The new owner of the Aeros still hasn’t been formally introduced, although his identity has been the worst-kept secret in Akron for the past few weeks.
That didn’t stop Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic from announcing Saturday that Maryland resident Ken Babby is the Double-A baseball team’s new owner.
During an impromptu news conference inside Canal Park, Plusquellic announced a modified lease agreement, detailing plans to make stadium improvements and the possibility of a new team name and facility naming rights.
“The team has been sold and, most importantly, the major-league and minor-league baseball associations have approved the sale,” Plusquellic said.
The Aeros franchise exchanged hands from longtime owners Mike and Greg Agganis to Babby in a process that was completed late Friday night, Plusquellic said.
“We’ve met the owner, we’ve negotiated and talked with him about his excitement coming to Akron and ramping up the improvements and necessary marketing for this team,” he said. “[We want] to be able to make this a hub of activity for about five or six months during the year.”
The terms of the sale have not been made public. Mike Agganis bought the team (then operating in Lynn, Mass.) in 1981 for $48,000. The franchise made stops in Burlington, Vt., and Canton before moving to Akron in 1997.
Babby, 32, was in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, but he’s expected to be formally introduced Thursday in Akron. Plusquellic announced Saturday that the city will continue to host a professional baseball team through 2037, with Babby holding an option of five additional years.
“There was some urgency to this,” Plusquellic said, indicating that the Akron City Council needed to approve the lease agreement before Babby attends the annual Eastern League fall meeting Thursday in Portland, Maine. “I’m hand-delivering the ordinance and lease to the council members at their houses. [I’ve] made a number of calls to individual council members to let them know this was coming.
“So, we’ve basically kept a minor-league baseball team in Akron for the next 25 years. This lease also provides for improvements that need to be done to make this a better experience for families and individuals coming here.”
Plusquellic said Babby and the city finalized negotiations to extend the stadium lease Aug. 24. Both parties agreed to keep quiet regarding the pending sale until the conclusion of the three-tiered approval process by the league, minor-league baseball and Major League Baseball.
With a deal all but certain, Babby attended the Aeros’ playoff games in Akron and went to Trenton, N.J., last month to see the team win its fourth Eastern League championship.
“He’s been on the ground doing things behind the scenes; he just hasn’t been able to come out front personally and talk,” Plusquellic said of Babby.
Background of new owner
Babby, a former chief revenue officer/general manager of digital at the Washington Post, spent 12 years at the newspaper. He rose through the ranks after starting there as an IT intern.
Before entering the newspaper business, Babby earned degrees at Johns Hopkins University and Wheaton College. In March, he took a buyout at the Washington Post as part of the newspaper’s efforts to downsize amid declining revenue. His father, Lon Babby, is a former sports agent who serves as the president of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.
Plusquellic went out of his way to point out that, under the modified agreement, Babby would pay for the new improvements to the stadium through his lease payments. Under the previous agreement, team ownership and the city divided facility costs.
“The citizens of Akron will not be really putting out money for these improvements,” said Plusquellic, “including a state-of-the-art scoreboard and a picnic-style, group-seating area.”
Plusquellic also said that unlike the previous ownership, Babby would be responsible for “additional maintenance costs” such as field upkeep during the season.
City Council President Marco Sommerville and Councilman Gary Moneypenny recently visited Allentown, Pa., and later joined Plusquellic in Columbus to see what newer minor-league facilities have to offer.
The Indians’ Double-A affiliate was immediately popular among baseball fans, and Canal Park initially drew sellout crowds. But interest has waned in the past nine seasons, and attendance has dropped from first in the 12-team Eastern League to ninth the past three seasons.
“It has been one of the most important things for the downtown turnaround because, once we built the stadium and people started coming down, they started finding restaurants and other amenities here,” Plusquellic said. “I think it really helped change the whole image of downtown.”
Rebranding a franchise
Now, city officials are hoping that Babby can revitalize a winning franchise that could assume a new name as part of a rebranding in the community.
“I wonder what name he is going to give the team, I don’t know,” Sommerville said. “Maybe he’ll keep the name, maybe he’ll change the name. But whatever he’s going to do, it’ll be an exciting time for Akron. We look forward to sitting down, rolling up our sleeves and making this again the No. 1 [attended] facility in the country and also the No. 1 stadium.”
Plusquellic also delved into the possibility of upcoming naming rights for Canal Park with the revenue going back into operations for the stadium’s maintenance and improvements.
“This is a good location, it is a good stadium and has a good fan base,” Plusquellic said. “[Babby’s] going to build on that.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SStormABJ. Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.