Group to invest in Pride

NASHUA – Financial help appears to be on the way for the Nashua Pride.

Pride majority owner Chris English and Nashua Mayor Bernie Streeter announced Tuesday a proposed “recapitalization” plan designed to bring in new investors, primarily Atlantic League CEO Frank Boulton, Somerset Patriots and Newark Bears owner Steven Kalafer and a group known as Keystone Baseball Inc., which owns another Atlantic League franchise, the first-year Lancaster Barnstormers.

Keystone is chaired by Peter Kirk, a well-known minor league executive who, under the umbrella known as the Maryland Baseball Inc., has owned several teams in the Maryland area, including clubs in Bowie, Frederick and Salisbury.

The whole transaction is contingent upon league approval, which is a certainty, as well as a vote by the Nashua Board of Aldermen to change the ownership name in the current lease.

Aldermen discussed the issue for about 45 minutes Tuesday night and voted 9-4 in favor of the Pride’s request.

Boulton, Kalafer and Kirk have owned a combined 14 minor league clubs. The new ownership corporation will be known as BKK Nashua, LLC.

“We’ll go in there and do the best job we possibly can,” Boulton said. “You know I’ve always been fond of the area. “Chris needed some financial partners and some experienced planning, and that’s what we’re going to provide.

“We know there’s a team taking the field in Manchester, but we know there’s a lot of support for the Nashua Pride. We want to make sure they have baseball in Nashua for a long time.”

Boulton founded the Atlantic League seven years ago and is the majority owner of the league champion Long Island Ducks and the Atlantic City Surf. Kalafer, a New Jersey auto magnate, owns both the Somerset Patriots and the Newark Bears. Boulton is also a partner in the Camden Riversharks ownership.

Boulton is expected to visit Nashua on Monday.

Under the new ownership, English will remain as team president, and Todd Marlin will remain the general manager. English would not reveal whether he has operating control, saying instead “we’re going to operate it a lot more as a partnership than before, because that’s part of what attracted me to bringing these guys in.”

“This will be the largest capitalization we’ve done to date,” said English, who unsuccessfully tried to add local investors in the last year. “It’s designed to clean up the balance sheet, eliminate all debt and diversify further our investor base to provide a solid financial future for the Pride.

“Keystone Baseball just has an unbelievable track record. We really welcome joining them as partners in really trying to figure out how to reinvent, remodel, build on our past successes, but take (the Pride) to the next level.”

Besides Lancaster, Kirk’s Keystone group – which also includes Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson – is involved in trying to place an Atlantic League team and build a stadium in York, Pa.

Also included in the management mix will be Jon Danos, who is the president of Keystone Baseball and the former general manager of the Bowie Baysox. Danos, according to English, was the driving force behind Keystone’s Pride investment.

“Jon has a very, very strong sense of his roots here in New Hampshire,” English said from his financial offices in New York.

Representatives of Keystone came to the area a few weeks ago to explore the Pride’s situation, met with city and business leaders, and decided to make the investment, Streeter said.

“These are some of the smartest business operators in baseball,” English said. “They’re not doing this out of a sense of charity or hope.”

It’s generally known the club has never made money and has been unable to return to the attendance high of 140,000 it reached in 2000. Last year’s attendance of just more than 117,000 represented a dip of 14,000 from the year before, and word was English was financially unable to put his own resources into improving the team, mainly from a marketing standpoint.

The New Hampshire Fisher Cats, the second-year Double-A franchise in Manchester, which will open a new ballpark next season, present a challenge. An attendance clause in the Pride’s lease kicks in after the 2006 season. If the team doesn’t average 2,700 tickets sold per game, it would be able to break the lease.

In September, Boulton, speaking for the league, guaranteed the Pride would return to the field for the 2005 season.

“You’ll see a greatly increased marketing budget, for one,” English said, “and a more senior-seasoned sales staff, for two. Stronger financial controls. . . . What I can tell you unequivocally, we will spend, three, four more times on marketing than we did last year.”

With that in mind, Kirk’s daughter, Emily, will be in charge of the team’s books, according to English, allowing Marlin a more visible role in sales and as the team’s spokesman in the community. English said there will also be more concessions improvements to reduce the lines at the Holman Stadium stands.

“I think this is great,” Marlin said when reached at the annual Independent League Baseball Meetings in Atlantic City, N.J. “It will finally give us the resources that myself, Chris, Peter and Jon think we need to make Nashua work.”

Before pressing for any further stadium improvements, both English and Streeter said the new group will wait to gauge the fan response.

“I think it will further excite the sports fans of the Nashua area,” Streeter said. “They have some great ideas to draw more people to Holman. From my point of view, I’m going to do everything I can . . . to try to encourage more corporate sponsorships. I want the Pride to stay in the city.

“The biggest thing is that Holman continues to be alive and that the Pride continues to stay here. With Chris and this new organization, I think it bodes well for baseball in our city.”

Asked if he would have been able to continue in Nashua without any ownership restructuring, English said, “Every year, we ask that question, and every year we solve that problem.”