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VOL. 129 | NO. 14 | Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Redbirds Ownership Transition Underway

By Don Wade

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The transition of the Memphis Redbirds to their new owners, the St. Louis Cardinals, is underway.

Cardinal officials have said they would want to do some rebranding, but not at the expense of the Redbirds and AutoZone Park feeling like they belong to Memphis.

The Redbirds’ 2014 slogan would seem to fit with that thinking: “Where Memphis Plays.”

Fredbird and Rockey visit with 6-year-old fan Marlon Yates at the annual Cardinals Caravan at AutoZone Park over the weekend.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“This is your ballpark, your Downtown,” Redbirds general manager Ben Weiss said. “So come down here and play.”

Technically, AutoZone Park soon will belong to the city. On Jan. 7, Memphis City Council members approved the city’s $19.5 million purchase of the park and another $4.5 million for facility improvements. The deal included the Cardinals purchasing the Redbirds, their Triple-A affiliate, and entering into a 17-year lease agreement with the city for $300,000 a year.

There are still a few fine points to be finished before the deal is official, but it’s essentially done. When the Cardinals were in Memphis for City Council meetings, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak described the Redbirds and AutoZone Park as “underperforming.” Apparently, the Cardinals are not waiting for the coming of spring to set about making changes.

“The last couple of weeks, their representatives have been digging into what we’ve been doing,” Weiss said. “I think they’re happy with what they see, but that will be enhanced with the Cardinals’ marketing power.”

Typically, the Redbirds have done little television advertising because of the cost. Weiss is hopeful that might change and that the Redbirds could have a presence on Cardinals games broadcast into the Memphis market.

“We haven’t talked about that yet, but if we can market to our crowd during Cardinals broadcasts, that would be a natural,” he said.

The Redbirds used first baseman Matt Adams, a mainstay of the 2012 Memphis team, in its promotions for 2013. But Adams spent the year in St. Louis. It’s one of the risks of using a minor-league player in advertising and a reason cited in years past for not using Memphis players.

“He didn’t play a pitch down here last year,” Weiss said. “Did it hurt us? No. Even the casual fan knows Matt was with the big club. I actually like that approach” of using Redbirds players.

Because the stadium deal got done so late, Mozeliak said any structural improvements to AutoZone Park would wait until the 2015 season. One of the plans calls for “four-top” table seating on the club level behind home plate.

Although fans will not see any physical changes this season, Weiss said it is possible they would be offering an enhanced “food and beverage” option on the club level this season.

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