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Posts tagged as “Durham Bulls”

While his team waits, Wool E. Bull has been busy

Kitchen fires smoldered. Meals needed to be delivered. Local businesses needed support. It was time to call a local superhero: Wool E. Bull. 

Since March, the Durham Bulls mascot has been the face of several efforts by the minor league team to help the community in a time of need. The Bulls can’t play until Major League Baseball figures out if there will be games for minor league teams. So in the meantime, the team has been doing some community-minded public relations. 

Bulls’ Marketing and Fan Engagement Coordinator Emily Almond said the team is “always looking for other ways to help out our community” and that Wool E. Bull was perfect for the job.

With schools closing across the city, the Durham Public Schools Foundation rushed to make sure that children were still getting meals. About 1,000 people volunteered to distribute meals across Durham, including Wool E. Bull and several members of the team’s front office. 

Riding in the recognizable blue Wool E. Wagon, the Bulls’ mascot made his way around town delivering food to kids. Alyzia McAlmon, equity and youth empowerment manager at the foundation said having the furry mascot deliver meals to kids was the “perfect situation.” 

“You’re delivering food, but you’re also getting kids excited,” she said. “We got a lot of feedback from parents of how their kids were so ecstatic to open the front door and see Wool. E Bull was delivering their food.”

He was also the face of several other campaigns, including the “Wash Your Horns” campaign with the United Way of the Triangle (to encourage people to stay home and use good hygiene), and one with the Durham Fire Department to warn about kitchen fires. 

As of late April, the campaign sold over 1,000 “Wash Your Horns” t-shirts, and raised over $16,000 for the Triangle, according to a report from the Capitol Broadcasting Company. 

And the furry mascot had unique credibility to warn people about kitchen fires. Carol Reardon, the department’s fire education captain, said Durham had seen an 88% increase in kitchen fires since the stay-at-home orders were put in place. So Wool E. Bull starred in a kitchen fire safety video to help raise awareness of how to stay safe while cooking at home. 

The video featured team’s on-field announcer, Jatovi McDuffie, popping out from trash cans and behind doors to give kitchen fire safety tips like he was announcing the entertainment between innings at a game, with members of the fire department and, of course, Wool E. Bull, as the audience. 

“Having Wool E. support what we’re doing is huge,” said Reardon, “better than any money we can spend on advertising.”

The Bulls also teamed up with two of their local partners, Pie Pushers and LocoPops, to provide meals for healthcare workers. The Pizza and Pops campaign allowed locals ordering from either restaurant to donate money or purchase a LocoPop or pizza for a healthcare worker in the community. In one month they were able to donate 50 pizzas and 400 LocoPops.

“Large sports organizations tend to partner with large other organizations,” said LocoPops founder and owner Summer Bicknell. “The Bulls have always made it a priority to partner locally. I just love that they called me and said, ‘How can we help sell your product in this time?’, as opposed to partnering with some national brand.”

The Bulls also donated over 20,000 masks and gloves they found in the stadium to healthcare workers in the community.

With the season still uncertain, the Bulls are trying to maintain fan interest through their often-irreverent social media platforms, and they are finding new revenue sources,  like allowing fans to rent their field this weekend for $250 an hour.

“I think it’s just a really great feeling to give back to the community because of how much they’ve done for us and rallied around the Bulls and made us,” said Emily Almond. “We wouldn’t be who we are without Durham.”

Above, the Durham Fire Department enlisted help from Wool E. Bull for a video about preventing kitchen fires. Screenshot from Durham Fire Department Video

Bulls players getting stipend as they await decision on season

The Durham Bulls are waiting to see if they’ll get to play baseball this season, but their players will still receive a $400 weekly stipend for the next month. 

The Tampa Bay Rays, the parent club for the Bulls, notified their minor league teams on Thursday that players will continue to be paid through the end of June.

“They will be paid at least through the end of June,” Tampa Bay Rays Vice President of Communications Dave Haller said in an email Thursday afternoon, adding that the team “will reevaluate when the time gets closer.” 

