This is the first of five posts about the benefits and challenges of building a baseball academy in Nicaragua. While it focuses on a specific project, the series also will provide insight for Americans looking to pursue sports ventures in Latin America.
Let’s test your knowledge of Nicaragua. Which of the following statements are true:
A. Nicaragua is the second most dangerous country in Central America, trailing only Honduras.
B. The country is politically unstable and is currently run by Sandinista dictator Daniel Ortega.
C. Soccer is the national sport.
D. Americans are cautioned not to travel to Nicaragua because kidnappings are on the rise.
In fact, none of the above are true (although Ortega is president, having been democratically elected). Therein lays a major challenge.
The statements above represent the perceptions—and hence, realities—of many Americans regarding the Central American country.
In 2009, I joined a group of businessmen and former Major League players, including Reggie Smith, Dave Stewart and Brad Lesley. We formed the International Baseball Association (IBA), with the mission of promoting baseball around the world through the establishment of academies and schools. Central America seemed like an appropriate place to build the first facility.
The project was envisioned as an investment and philanthropic venture, with four main areas of revenue generation: IBA would receive a commission on the signing bonuses of players we developed; host international youth tournaments and summer camps; sponsor fantasy camps for adults; and set up an agency to represent signed players as they progressed through minor league baseball.
Tourism potential was also an important factor in the selection of a location. This would enable IBA to develop baseball tourism programs similar to ones being operated in the Dominican Republic.
Investors would be recruited in the U.S. and the country selected to host the academy. We also felt that the project might appeal to baseball enthusiasts and philanthropists in both countries. The added emphasis on education provided a humanitarian component, which would present academy attendees with opportunities outside of baseball.
After meeting with MLB executives, we were encouraged to tour academies in the Dominican Republic. We returned from the D.R. with a clear understanding of how to structure the facility, but also determined to incorporate education and life-skills training in our curriculum.
We discovered that Nicaragua and Panama are the two countries in Central America in which baseball is the national sport. (Latin American countries where American troops were stationed at length during the 20th century adopted our national pastime.)
I made the first of my 18 (and counting) trips to Nicaragua with IBApartner Joseph Ryan in March 2010. Admittedly, we knew little about the country and shared some of the same misconceptions that remain a challenge for others to overcome.
News of our impending arrival had reached Managua (there was a front page story in the sports section of the major newspaper, La Prensa) and we were met by a television camera crew, which followed us through the capital and to the colonial city of Granada. Along the drive, we saw boys walking along the side of the road, some with bats, others with gloves. They entered a field, where cows were grazing. The youngsters moved the cattle and started playing baseball.
Later that afternoon, we were advised that we were to speak at a press conference. To my amazement, we entered a room with at least 25 media members, including a number of TV cameras. Pretty heady—and intimidating—for two gringos who thought they were making an anonymous fact-finding trip.
The questions we faced were akin to batting practice pitches over the middle of the plate. “What can we do to convince you to build the academy here?” “What do you think of our country?” “When do you plan to begin construction?”
We knew we had found the location for the academy.
Our education, however, was about to start. . . .
Part One: Businessmen, ballplayers target Nicaragua for investment in baseball academy
Part Three: Doing business in Nicaragua? Think like a Nica
Bob has worked in the area of corporate and non-profit management, fund raising, planning, public relations and promotions for more than 25 years. He has served as public relations director for the American Diabetes Association, Southern California Affialite and co-director of Motion Picture and Television Fund’s $50 million capital campaign, before founding Celebrity Outreach in 1989. Bio