A Penny's Worth

Minor League Baseball GM, Zach Burek

Zach Burek is the general manager of the Detroit Tigers' minor league affiliated Lakeland Flying Tigers based in Florida.

» Quotes by Zach Burek

A business measures its success in terms of profitability, while a sports team measures success in terms of wins. How does a sports franchise, which is both, measure its success and how do these objectives conflict?
Being a minor league baseball GM, we measure our success on profitability. We are in the business of making money. We can't control the players we have each year or how good our team will be. We try to create a fun, family atmosphere at Joker Marchant Stadium and hopefully make some money doing it.
For a sports franchise which is so heavily characterized by seasonal activity and dependent upon seasonal revenue, what do off-season operations and revenues look like?
We have one of the best sports complexes in all of baseball here at Tigertown. We have a dormitory, cafeteria, 6 1/2 practice fields, three clubhouses, recreation center, weight room and much more. We utilize our complex on a year-round basis by bringing in camps, clinics, showcase events, high school & college teams, etc. We've even held soccer, rugby, wrestling and lacrosse camps here because they can not only use the practice fields, but stay in our dorm and eat at the cafe.
Sun Tzu's legendary The Art of War has been variously referenced to compare business strategy to the art of war. What do you see as the most formidable threats to the minor league baseball franchise and how can they best be confronted?
In Florida our biggest threat is the weather. We compete with Disney, the beaches, lakes, youth leagues, etc. People here can be outside year round and take advantage of that. As we move into the summer months we battle the heat and rain.
While baseball teams are on field adversaries, their parent franchises are largely competing in different geographical markets. Do you view your league's franchises as necessary allies in building a strong, healthy league of strong, healthy teams?
We view Spring Training teams and Florida State League teams as allies. The stronger we are as the Florida Grapefruit League and Florida State League, the better we all will be. The more baseball fans out there the better. We are constantly sharing ideas with other teams to make our brand and product better.
With a coach seen as more directly responsible for the success of a team, is the general manager generally insulated from, or accountable for, the team's on field performance.
I'm not accountable for the team's on-field performance. The Detroit Tigers Baseball Operations Dept. makes all player personnel decisions. I work directly with our Minor League Operations Dept. on coordinating player movement. They will inform me when players are added, deleted, transferred, disabled, etc. It is then my responsibility to coordinate the travel details.
In your experience, do minor league baseball players measure success solely in terms of Major League appearances or is a career spent entirely in alternate leagues viewed with some measure of satisfaction?
I can't speak for all of them but for most players I have been around, the goal is to play Major League Baseball. In our case, playing for the Detroit Tigers.
Minor Leagues are frequently referred to as "farm leagues", which suggests that they exist primarily to satisfy the appetite of Major League teams. Can you describe the symbiotic relationship between Major and Minor league franchises along with its benefits?
The major obvious benefit is the affiliation with a historic franchise like the Detroit Tigers. We are in a unique situation because the Flying Tigers franchise is owned by the Detroit Tigers. That brings instant credibility.
Price elasticity in economics describes the degree to which sales are affected by a product's price. How elastic is the team's fan support in relation to wins and how can stable fan loyalty be cultivated apart from on field success?
Our attendance numbers have shown that wins and losses have no relation to fan support. We have not had very good records the past two years but have drawn more people than we did a few years ago when we had the best record in minor league baseball. We are in the entertainment business. We hope people leave the ballpark having had a great experience. If we win then that is an added bonus.
Because of its sensitivity to toxic gases like carbon monoxide, the canary was famously used to gauge the air quality in coal mines well into the 20th century. What can be gauged about a baseball franchise by looking at its merchandise sales?
People want unique and different items. They want something that reflects the team and community. We have a merchandise manager who does our ordering. She will ask for feedback from staff on certain items. She works directly with all the licensees on product including what's hot, new, selling, etc.
Logos are often seen as little more than shiny novelties peddled by the artistic equivalent of used car salesmen. What role does the visual identity and branding of a minor league franchise play in its success?
For us it gave us our own identity and branding in our community. The Flying Tigers represent our history at Tigertown and Lakeland. I believe it has helped us establish some great relationships with our local military groups.