People On The Move - Will Smith
Even after the Staten Island Yankees wrap up another season of minor league baseball in the coming weeks, borough residents will still have several reasons to visit Richmond County Ballpark in St. George during the fall and winter months.
With a Mixed Martial Arts championship in late September and “Winter Wonderland Staten Island” slated to take place on the field during the off-season, Staten Island Yankees president Will Smith hopes to keep generating interest in the franchise and the North Shore neighborhood long after the bats and gloves are put away.
It’s part of Smith’s vision of making the stadium a year-round destination in the borough, a goal he has worked for since he was hired more than two years ago.
“For the first 15 years of my career, I worked at a full-season club. Now at a short-season club, we only play 55 percent of the games than the other organizations I worked for. The loss of revenue opportunities is significant,” Smith says. “We try to make up for it by hosting other events. It’s part of a renewed effort to have public events here at the stadium.”
It’s a challenge he readily accepted when he was hired away from the Trenton Thunder, where he served as the team’s general manager and chief operating officer. “I’d argue that we’re a small business, and it’s tougher to operate a small business in New York City than in Mercer County, New Jersey. I’m always up for a big challenge, and that’s why I’m here,” Smith says.
Coming to Staten Island felt like a kind of homecoming for Smith, a Bergen County, NJ native who was raised near the New York media market. And while the development of the Empire Outlets and New York Wheel projects along the North Shore have taken longer than anticipated, Smith still relishes the opportunity to expand the team’s “Baby Bombers” brand and involvement in the community.
He acknowledges that improving game attendance has been challenging, but remains hopeful that the completion of the nearby development projects will provide more incentive for residents and tourists to take a trip to the neighborhood.
“We’re hanging in there. Unfortunately, other than us, there isn’t much that draws people to the St. George area. But I can’t wait for those other entertainment destinations to open up.
Having those anchors next to us is going to be tremendous,” he says. “We’re always looking for outside revenue streams, and more events should pop open because there will be more reasons for people to come here.”
To hear Smith, 44, talk passionately about growing the minor-league baseball franchise’s bottom line, it can almost be hard to believe that he didn’t begin his career in the baseball business.
After graduating from The College of New Jersey as a mechanical engineering major, Smith says he wanted to switch careers after a project he was working on for nearly one year was scrapped. He took a trip to Dallas, Texas in 2000 to attend a job fair near the baseball Winter Meetings, and received a job opportunity in group sales at a minor league baseball organization in New Haven, CT.
“I’ve always been a baseball fan, and I thought there was a better business model and better business opportunities in baseball than other sports, with all the different levels of the minor leagues. I started it as a fan, but as time goes on in this industry, you really do start to view baseball as a business. Somewhere along the line, in the last 17 years, after coming to work every day and every month, it became a career.”
But despite the business-first approach to every decision that Smith makes for the Staten Island Yankees, including a possible name change that that he says is no longer imminent but still being discussed, Smith says he knows that minor-league baseball is all about creating a fun, attractive environment for families.
“I don’t take myself too seriously. I wear shorts and a Polo shirt to work, and I love it,” he says. “I don’t know our record right now. I know we’re in first place, but that doesn’t move the business needle that much at this level. If we had 5,000 fans a game keeping score and screaming, I would love it. But it’s hard enough for people to follow the Yankees and their 25-man roster, let alone the Staten Island Yankees.
We just want to provide affordable, fun, family entertainment.” You can catch up with the Staten Island Yankees at SIYANKS.COM.