- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2004

The District’s dream of baseball might be in jeopardy because of D.C. Council chairwoman Linda Cropp’s late push for a ballpark near RFK Stadium instead of the Southeast site approved by Major League Baseball.

But there are at least 3,228 people who believe the dream is still alive.

That’s the number of people who have applied for 46 available jobs with the Washington club, the tangible result of a frenetic staffing plan that now has gone out to the public.

Everyone knew the soon-to-be-renamed Expos and team president Tony Tavares were facing a brutal task in the early days of the relocation to Washington. Few members of the club’s front office staff will be moving from Quebec. And nearly every facet of the business operations, from broadcasting and corporate sales to community outreach and public relations, must be reset to reflect the Washington marketplace.

And after MLB’s continued delays making its relocation decision, at least a shell of a sales staff will need to be in place by the end of the month and ideally sooner. By Thanksgiving — less than two months after the announcement of baseball’s plan to move to Washington — the club will be engaged trying to sell tickets, merchandise and sponsorships.

Beyond that first wave of hiring, the rest of the front office will need to be in place by the start of spring training in February.

Anyone looking for a precedent for a near-total restaffing of a pro sports franchise in so little time would be hard-pressed to find one. Expansion clubs typically have a year, and sometimes as many as three, to do what the Washington franchise is doing in about 100 days.

Quick-hit team relocations, such as the move of the NBA’s Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis and Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans, are more comparable. But even then, more time was available and more people stayed with the team.

“There is no question we are under some very serious time constraints,” club president Tony Tavares said. “For me, this is sort of like starting up the [Anaheim] Mighty Ducks again, but in that case, we still had seven months to do what we’re doing now with staffing.”

The club is working with TeamBuilder Alliance, a consortium of three companies that specialize in hiring and executive search serves for sports. The group has taken the staffing search to the Internet, putting all available positions online at dcbaseball.com, creating the blizzard of replies.

Not surprisingly, many of the applicants work for minor league baseball clubs and want to hit the big leagues or were recently laid off by NHL teams because of hockey’s ongoing lockout. Still somewhat lacking are local applicants with a true read on the local market.

“We’ve heard from a lot of highly qualified people. But we still need more,” said Len Perna, president of Highland, Md.-based Turnkey Sports, which is part of TeamBuilder Alliance. “We need more minorities, more women and definitely more locals.”

On top of the furor surrounding the D.C. Council and the city’s stadium plan, the staffing search also is operating under the cloud of ownership uncertainty. MLB is now reviewing applicants, and a choice there is expected around New Year’s Day. The applicants Perna and Tavares are interviewing, however, are showing little trepidation about the future.

That’s because with only a few notable exceptions — the most obvious being Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and his relentless gutting of his staff in 1999 and 2000 — a team sale typically does not produce a total housecleaning of the front office.

“Even though we need a lot of people, there are some positions we are going to leave to the new owner, such as a chief financial officer, a chief operating officer, the people with whom the owner will be in daily contact,” Tavares said. “Those are the people they’ll be interested in hiring for themselves. Baseball operations isn’t really part of this either. So if I’m the new ticket manager or the new human resources manager, for example, I wouldn’t be worried about the new owner.”

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