Photo by Paat Kelly
Photo by Paat Kelly

Tony Ensor loves baseball, befitting his job for the past 13 years as general manager of the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. But he’s also a businessman.

So when the Triple-A franchise announced two months ago that it would move to San Antonio following the 2018 season -— to be replaced by a shorter season Class A team from Helena, Mont. — Ensor hid his disappointment and started crunching numbers. To some, the move appeared to be an economic blow to both the Springs baseball operation and businesses near the ballpark known as Security Service Field.

Not so, Ensor said, putting a positive spin on the move that involves three minor-league teams, all owned by the Elmore Sports Group.

“I think it’ll be great for business and great for our fans and the community,” he said. “We’ll lose about 33 home games, all in April and May when our attendance is lowest due to weather. We’ve postponed 21 games the last three years and 17 were before June.”

Ensor’s fallback business plan involves other groups renting the field — the UCCS baseball team played there in the spring — and trying to make even greater use of Centennial Banquet Hall, the large facility down the right-field line that groups rent during games and throughout the year.

“We had about 210 events in the banquet facility that were not on game days in the last year,” Ensor said. “Our off-day revenue is very good. We have an executive chef and our own catering operation. It’s a unique venue for our city, overlooking the field. We host business groups, networking groups, church groups and military groups. We’ve had Christmas parties there. Some days there will be a breakfast group in there and a dinner group.

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“By not having games in April and May, it opens up the possibility to host even more.”

Ensor, who plans to stay in the Springs, said the stadium could also be rented for events like car sales, Oktoberfest, church services and high school games.

‘Hit or miss’

Two sports bars near the ballpark benefit from big crowds on game days, but don’t figure to lose that much from the change.

“Them losing those games is a hit or miss with us. It doesn’t affect us dramatically,” said Rhino’s Sports & Spirits general manager Steve Pollard. “We do get overflow here from their crowds before and after the games, but it’s mostly in June, July and August. It’s not nearly as much in April and May when attendance is lower.”

Paul Korney, owner of Cleats Bar & Grill across the street from the stadium, said he was relieved  Colorado Springs would still have a professional baseball team.

“The Sky Sox are part of why we chose that location,” said Korney, who also owns a Rockrimmon location of the sports bar. “It’s a real bonus to be close to the biggest sports franchise in town.”

Korney said that having 38 home games instead of 71 probably won’t affect his business much, even though he told the Business Journal in 2016 that Cleats receives a “20 to 30 percent boost on game days.”

“We do get a boost, but that’s during the middle of the season,” he said. “That doesn’t happen so much early in the year when the weather’s not as good and attendance isn’t as high. We just don’t get as much turnout for those early games and not as big an impact.”

FUTURE STARS STILL ON DISPLAY

Springs baseball fans won’t be disappointed in the quality of play beginning in 2019, Ensor says, even though the Pioneer League team coming to town will be three levels below Triple-A. Springs fans are accustomed to watching players one step from the major leagues, as well as the occasional big-leaguer on an injury rehab assignment.

Beginning in 2019, San Antonio fans will watch the Triple-A team while their Double-A team moves to Amarillo, Texas, which hasn’t had a team since the 1980s. Coming to the Springs will be the Class A Short Season rookie-level team, with a season running June through Labor Day.

Former Pioneer League players include current major league stars such as Joey Votto, Kris Bryant, Ryan Braun and Josh Donaldson and Hall of Famers George Brett, Andre Dawson and Frank Robinson, Ensor said. Other Short Season alums, he said, include Nolan Arenado, Mike Trout, Anthony Rizzo, Buster Posey and Clayton Kershaw.

“It’ll be first- or second-year professionals who are hungry and eager to do things in the community,” Ensor said.

WILL THE FANS STILL COME?

Playing soccer at the stadium next door to the Sky Sox is the Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC. Switchbacks owner Ed Ragain said he thinks all businesses in the area could be affected by the Sky Sox’ departure.

“When you drop 30 games or so, it has to affect businesses around the stadium economically,” Ragain said. “I think they might even draw fewer fans on average to their games.”

Ensor expects the opposite to occur, with fans more anxious to see the team in good weather due to the more limited schedule. He said two former Pacific Coast League cities — Vancouver, British Columbia, and Spokane, Wash. — actually saw a jump in attendance after changing to Short Season Class A teams.

“We expect to draw a higher average per game,” Ensor said. “It’s about supply and demand. We’ll keep our best promotions like $2 Tuesdays, fireworks and other things the fans love.”

Korney said those are also some of his best nights at Cleats Bar & Grill.

“We get great turnout on fireworks nights and other big promotions,” Korney said. “We’ll keep doing promotions with the [new team]; we do the ticket program, where if you bring in your ticket from the game you get a free beer. We try to promote people going to the game and coming to us afterwards. That’s part of our business model.”

Does the migration of the Triple-A team to Texas end the idea of a downtown stadium in Colorado Springs?

“I don’t think it does,” Ensor said. “If it serves a need for the downtown area, we’re certainly interested in discussing it.”