By accelerating the growth of our youth baseball platform, we plan to not only enhance the quality and experience of Ripken Baseball and Cooperstown All Star Village, but also to expand its reach to bring Big League Experiences to significantly more young athletes, especially those who may have otherwise not had access,” Blitzer said via press release. “Alongside Cal, Bill and the talented staff members at both organizations, we are excited for what the future holds.”

Last year, Ripken Baseball and Cooperstown All Star Village combined to host 15,000+ teams, 250,000+ participants and 750,000+ visitors across five complexes, in addition to Ripken Select Tournaments and youth clinics across the country. The Ripken Experience facilities operate in Aberdeen, Md.; Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; and a new expansion to Kentucky, where The Ripken Experience Elizabethtown will begin to host events in 2023. Cooperstown All Star Village offers families admission to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as other unique on-site experiences as part of attendance at the camp. 

“I am proud of the millions of lasting memories that we’ve created for ballplayers and their families through Ripken Baseball for more than 20 years,” said Cal Ripken, Jr., President of Ripken Baseball, via press release. “Bill and I want to continue to pass on the lessons we learned from our father while giving kids that Big League Experience. With this investment and long-term partnership with Josh and David, we can accelerate our growth plans and expand to other sports beyond baseball and softball. Josh and David share our vision for youth sports in America, and we’re extremely excited about what we can accomplish together in the future.”

“Over almost 20 years, Cooperstown All Star Village has provided lasting memories for more than half a million young athletes, coaches, families, and friends,” said Martin Patton, who alongside his wife, Brenda, co-founded Cooperstown All Star Village. “The positive impact on our community has put thousands of people to work and helped support hundreds of local businesses. Brenda and I are very proud and excited to be partnered with Josh Harris, David Blitzer, the Ripkens and LionTree in this next chapter, and look forward to growing the Cooperstown brand while continuing to offer the very best in youth tournament travel baseball.”

“Creating opportunities for young people to enjoy the positive benefits of baseball is not only important for the future of our game, but also the future of our communities,” Sara Lehrke, VP, Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer of the Cleveland Guardians, said via press release. “Programs like the ones created by Cooperstown All Star Village and Ripken Baseball are essential as they give kids the tools needed to succeed on both the diamond and in life. We’re thrilled to sponsor a Cleveland-area team’s trip to Cooperstown All Star Village so they can enjoy this wonderful experience.”

The partnership between Harris, Blitzer, and the Ripkens was finalized this month and coordinated by LionTree LLC, which through an affiliate made a significant minority investment in Ripken Baseball in 2018. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. is the exclusive lead financing provider for Cooperstown All Star Village and Ripken Baseball. Harris and Blitzer originally invested in Cooperstown All Star last year.

“Cal’s commitment to positively impacting the lives of kids through sports is unstoppable,” said Aryeh B. Bourkoff, Founder and CEO of LionTree and previously a member of the Ripken Baseball Board of Directors. “As a Baltimore native, it has been a real honor to work alongside Cal, Billy, and the entire Ripken team for almost five years to grow the reach of Ripken Baseball on and off the field, and I am confident that the partnership with David and Josh will further expand access and elevate the important role of youth sports in the years to come.”

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