This is the fourth 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 provides insight for Americans looking to pursue sports ventures in Latin America.
In a previous post, I quoted Winston Churchill, drawing an analogy from his description of Russia to the challenge of maneuvering through the business peculiarities in Nicaragua. For this segment, I would like to share the insight of Yogi Berra, who said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
In the four years we have worked to build a baseball academy in Nicaragua, we have encountered many forks in many roads and, without exception, we have explored each of them. Some have proven to be dead ends, while others have yielded results.
The key issues and lessons:
How and when to recognize that a plan needs modification.
What is the organization’s ability to make adjustments?
When exploring options, how much time and resources should be expended?
And, perhaps, most critical: When one is heavily invested in a project (in terms of time and/or money), the tendency to overestimate the chances for success becomes a dangerous impediment.
Before examining these points and how they have been addressed, let’s examine the tangible results IBA has achieved.
- IBA, in collaboration with Baseball Without Borders, Roberto’s Kids and others, has distributed more than three tons of donated baseball equipment to youth teams in Nicaragua. We also incorporated discussions about life skills and education.
- We have conducted numerous baseball clinics for players and coaches in various parts of the country. Former major leaguers Reggie Smith and the late Brad Lesley served as instructors. These clinics helped improve the quality of coaching and afforded us the opportunity to scout talent. This has also helped us establish a network of contacts throughout the country to identify promising players.
- IBA sponsored the first ever national Home Run Derby in Nicaragua in 2012. The winner, Keny Alegria, is from one of the poorest areas of Managua. IBA paid for Keny and a chaperone to participate in an international competition at Chase Field in Phoenix. We also paid his tuition to attend American College in Managua. He is the first member of his family to have such an opportunity. Keny is the first example of how IBA hopes to improve the lives and opportunities of young Nicaraguan baseball players.
- IBA has recruited a group of current and former major league players to assist with the project. In addition to IBA board members Reggie Smith and Dave Stewart, they include Ben Zobrist, Steve Sax, Kelly Stinnett, Jim Leyritz, Freddy Sandoval (now mental skills coach with the Royals), and Nicaraguans David Green and Marvin Benard.
- IBA purchased 15 manzanas (25 acres) of land adjacent to the Gran Pacifica Beach and Golf Resort development, which allows access and use of the beach resort facilities.
Now, back to those forks in the road.
The original IBA business plan called for raising $500,000 through investments and financial support from individuals and companies that recognized the profit potential of the project and/or wanted to support the growth of baseball. IBA would collect a share of player signing bonuses, sponsor summer camps and international tournaments, fantasy camps and potentially represent signed players are their agents.
After two years of limited success in soliciting investments, we encountered the first fork and a change in course was. As a result of counsel from advisors in Nicaragua, a non-profit organization was formed — the International Baseball Academy of Central America (IBACA). In the United States, IBACA operates under the umbrella of the Nicaragua Baseball and Softball Assn., a 501c3 organization founded by IBA’s Roger Keeling. IBACA is able to accept tax-deductible donations in the U.S. IBACA bears the responsibility for raising funds to build the academy infrastructure — fields, dorms, cafeterias, etc. The opportunity to solicit tax-deductible donations would enhance our funding opportunities. In removing these costs, the profit potential for investors dramatically increased. While there would be no private ownership of the academy, the profit sectors previously outlined would remain and IBA would also charge a fee for administering the baseball
We collaborated with various business associations in Nicaragua and sponsored receptions and open houses for their members, to solicit donations and support for the project. These yielded results but much of the pledged support was in the form of in-kind donations of services and products.
Baseball tourism remains a central component of the IBA business plan, with the goal of hosting tournaments on the land purchased adjacent to the Gran Pacifica development, in order to utilize its facilities. While that remains the long-term goal, in the absence of funding to build baseball fields on the property, we decided to aggressively promote tours, in which existing fields would be utilized in Managua and other areas and hotels would be booked.
In August 2013, IBA collaborated with Baseball Without Borders to bring a team to Nicaragua for a six-day tour. This included five games against different opponents, tours, cultural exchanges and the lodging in a four-star hotel in Managua. Each U.S. player brought equipment to donate and support from the U.S. Embassy was critical to the logistical planning. The trip was very successful and will be used as a model for future tours.
Despite incremental progress, construction of the academy has not begun. In March 2014, IBA principals met in Managua to reassess goals and strategy. This is the most challenging fork yet and the outcome will determine the fate of the project.
Part Three: Doing business in Nicaragua? Think like a Nica
Part Four: Altering scope of Nicaraguan Baseball Academy a necessity
Bob Oettinger 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