In 2007, Lignum Forest Products founder Jake Kerr decided to combine his business acumen and love of baseball to buy the Vancouver Canadians. The team went on to win the Northwest League championship in 2011.
Kerr explains how he took a struggling minor league team in a rundown stadium and revitalized both:
"The Triple A baseball team left Vancouver in 1999 because, among other things, Nat Bailey Stadium had fallen into such disuse," said Kerr. "The park board of that era wasn't interested in baseball and wouldn't put any money into it, and the Oakland Athletics, who had the franchise, said 'See ya later' and moved to Sacramento.
"It was a dump. The facilities hadn't been improved since the '50s. Having said that, people in Vancouver always loved Nat Bailey Stadium. The problem was the poor old girl just hadn't any lipstick put on her for a long time.
"Fred Herrmann continued baseball in Vancouver [from 2000 to 2007], but the stadium continued to deteriorate. It was very much a mom–and-pop situation. You had to be a real fan to go. The food was kind of crummy; the experience was pretty pedestrian.
"Fred let it be known five and a half years ago that he might consider selling.
"It came at a time when I had just sold my sawmill business, and I have been a baseball freak all my life and remembered going to Nat Bailey when I was a kid with my dad in 1955. I got the idea in my head I wanted to buy the team.
"It wasn't the most rational decision. It was a combination that I love baseball and I thought it was a way I could give back to the community. My concern was, if he sold it to someone in Seattle, they could have easily moved it somewhere else.
"The fix was a combination of two things: putting capital into the stadium so that it became a pleasant place to visit again, and providing proper operating management.
"We negotiated a deal with the city for a 25-year lease and, at the front end, we put up $2.5 million and the city put up $2.5 million, and we renovated all the concessions and bought new seats and fixed the field, plus improved the food.
"I went and found a friend of mine, Jeff Mooney, who is the chairman of A&W, and talked Mooney into being a partner in this deal. (I own 70% and, at that time, he owned 30%.) Mooney understood the food services business. It became obvious to me that that was what this was about.
"We were an Oakland A's franchise, and we made a decision to leave the A's and team up with the Toronto Blue Jays. We thought the Canadian brand would resonate, and it has.
"The A's were great people, but they were a very small market team, and the moment a guy showed any talent, they moved him up a level. The Blue Jays said, 'We'll put good players in Vancouver, and we will leave them there for the season,' which they did last year, and we won the Northwest League Championship.
"When we first took over, we were lucky to draw 1,500 fans a game. Last year, we think we averaged about 4,200 in a stadium that seats 5,000. Financially, we've gone from losing a lot of money five years ago to making some money [in the] last two years."