In this Corner, Now Promoting for the Connecticut Defenders…
By Alex Pierpaoli
originally published 12/2/06 on KOFantasyBoxing.com
December gets started off with two weekends in a row of HBO’s World Championship Boxing featuring exciting and significant bouts for the middleweight division. Both tonight’s and next Saturday night’s HBO Main Events feature DiBella Entertainment fighters who bring big name recognition and one of the brightest future stars of the sport to the world stage. Tonight, DiBella’s fighter, Ike Bazooka Quartey tries to rebound off a disappointing and controversial decision loss to Vernon Forrest back in August, with a fight against Ronald Winky Wright; and on December ninth, Middleweight Champion Jermain Taylor defends his crown against all-action fighter Kassim Ouma. Getting fighters into important high profile bouts is what DiBella Entertainment president Lou DiBella is good at. But what some fight fans may not know is that boxing is really the second love of promoter DiBella who has also launched headlong into a business endeavor with his other true sports love: Baseball.
“Baseball has really basically always been my favorite sport. Baseball and boxing have been my two favorite sports. And when I first left HBO one of the first things I did was invest in a Double A Minor League team, The Pittsburgh Pirates’ Double A Affiliate in Altoona Pennsylvania the Altoona Curve and my friend Chuck Greenberg was the managing partner and my friend Todd Parnell is the general manager and I got to really learn the business a little bit and understand how it worked and understand the great family entertainment that it is and the quality of the baseball. And I wanted to eventually get involved in running my own team. Obviously I can’t afford to buy a minor league baseball team myself but I was able to put together a partnership. I’m the president of the team and a co-managing partner… Owning and running a baseball team is something I’ve always wanted to do and it’s a nice counter-balance to boxing because no one’s going to accuse boxing of being family entertainment, really.”
DiBella is well aware of boxing’s dark side. Through his tenure at HBO and then as head of DiBella Entertainment he’s seen his share of what boxing analyst Larry Merchant refers to as the Theater of the Unexpected. But now, as president of the Connecticut Defenders, the Double A ball club affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, DiBella is able to experience similar thrills to his work as a fight promoter while enjoying the wholesome qualities of America’s pass time. In many respects, what DiBella does for fighters is very much the same as what he has been doing with his ball club.
“Promoting and marketing is promoting and marketing; so there are similarities and there are certainly skills and things that are transferable but it’s a very different market and you’re selling a very different product. Boxing is the hurt business while Minor League Baseball is really quite the opposite. It’s still one of the places in sports where things are generally good and players are playing their asses off and they’re tremendously talented trying to get to the Show, and they’re hungry… Right now my Mets tickets are astronomically high and I have low cheap seats… The tickets I had that were fifth row on the field, I gave them up because they were an average of over a hundred fifty dollars a ticket per game… [While in Norwich, CT] you could bring a family of six, sit in the first row, eat all night and get the kids a souvenir and not spend a hundred bucks.”
Some folks might say, yeah, but you’re not watching real pros when you go to a Double A game. DiBella disagrees.
“You’re watching guys like David Wright, Jose Reyes, Alfonso Seriano, and Nick Johnson, Mike Pelfrey…Guys that go directly from Double A to the majors. We started out really hot and we were in first place for a while and then five of our best players got called up to the Giants. Most of them go directly to the Majors from Double A. So it really is a tremendous quality of baseball.”
But with players being called up to the big leagues, doesn’t that reduce the overall quality of the CT Defenders?
“The thing is you’re happy for the player and it should remind people of the quality of play that they’re seeing but the downside is your team gets worse…Frankly the one thing about running a minor league team is that I have nothing to do with any of the player decisions or the personnel decisions on the field. We’re affiliated with major league baseball… so all player decisions, who the coaches are, the players’ pay, the coach’s pay, all that stuff is handled by the San Francisco Giants.
“In effect what I do is very much like a boxing promoter does… You run the event. You do the promotion. You create and do all the deals with the concessionaires… The marketing is under your control. You’re the one trying to sell tickets to put asses in the seats.”
