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Yet another run at a new Wilmington ballpark

We have yet another run as a new Wilmington ballpark, as the suburban town of Leland has been talking with developer REV Entertainment about a new entertainment district that could include pro baseball as the anchor.

REV Entertainment is the events firm headed by the Texas Rangers’ Neil Leibman and Sean Decker. Leibman serves as President of Business Operations and Chief Operating Officer, while Decker serves as Texas Rangers Executive Vice President, Sports and Entertainment. Leibman also is Managing Partner of Top Tier Sports, which has an ownership stake in the Cleburne Railroaders (American Association). Set up a Venn diagram and you’d have three overlapping circles made up of the Rangers, REV and Top Tier, with Liebman right in the middle. REV Entertainment has been working on deals apart from the Rangers; for instance, the firm is involved on a plan for a new Shreveport ballpark that likely would house an American Association team, if it happens. REV Entertainment develops venues; it doesn’t run or own teams.

Here’s the release from Leland:

The Town of Leland is excited to have interest from REV Entertainment to work together with both Brunswick County and the Town to develop a world-class development concept with sports and entertainment as the anchor. We look forward to learning more about their interest and developing a potential partnership in the coming months.

REV Entertainment, Brunswick County, and the Town are planning a press conference for late February/early March and will have more information to share then. The date will be announced through the Town’s website and social media.

It makes sense that folks would assume the Down East Wood Ducks would be the target here: the team’s home in Kinston, Grainger Stadium, has some serious site deficiencies, being located in a flood plain, that would make any upgrades to meet the new MiLB facilities standards very expensive. Hence the search for a new home. (You’d still see baseball at Grainger Stadium after the loss of the Wood Ducks, we predict; it’s a perfect Coastal Plain League or Atlantic League facility and market.)

And Wilmington has historically been a target as a potential MiLB market. The Atlanta Braves and Mandalay Baseball Properties pitched a new ballpark funded by local property taxes for the relocating Lynchburg Hillcats that failed by a wide 70-30 percent margin. There were other ownership groups approaching Wilmington informally before that. Even so, Mayor Bill Saffo expressed interest in bringing pro baseball after the referendum loss.

But, there remains a chance the Rangers may not be involved in the team by the time a press conference is held. Despite some reporting, the Rangers may not be involved as locals assume; that’s what happens when reps from REV Entertainment are also execs with the Rangers. The Wood Ducks and the Hickory Crawdads (High-A; Sally League) were said to be a target for Diamond Baseball Holdings acquisition at the 2022 Winter Meetings, as we reported at the time. Now, to be blunt, the chatter at the Winter Meetings may have been running ahead of reality, with several rumored acquisitions not closed as of now.

Wilmington is home to a summer-collegiate league team in the Wilmington Sharks (Coastal Plain League). (Interesting point: Diamond Baseball Holdings chief Peter Freund is well-acquainted with the Wilmington market; he once owned the Sharks.) The last affiliated team to play in Wilmington was the Wilmington Waves (Low A; Sally League), who lasted one season at UNC-Wilmington’s Brooks Field before moving to Albany, GA, followed by Columbus, GA, and eventually Bowling Green, where the franchise plays today as the Bowling Green Hot Rods (High-A; Sally League).

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