Portland Sea Dogs building on past success after new ownership

Portland Sea Dogs face the Reading Fightin Phils at Hadlock Field on June 22, 2023.
PORTLAND, ME - JUN 22: The Portland Sea Dogs hosted the Reading Fightin Phils at Hadlock Field.
Portland Sea Dogs face the Reading Fightin Phils at Hadlock Field on June 22, 2023.
The Portland Sea Dogs hosted the Reading Fightin Phils at Hadlock Field. Photo: Cullen McIntyre

By Cullen McIntyre

With new ownership, the Portland Sea Dogs are looking for success on the field and with fans.

Diamond Baseball Holdings acquired the team in December of 2022 and have put a continued emphasis on what the team is already doing, making a great fan experience. 

The Burke family, founders of the team that has been the Boston Red Sox Double-A affiliate since 2003, sold the team to Diamond Baseball Holdings in December of 2022. Diamond Baseball Holdings formed in 2021 and has since acquired 16 minor league baseball teams across the country, according to their website.

Anticipating change and a new direction, the Portland Sea Dogs had just had a season where they were named the recipients of the 2022 Double-A Bob Freitas Award, which recognizes the top Double-A franchise in America.

But according to Geoff Iacuessa, president and general manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the main focus for the new ownership has been to let the team continue to build on their success. 

“We’ve been one of the more successful minor league teams in all of minor league baseball and it’s because of our people and our philosophies on how we do business,” said Iacuessa. 

Diamond Baseball Holdings 20 minor league teams range from Triple-A to Single-A, with teams located all over America. The organization emphasizes high quality fan experience and elevating the level of minor league baseball.

While there is a common misconception that the Sea Dogs are owned by the Boston Red Sox because of their affiliation with the team, the Sea Dogs front office is owned and operated by Diamond Baseball Holdings. The players are contracted by the Red Sox, but other operations are funded by the Sea Dogs. 

“They essentially take care of everything between the lines, and we take care of everything outside of the lines,” said Iacuessa. 

While the product on the field is run by the Red Sox, Iacuessa and the Sea Dogs are responsible for the business side of the team including selling, managing expenses and arranging for travel according to Iascuessa. 

The transition from the Burke family ownership to Diamond Baseball Holdings has been smooth, says Iascuessa. 

“The Burke family was tremendous and it was a good opportunity for them to move on to the next chapter in their lives,” he said. “It was a good opportunity for Diamond who’s been buying up teams and sees future value in Minor League teams.”

Direct changes under the new ownership may not be noticeable on the field so far, as the Portland Sea Dogs continue to operate on the field in a similar fashion. Behind the scenes, the ownership has implemented new systems and meetings that bring the other teams under Diamond Baseball Holdings together. 

“Behind the scenes we’ve been getting up to speed on some of their software and backend stuff that we didn’t have under the old ownership,” said Iacuessa. “There’s also biweekly sales and GM meetings where we share best practices and different ideas.”

The Sea Dogs have had continued success this season, selling out 10 of their home games as of July 15 this year, according to their twitter. With promotions such as their alternate jersey nights, post-game fireworks and “Bark-in-the-Park” games, the team has been bringing fans into the ballpark for more than just the game. 

*2020 season not included due to COVID-19 cancelling season. Data Source: Portland Sea Dogs

“We may be a baseball team, but we don’t consider ourselves in the baseball business,” said Chris Cameron, vice president of communications and fan experience. “We’re more in the entertainment business and more specifically, we are in the memory-making business.”

Cameron has been with the Sea Dogs since 1998, and stepped into his current role with the team in 2016. One of the key aspects of his role is making sure that fans who attend games at Hadlock are left with a memorable experience, whether the product on the field was good or not. 

“I wish the baseball would sell itself, but that’s not necessarily the case,” he said. “You have to give people a reason to come out to the ballpark, an opportunity to market to a demographic that might ordinarily not be a baseball fan.”

The Sea Dogs nearly clinched the first half playoff spot this season, leading the Eastern League Northeast until the final weeks when the Somerset Patriots, New York Yankees Double-A affiliate, took first place by 2.5 games. The addition of top Red Sox prospect Marcelo Mayer has generated some buzz around the team that already featured number three prospect Ceddanne Rafaela and number four prospect Nick Yorke. 

The second half of the season will not only see the team hope to clinch a playoff spot, but also big promotional games such as Marvel night, Star Wars night and the introduction of the newest alternative jersey night as the “Maine Clambakes.”

A kid celebrates winning one of the in-game promotions at Hadlock Field during a Sea Dogs game.
A young Sea Dogs fan celebrates winning an in-game promotion at Hadlock Field. Photo: Cullen McIntyre

These games come together not only from the hard work of Iacuessa and Cameron, but from a long-standing minor league baseball tradition of “extra-role behaviors,” as coined by Smith, Barnhill and Sung in their article “Effects of Employees’ Extra-Role Behaviors on Organizational Performance: An Assessment of Minor League Baseball Team Front Offices.”

These behaviors are described as minor league baseball staff members pulling more weight than their defined role within the organization, something very common at the Portland Sea Dogs.

“We wear a lot of hats,” said Dennis Meehan, assistant general manager and sales. “I’ll pull tarp, I host two or three in between inning games where I am the on field emcee and I will go to see if concessions need help.”

Meehan’s primary roles involve selling sponsorships and managing sales overall within the front office. But along with many of his colleagues, his primary responsibilities are not something that he is restricted to and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“As long as it’s fun I’ll keep doing this,” he said. 

Fun is the name of the game for the Portland Sea Dogs, as the focus for the front office is mainly on the fan experience and not on the baseball itself. You can’t talk about fun at the Sea Dogs without mentioning the newest inductee to the Mascot Hall of Fame, Slugger. 

“You know the players come and go, but Slugger is the face of the franchise,” said Cameron. 

The mascot is the first minor league baseball mascot to be inducted into the Mascot Hall of Fame, and was recently inducted. Slugger the Sea Dog is known for entering the field in the second inning on the back of a golf cart, before entering the stands to greet the crowd waiting to meet him.

“When we started here in 1994 we wanted to be more than just a baseball team,” said Cameron. “We wanted to be a strong, active, contributing member of the community and Slugger is one of the main ways we’re able to do that.”

Between dressing up for the alternate jersey games, to different performances between innings, Slugger brings the full minor league experience at Hadlock to another level. Cameron and the Sea Dogs employ the fan favorite slugger into local parades and nonprofit events to immerse themselves into the community.

“When I ask a group of 10 people that went to the game it’s never that the Sea Dogs won,” said Meehan. “It’s always their kid was on the field, Slugger doing the YMCA or he smashed a pie in someone’s face during a skit.”

About Cullen McIntyre 4 Articles
Cullen McIntyre is a sports photographer at heart, building his multimedia portfolio during his time at Emerson College. He has worked for the Portland Sea Dogs, Maine Mariners and the Portland Press Herald.