Bullfrogs, Blizzards, and Ballparks

Posted on May 1, 2010 :: Small Business Spotlight
Sharon Verbeten
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

New team ownership, stadium plans keep sports entrepreneur busy

Green Bay may be known primarily as a football town, but for sports entrepreneur Jeff Royle, diamonds and gridirons are ideal bedfellows.

“Baseball can work in a football town,” insists Royle, majority owner of Titletown Baseball Group and president of the Green Bay Bullfrogs. And after only three seasons housed at Joannes Stadium on the city’s East side, the team has proven that – leading the Northwoods League (NWL) in wins in its first season and snaring 75 percent capacity attendance ever since.
“We just caught magic in a bottle,” Royle says.

But Royle, 41, a native of Waterloo, Wis., isn’t one to rest on his successes. He ushered in 2010 with not one but two major business resolutions: to keep the city’s indoor football team – the Green Bay Blizzard – in town, and to build a new multi-million dollar stadium that would house not only the Bullfrogs, but a potential bevy of area sports and entertainment options.

Blizzard warnings

Over the Bullfrogs’ hiatus, Royle learned that the Green Bay Blizzard was going to leave town.
“It was a little alarming to me,” says Royle, a longtime sports enthusiast and three-sport high school athlete. He swiftly contemplated his opportunities.
When the Blizzard opportunity came up, he saw many synergies between the franchise and the Bullfrogs. “It was kind of hard to let [that notion] go,” Royle says. But he didn’t want to do it alone financially.

Royle eventually teamed with his brother, Jay Royle, and four others to form Titletown Football Group, which purchased the team last year. The team retained its name, but it shifted from the Arena Football 2 league to the 25-team Indoor Football League (IFL).
Having both teams in his stable gives Royle a unique leverage.

“Now we’ve got a captive audience” to market both teams, he says. “We have a lot more ammunition as a franchise as a whole.”

And leveraging both teams’ popularity and selling power may be just what Royle – and his corporate partnership, The Titletown Entertainment Foundation (TTEF) – needs for his next big business venture to take place.

Leaping into the future

The TTEF has secured a 12-month planning option for a 16-acre parcel along the west bank of the Fox River in downtown Green Bay. The land off Mason Street, on the site of a former Fort Howard coal yard, is currently owned by the Green Bay Redevelopment Authority.
In a project Royle dubs “Operation New Pad,” the TTEF proposes to build a new stadium estimated to cost $20 million for the facility and land. He is quick to add, however, that the stadium would not just be a Bullfrogs ballpark, but a multi-use facility for the entire region.
“It is being built as a sports and entertainment center,” he says of the venue, which could house 6,000 to 7,000 people.

“Green Bay needs an ‘ignitor.’ This place will spark revival” downtown, he adds. “It will have an incredible impact beyond baseball.”

Harry Maier, chair of the city’s Redevelopment Authority, agrees.
“When Jeff Royle came forward with his proposal, we thought this was great. It would bring a lot of people into the downtown.”

That’s something Derek Lord, Green Bay’s economic development director, hopes will happen.
“Our goal is to have the lights on 50 to 100 nights a year and have the stadium full,” he says.
Still, he acknowledges that the current economy is having an impact on the process. “Projects like this are not easy, even in the best of times,” he says.

To finance the venture, Royle anticipates new market tax credits amounting to between $3 million to just over $4 million, with potential naming rights bringing in $2.5 million and the remaining amount covered by debt financing.

“With this proposed facility,” Royle says, “both the venue and the Green Bay Bullfrogs will cement themselves as part of the soul of this great sports community … doing the unpredictable often leads to extraordinary outcomes.”

And it doesn’t matter whether he’s wearing his baseball cap or football jersey. For Royle, it’s all part of “living a dream” and maintaining the soul of Green Bay’s sports heritage.