Panthers Put Community At Top Of Lineup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Panthers Put Community At Top Of Lineup

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Before the Intercounty Baseball League (est. 1919) made the call on July 9 to cancel any plans for a truncated season during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kitchener Panthers – one of the IBL’s charter clubs – had already decided they would not field a team this year.

The Panthers, along with the defending-champions Barrie Baycats and the Brantford Red Sox, had decided in early April that playing in 2020 would not be a wise decision – not on the diamond, nor in the front office. Read my April 8 column here.

“As the current COVID- 19 situation is not improving and the near term (summer) looks tenuous at best, we would potentially be putting our team members, players, coaches and volunteers at risk,” wrote Panthers president Bill Pegg on behalf of the Panthers organization. “Just as important, we would be putting our fans at risk. Baseball is not more important than this. As is the case across our community and the nation, local businesses that have supported the Panthers for years and years and their employees are hurting, badly in many cases. For us to expect the same in support in 2020 is unfair to them and to the ballclub. Even with a reduced schedule, we would incur many of the same expenses. Coupled with reduced revenue, the ballclub would suffer irreparable financial harm.”

Kitchener Panthers President Bill Pegg

That decision was a heartbreaking one, according to Pegg, a long-time baseball executive in addition to filling his role as president of the not-for-profit Panthers. IBL’s 2018 executive of the year, Pegg was instrumental in coordinating the league’s 100th season banquet and in publishing its centennial history book.

Not only does Pegg live and breathe Panthers baseball, but he also believes strongly in giving back to community and to local sports. For more than five decades, Pegg has devoted his life to a number of community organizations including the Panthers senior and junior ballclubs, Kitchener Minor Baseball, Forest Hill T-Ball, Kitchener Minor Girls Softball, Baseball Ontario, Tri-City Baseball League, K-W Youth Basketball, Kitchener Basketball Officials Association, Kitchener Sports Association, K-W Charities Bingo Association, ISC Fastball Tournaments, Greater K-W Chamber of Commerce and Waterloo Knights of Columbus in a multitude of volunteer positions.

Having a committed team president like Pegg on board has been invaluable to Panthers nation – a deeply passionate fan base where community is king, Pegg said. Concurrently, the Kitchener-Waterloo region’s business community recognizes just how important the Panthers are to the fabric of local history.

“My entire shtick when out talking with sponsors is, we’re selling history,” Pegg explained. “We’re a community institution. If you are a sponsor, then you’re telling everyone that you support a community institution. We’re all about history.”

Kitchener opened the IBL by hosting Stratford on May 17, 1919 and they haven’t looked back. More important than their 12 IBL championships, most recently in 2001, is their intertwining with the K-W community. The annual Oktoberfest celebration may put Kitchener-Waterloo on the world stage. But today, at Jack Couch Park, 100-plus years of baseball is celebrated each IBL season.

But all of that came to a screeching halt this year. To its credit, the IBL has been anything but complacent. The front office is engaging its fans with a social media marketing plan which includes video chats, trivia and even formation of a long-overdue league alumni association.

But for IBL clubs like the Panthers, these are trying times. This year, the organization – even with an impressive list of community sponsors, listed here – had lost a few of their backers, before the pandemic hit. It was just enough to see the organization experience a small deficit – not a large one, but enough to see its not-for-profit status impacted.

“You really can’t do that,” said Pegg, “so we made the decision in January that we would hold off on some of the spending a club must do, for example re-ordering equipment. The only other expense we had to commit to in January, other than our fixed expenses like our team website, was ordering caps for 2020. It takes about 12 weeks for them to arrive, so you can’t be tardy with that purchase.”

The Panthers also have an impressive online purchase page for their fans – click here. With the pandemic cancelling the IBL’s 2020 campaign, and Canada Day crowds non-existent at IBL ballparks this season, special red Canada Day Panthers caps are still available.

“I ordered 12 dozen of them – it was the first time we had ordered Canada Day caps,” said Pegg of what has become a clever marketing scheme at almost every level of baseball. As we see with Major League Baseball, long gone are the days of one cap, and a home and away jersey.

Pegg said the Panthers’ marketing plan typically gears up once the World Series has concluded.

“When we get into November, we looking at the business side of operations. We start by reconnecting with our sponsors, because we like to have them commit to us by year’s end,” Pegg said.

“On the player side of things, (director of player recruitment) Scott Ballantyne, (general manager and import recruitment director) Mike Boehmer and field manager Matt Schmidt are active in their roles.”

Panthers all-time greats (L-R) Jeff Pietraszko and Randy Curran. Photo: Jeffrey Reed.

The Panthers’ business model is strong, with the formerly-named Kitchener Dodgers junior ballclub abandoning the moniker they had embraced since 1954 and rebranding as the K-W Junior Panthers in 1999. Jack Couch, the former Panthers coach and player, had founded the Dodgers.

Pegg, who took over the junior club’s reigns in 1999 and also saw the Panthers organization re-incorporate as a not-for-profit that same year, helped with Kitchener Minor Baseball’s name change from A’s to Panthers.

“Now we had a brand from 8 years and up,” Pegg said. “We may have been the first baseball association in Ontario to adopt this, and it was a good move for us.”

In the front office, the Panthers have also established a deep history with the likes of former executives Max Rausch and John Weber, just to name a few. And look no further than the IBL’s list of its Top 100 players for a number of Kitchener minor ball grads who have suited up for that city’s senior IBL ballclub.

According to Kitchener native and Panthers outfielder Tanner Nivens, “At the end of the day, we are nothing without the support of our fans and our local communities.”

That short quip speaks volumes about how the entire Panthers roster buys into the club’s commitment to community, especially during this trying time in history.

Said Pegg, “The IBL has had good times and bad. These are unprecedented times for everyone. But our sponsors have said, ‘We support you and we’ll be back in 2021.’ And barring disaster, so will the Panthers, and the IBL.”

30

Jeffrey Reed has covered the IBL since 1980 as a print and broadcast baseball reporter, and today as publisher and editor of LondonOntarioSports.com. He founded the IBL media relations office in 1994. Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office https://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com. Sports journalist since 1980.

No comments yet... Be the first to leave a reply!