Community Leader Spotlight
Featuring South Bend Cubs President Joe Hart
Q: What brought you to South Bend?
I’ve been in Minor League Baseball for 29 years, so I’ve lived in many different cities during my career. In 2011 I was in Port Charlotte, Florida, working with a startup team, when I had the opportunity to interview with Andrew Berlin (owner and chairman of the South Bend Cubs). He told me about buying the team (at that time, the South Bend Silver Hawks), and how he wanted to revamp it, because it had fallen on hard times. What really appealed to me was the opportunity to lead a rebuild. I wanted to come here and take something, remold and reshape it, and help make a real asset for the community. Working for Andrew has been amazing. We shared the same vision around the experiences we wanted to provide and what the fans and customers could expect. So, it’s been a successful relationship for both of us, as well as for the team. And for me, this is more than a job. It’s a passion.
Q: What key attributes in your leadership style have contributed to your success and that of the team?
I never ask anyone to do anything I won’t do myself. I’m hands-on, but not a micromanager. I think about each individual employee and what motivates them. I have a full-time staff of 22, and each person is unique. So, for me, it’s about being flexible, and being right there with them in the trenches. I love being out there and working with the group — that’s always been my style. I think you get more from your staff when they see you working alongside them, versus sitting behind a desk telling them what to do.
Q: What role has marketing played in the team’s success?
I see this as one of the significant things that helped shape our organization, especially in the first few years. We used marketing to really let people know that things were going to change and that we were a different group.
The most important thing from a marketing standpoint was identifying who our target customer was and who it would be as we went forward. We focused on women and moms. We knew that if we got moms on board, then the whole family would come to the ballpark. If you look at the advertising we do now, we rarely focus on players or game action. It’s much more about showing kids in the fun zone, playing on inflatables or on the splash pad, smiling and having fun. That works well for targeting moms. Our diehard sports fans represent about 15% of our base; it’s the other 85% I need to encourage to come to the ballpark. In 2013, we added the Miller Lite Tiki Hut, because we also wanted to attract 21-year-olds who were looking for things to do.
“Where everyone comes to play” has been our tagline from day one, and that was symbolic. At Four Winds Field, the kids can play, the adults can play, and obviously, the players are playing out on the field. We’re selling the experience; our approach was to promote the atmosphere and the end result, not the wins, losses or players. We use the tagline consistently, and it’s what we hang our hat on.
Q: How was the organization different five years ago, and how will the organization look five years from now?
When I arrived here, I needed to build a strong front office culture and get people to believe what Andrew and I believed in. But the biggest change was in 2015, when we got the Chicago Cubs affiliation. That put us on a new trajectory. The Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series win really filtered down to us, and people wanted to be associated with us.
As I look down the road, we’re looking at a $50 million renovation of Four Winds Field. So, I think in five years you’re going to see a completely different, improved look at the park and expanded fan experiences. In 2011, the park drew 111,000 people; we’re currently drawing 400,000 downtown. You’re starting to see other private development happen around us, and that’s exciting. Our little corner and the corners around us will look entirely different than they do today.
Q: In terms of what’s on the horizon, the renovation will certainly be the main event. What will that look like?
We’re hoping to begin right after the 2024 season and have the majority completed by opening day of 2025. We’re looking at building upward, adding a second level with some hospitality areas. We’re going to renovate the Pepsi Stadium Club and looking at adding a new three-story building down the left field line that will provide indoor space for about 400 people. Also, we’ll add another rooftop bar area and some new seating in center field, along with concessions there. We want to make the experience a little better with some new and unique views and experiences, too.
Q: What else would you like people to know?
I just want to thank the community and the region. We came here with big ideas and big plans, and it took a leap of faith to buy what we were selling. Our success happened with the support of a great residential and business community. With that said, we’re always looking to push the envelope and get better. Without our guests, we’re nothing. I view myself as the steward of the community’s ball club. It’s really for them.
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