Executives Spotlight stories appeared on this website starting in 2001. Some of the executive's professional experience may have changed since they were published.
Spotlight - February 10, 2006
Executive Vice President, Business; Cleveland Indians
We're in the business of promoting hope. We do it again and again...
Throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s,people whispered around town that the Cleveland Indians were the farm team for the New York Yankees. You could count the people in attendance at baseball games. One, two, three....A baseball friend provided unsettling statistics.... that each year the Indians had placed 14 games out of first place in their division for the last 24 years. If we didn't feel bad enough, we consoled ourselves by saying we were residents of " the mistake by the lake."
Baseball, mom and Apple Pie. Opening day is coming. Opening day always promises a new season of hope. With every new batter, every throw of the pitcher, every pop fly, our hearts are filled with an anticipation that this time we'll be better. Sports and hope - they are tightly intertwined. That's what we do. We market hope.
"Nothing happens unless first a dream." - Carl Sandburg
On September 1, 1988 a couple of hope-filled souls bought into the dream presented by local real estate developer, Dick Jacobs, that Cleveland would host a strong baseball franchise showcased in a new stadium. Dennis Lehman, then Director of Marketing of the Philadelphia Phillies, was chosen by GM Hank Peters to be the business-side orchestral promoter of this dream.
Dennis, like Hank, assembled a dynamic staff, keeping some of the old and bringing in some new. Jeff Overton - Dennis credits him as being one of his best new hires at the time. His best utility man. By the time the new ballpark was erected in 1994, a new team filled the field, and Cleveland had hope. Suites were sold out, and clubs seats could only be hustled from scalpers. This group of young guns was augmented by veteran players both in the front office and on the field. And new sponsors supported those businesses forever true to the Indians. Although the first year was not a sell-out, the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh years were. The team was slugging, and ticket sales were soaring. There were 455 consecutive sell outs. 27,000 season tickets sold in a 42,000 ballpark. The business side and player operations conferred regularly. A new era in cooperation between the spenders and the generators began.
By February of 2000, the Cleveland Indians were sold for $323 million. (Put that against the Anaheim Angels selling for about $180 million to Arturo Moreno a few years later?)
By the time the team had sold, career counselors would have told Dennis, now is the time to move. Leave the team at its height. Don't wait for the fall, they would warn.
But Dennis is a baseball guy. He sells hope. And he believes.
Under new ownership, the bottom did fall out. The sell-out streak ended not much into the new owner's second season. The Indians had to shed their expensive player staff. It started with their best pitcher, their hitters and their favorite short stop. Attendance could hardly crawl to the 2 million mark - an average benchmark in Major League Baseball. Sponsors were fleeing. And Clevelanders found other things to do in the summertime.
If you believe in the promise of opening day....if you believe in a good day for that pitcher, a great at-bat for your favorite batter, and clear, cloudless sky, you know what goes around comes back around.
Sometimes the best career advice is what we sell. Have hope, a little luck, and be best at bring in talent that wins. Young General Manager, Mark Shapiro, honed the Billy Beane GM craft in finding the most productive talent while keeping costs to the marketplace. Shapiro is one of the league leaders in win efficiency as each win last year cost him about $1.3 million less than what most MLB teams paid for a win. Dennis, performed his marketing miracles, too, by believing in what goes around comes back around. He convinced his former employee Vic Gregovits of the dream again and brought him back to encourge the Cleveland fans to believe once again. Vic had been part of the Indians ticket build up and gained more experience with the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Pirates and his alma mater before agreeing to come back to the Indians. By the end of 2005, the team was winning again with a bunch of young guns, both on the field and in the front office, and tickets were hard to find.
Look, the lights are back on at Jacobs Field....this is to remind us that opening day is near. Season tickets are 95% to plan, and we have two more months to go. Group sales are well above pace, and sponsors are excited again.....to hear the crack of the bat, the chant of the crowd, and the smell of hotdogs on a warm summer night."
And thus, I concur with Allan Chalmbers, "The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."
Baseball, Mom and Apple Pie. Ours is the industry of happiness. Ours is the industry of love. And ours, most especially, is the industry of hope. What goes around can come back around. Thanks to our promoters of hope; our marketers who believe in the dream like Dennis Lehman. Go Tribe!
- Buffy Filippell
"From the day I first met him, I knew Dennis brought an energy and passion for the game of baseball. He has the best feel of anyone I know for creating that positive connection between the team and its fans."
--Dave Montgomery, General Partner/President/CEO, Philadelphia Phillies
What I do...
Dennis is responsible for all business aspects of the organization, including marketing, ticket sales, public relations, ballpark operations, merchandise, concessions, human resources and finance. He is also the liaison with the Gateway Economic Development Corporation of Greater Cleveland, which was responsible for the building of Jacobs Field.
HOW I GOT HERE...
CLEVELAND INDIANS; Cleveland, OH; 1988-present
Executive Vice President, Business
Senior Vice President, Business
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES; Philadelphia, PA; 1970-1988
Director of Marketing