The Bulls are faring better than some other teams. The decision comes just two days after the Oakland Athletics notified its minor league teams that they will no longer be paid this season. 

Tampa Bay Times reporter Marc Topkin, who first broke the news Thursday, also confirmed that The Rays did release a few players from the roster, although these players would have likely been part of the “standard end-of-spring cuts that didn’t happen then due to the shutdown,” he tweeted.

The Bulls are hoping for a decision from Major League Baseball and the player’s association about the future of the season in the next week. 

Photo above: The team is hoping the bull will be lighting up and blowing smoke again soon. Photo by Henry Haggart | The 9th Street Journal

Durham Bulls still hoping for games with fans (and a half-full stadium)

The Durham Bulls are in limbo, awaiting a decision by Major League Baseball about starting a shortened season this summer. But the vice president of the Bulls said Tuesday night that he’s hopeful the team can resume games with fans in July, although social distancing will require the stadium be kept at no more than 50% of its capacity.

“If you’ve been following in the news, Major League Baseball is looking at a condensed season,” Mike Birling, the minor league club’s vice president for baseball operations, told fans in a Zoom call. “They’re negotiating right now with the Players’ Association, so really until that gets figured out, we’re kind of stuck.”

Birling said that although major league teams could survive without fans in the stands, minor league teams depend on revenue from fans. 

“We have made it very clear to Major League Baseball that in no way do we want to have a season if there are no fans in the stands. It just doesn’t work,” he said. “At the major league level it works because you have hundreds of millions of dollars in TV revenue. The amount of money we are losing already, and then if you throw in team travel and everything else, no team would be able survive that.”

The Bulls held the town hall meeting Tuesday night for 919 Club Members, fans that buy season tickets or other ticket packages. The meeting gave fans a chance to ask questions about everything from merchandise to what mascot Wool E. Bull is doing to pass the time. 

Birling said the Bulls are preparing for all scenarios. 

If there is a season, Birling said there is a possibility of games resuming in early July and stretching into late September or early October, rather than ending in late August. It’s unclear if there will be minor league playoffs because league officials may decide playing more games is preferable to crowning a champion.

If there are games, fans should also be prepared for a new normal at the ballpark, including social distancing in the stands. 

Durham Bulls Athletic Park can seat up to 10,000 fans, but Birling said that the capacity would be maxed at 50% – and that he would be shocked if they were allowed to have even 5,000 people in the stadium.  

Fans would be spread out throughout the stadium, but families and people that have purchased tickets together would not be required to social-distance. 

“If you had four season tickets, we’d skip a couple seats, and skip the row behind you,” he said

Birling and other team employees in the meeting said the Bulls are doing as much as they can to assure season ticket holders that if they are assigned new seats, they will be as close to their original seats as possible. 

Birling said fans will not be required to wear masks in the ballpark (although the Bulls just began selling masks with the team logo). 

“We will require our staff [to wear masks], but we will not require fans to do it.”

There also will be extra precautions with food and drink sales. The Bulls are looking to expand their use of FanFood, a mobile app that provides a contactless and cashless way to order food in the ballpark.

If the MLB decides to return to play, there are several challenges unique to the minor leagues that will need to be sorted out. 

Compared with other leagues with nearby opponents, the Durham Bulls would need to face teams from Toledo to Buffalo, which brings up the challenge of traveling. 

“The difficult part from our perspective is how spread out our league is. In a lot of these leagues, you’re kind of closer – it’s only a few states. But in Triple-A baseball, obviously, we’re everywhere” Birling said. “We got to go to Toledo, we got to go to Buffalo. So each one of those situations is different, and that’s the challenge we have at Triple-A baseball and that’s something we’re all trying to figure out.”

Birling thanked Durham fans for their support and said team officials are still hopeful they will be allowed to play this summer.

“You can’t get a better opportunity if you’re Major League Baseball, to put aside your differences and figure out how to play for the good of the game, for the good of the country.”

In photo at top, the “HIT BULL, WIN STEAK” bull overlooks the empty stadium. Photo by Bill Adair | The 9th Street Journal