Of all places that could not support a baseball team, Atlantic City would not seem like one. However, in an unfortunate turn of events, the Atlantic City Surf of the CanAm League, ceased its operations on March 30, 2009.
Historically the city has never enjoyed much success. Beginning as the Duval Giants, they moved to Atlantic City in 1916, and were called the Bacharach Giants, named after the city’s mayor, Harry Bacharach. The team was independent from 1916 until 1922. They did find a home in the Eastern Colored League and between 1923 up until that league folded as well in 1928, the Giants won the league title in 1926 and 1927, led by the likes of Oliver Marcelle, Smokey Joe Williams and John Henry “Pop” Lloyd.
Sixty years after the team folded, the Atlantic City Surf were born in the newly formed Atlantic League. The team was located in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After 11 seasons of Indy baseball it looks like the Surf is once again out of luck. After playing nine years in the Atlantic League, the Surf moved to the Can-Am League in 2007 and the topic leading up to the decision rendered, has been its stadium “The Sand Castle”,
Originally purchased by Frank Boulton, the Surf was bought by a group of investors in 2006, headed by Mark Schuster. On the field the team had many successful seasons including seven play-off appearances, numerous attendance records, and under current team president, Chris Carmiucci, the team continued to grow, or so it appeared. In 2008, the team increased its attendance by over 24% and also set a singe game attendance record of over 8,000 last July. This all sounds great, but according to Schuster, the team is still losing money. “This is obviously a sad day for the ownership group and more so for the great fans of South Jersey and the Atlantic City area,” said Schuster. “For more than three years now, we really gave it our best shot. While we made great strides in improving the financial performance of the company, there are much larger issues that we face when we look at whether to recapitalize the company or say enough is enough”, Schuster noted. “The overriding issue that is adversely affecting our ability to drive revenue is the impending sale of Bader Field property which sits beneath Bernie Robbins Stadium. “When the City put the “For Sale” sign up on the property in October, it significantly changed things. We immediately started fielding calls about whether we were still in business and whether we were playing baseball anymore”. Sponsors saw this as a sign that we would not be a long standing member of the community and that we are short-term.” “If there is one thing that sponsors want it is that they want to feel like they are part of something that is growing”.
As mentioned above the stadium was the main reason with the collapse of the team. Atlantic City refused to invest in making and maintaining improvement to the stadium. In the spring on 2008, the city allocated nearly $500,000 to make repairs to the stadium, those repairs were not made. To break it down, the city leases the property to Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, who then leases it out the Surf. According to Schuster, the cities inability to extend the stadiums lease for the next three years was a major contributor in the downfall of the team, “Both existing investors and new investors were weary to put more money into the business because the team could be without a home in less than three years. It was a tough argument to make to our existing partners as well as new investors. “We really tried. We are not in the business to lose money and if we are losing money there needs to be a glimmer of hope that we will have a place to call home for years to come. We did not have that in Bernie Robbins Stadium”, stated Schuster.
When a city loses a team, they do not realize the benefit and excitement it brings to it fans. “The fans of South Jersey and the Atlantic City area have been phenomenal—it is a great disappointment to us that they will not be able to enjoy another season of Surf baseball”, said Chris Carminucci, President. “We can never thank this community enough for all the support they have given us over the years and we can only hope that we’ve provided them with lasting memories of baseball and family fun for years to come.”
Devon Teeple is an author for the Business of Sports Network. He is a former professional baseball player with the River City Rascals & Gateway Grizzlies. Devon is a former student within Sports Management Worldwide’s Baseball General Manager Class. Devon is the founder of The GM’s Perspective and is a intern with The Football Outsiders and contributor with the Plymouth River Eels.