The new owners of the Guelph Royals know it will be a bit of an uphill battle to get the team back on the field and in the hearts of fans.
The Royals, who folded midway through the 2017 Intercounty Baseball League season, will be back on the field in 2018 after being purchased by Kitchener businessman Shawn Fuller and Guelph Mayor Cam Guthrie.
“To be clear, this is a passion project. I don’t see it as a money maker, I see it as doing something for the love of the game,” said Fuller, a Guelph native who has partnered with Guthrie to take over the team from Jim Rooney.
“It’s a six-figure budget to do this thing and to do it right …. I’m sure this thing loses money its first year, two years of operation. But we’re here to weather the storm. We’re here to build it.”
Fuller said he doesn’t plan on retaining the team’s not-for-profit status that the previous owner had.
“I’m not sure if it makes a difference or not,” Fuller said. “I think we’ll get rid of the not-for-profit status and run it as a corporation.”
Fuller was born in Guelph and is a “huge” baseball fan.
When he heard in June that the Royals had folded he called Intercounty Baseball League commissioner John Kastner the next day.
“When I heard the Royals were not finishing the 2017 season and at risk for not playing in the 2018 season, which is the 100th season, I knew something had to be done,” Fuller said.
“I’m a huge baseball fan and when this opportunity came up I knew we had to do something to bring the Royals back to Guelph.”
He reached out to former owner Kastner and Rooney, Guthrie later reached out to Fuller and came on board.
The new owners have set up a website, www.savetheroyals.com.
The formal announcement was made at Hastings Stadium Monday morning, with Kastner on hand. Former owner Jim Rooney was out of town and unable to attend.
“I just want to thank the past owner, Jim Rooney, and the past owners who obviously brought it to where it was, but now it is time for something new,” Guthrie said.
“Shawn has the same desire to create an amazing fan experience here that is really going to draw people back to Hastings Stadium.
The Royals struggled mightily on both the field and at the gate in recent years, with crowds of less than 100 not uncommon. A far cry from their glory years of the late ‘90s and early 2000s when they regularly drew several hundred to a game, more in the playoffs.
Fuller, who worked in sales with BlackBerry for 10 years, is the owner of Canadawide Sports, a sports equipment distribution company that operates out of a 65,000 square-foot facility in St. George, just outside Kitchener.
Fuller was born in Guelph and his mother lives less than a block from the stadium.
Kastner said Fuller contacted him the day after Rooney informed him he was folding the team.
“Shawn called me the next day and talked about how he wanted to see baseball in Guelph,” Kastner said. “We were in so much agreement about what the solution was going to be here in Guelph and how the team could and would be successful.”
Kastner was asked about lack of parity in the IBL, with the top three or four teams holding a decided talent advantage over the bottom four teams.
He said it’s more about trying to bring the bottom teams up to the level of teams like Kitchener, Barrie and London.
“As far as parity goes … the Intercounty Baseball League has changed,” Kastner said, adding that it needs to be a 12-month effort.
“I don’t think the league needs to do a whole lot. I think the league is going to tweak the imports,” changing the limit from four to three import players.
“When you look at the Barries, the Kitcheners and the Londons of the world, do we want to put downward pressure on those teams to make them poorer or do we want to create an environment where the teams at the bottom have got the opportunity to be more successful. To me, that’s the preferred process.”
Kastner said there are two locations looking at joining the league in 2019, but did not say who they were.