For someone with a love of the game, promoting a sport you’re excited about has got to be a lot of fun.
“It is a lot of fun and I really believe in the product and I believe in Eastern Connecticut as a market. But honestly we had a team that finished sort of on the downswing in attendance and we had to turn that around… We’ve made a lot of changes but we still have a long way to go. It’s not a one year process. And this year unfortunately the weather was really our enemy. We had a schedule that was very frontloaded with early season games and we had over twenty games, twenty one games, either rained out or played in the rain. And people just don’t go to minor-league baseball games—you have zero walk up if it’s cold and raining… Mother Nature was not very kind to us.”
Despite Mother Nature’s influence DiBella’s Defenders were still able to land the honor of hosting the 2007 Eastern League All-Star Game, the league’s showcase event, which will be held at Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium – home of the Connecticut Defenders. The game will take place on Wednesday, July 11, 2007, one day after the Major League All-Star Game in San Francisco.
“Hosting the All-Star game is a testament to the improvements that we are making here,” said DiBella. “We have taken great strides this season and the residents of Norwich and Connecticut are being rewarded.”
Although the 2006 season is in the books baseball continues at Dodd Stadium. Soon after the conclusion of the season work began on the ESPN movie ‘The Bronx is Burning’. The movie is based on the Jonathan Mahler book Ladies and Gentlemen, the
Bronx is Burning. The Dodd Stadium field is being used to simulate several Major League fields, including those at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. The Defenders are also already selling season tickets for the 2007 season, and Eastern League All-Star game tickets are available by contacting the Defenders Ticket Office via e-mail or by calling 860-887-7962 ext. 5.
When one encounters a person like Lou DiBella, who has made a career out of his love for sports, it is always interesting to find out about their own involvement in athletics and how it inspired them to make the choices they’ve made in their careers.
“As a kid I played [baseball]. I wasn’t good enough to play in high school or college. But I played as a kid and I played softball until I was thirty. But I always loved baseball. I’m a crazy Mets fan I’ve been a Mets fan my whole life. I really like the National League. I know the National League like the back of my hand. I’ve always loved National League baseball particularly. I’ve always loved baseball. So it’s not that surprising to me that I wound up doing something in baseball.”
DiBella also has strong feelings about the steroid abuse in both of the sports he cares about and his perspective is one that shows his concern for the health of the athletes he works with.
“Baseball is addressing it. It’s a real problem. In some respects it’s a more dangerous problem in boxing. Because you’re not hitting a baseball you’re hitting a guy in the head. And the damage you do to a human being is different than a homerun record. And there’s an awful lot of fighters that have cheated. Part of the problem is there’s nobody overseeing boxing, there’s no commissioner, no management group of owners, there’s nobody setting rules and looking out for the best interest of the sport. It’s one of the things that speaks to having a national commission. Something that’s atrocious in boxing, and steroids relate to this issue, is that we have no uniform health and safety standards enforced in boxing. And that’s, in my mind, nothing short of savage.
“There are injuries in boxing and situations like Leavander Johnson that are unavoidable that are just acts of god in a sense. But there are an awful lot of things, tragedies that can be avoided. We need uniform health and safety standards in boxing.”
As to the fights in the immediate future of DiBella’s fighters, it is Quartey who fights next and the specter of the Vernon Forrest decision this past August still lingers for DiBella. Most ringside observers thought Quartey outworked and out landed Forrest that night but after ten rounds it was Forrest who earned a close unanimous decision. Boxing’s reputation often takes a bruising when controversial decisions occur in high profile bouts but what does DiBella believe happened to his fighter that night?
“That three honest judges had a really bad night…Close decisions and close fights are fine. The first Hopkins [versus J.Taylor] fight was a close decision. I think if you polled one hundred percent of the people who watched that fight [Forrest-Quartey] ninety-eight percent would think that Ike Quartey won. But I don’t think there was anything unethical or dishonest that went on.”
Simply put, that’s boxing. And DiBella certainly knows boxing…and baseball too.
Send comments or questions to Alex Pierpaoli at: KOFantasyBoxing@gmail.com