It was love at first sight for Vern Stenman. And maybe a bit confusing, too. He had come to town for a job offer with Big Top, the company that owns and operates four summer collegiate baseball teams in Wisconsin, including the Madison Mallards. He drove down East Washington Avenue and saw a baseball stadium so lovely it’s listed the National Registry of Historic Places.
Vern Stenman: Literally the day I came to town to check out the job with the Mallards, sixteen years ago now, I drove by Breese Stevens Field and I thought that was actually were the baseball game was going to play. This is before the Mallards even existed. I had never been to town before. I had friends who went to school here and I thought that was the field. Then an hour later, I realized through those friends that it wasn’t. Since that day, I’ve literally been fascinated by the place.
Stenman is now the president of Big Top Baseball, which started managing Breese Stevens Field through an agreement signed with the city of Madison at the end of 2015. Big Top Baseball also operates the Duck Pond at Warner Park where the Mallards play. The Mallards are a top-notch franchise in the summer collegiate market. The Mallards play before an average crowd of six thousand people at each game, leading the Northwoods League in attendance.
I caught up with Stenman at Warner Park last week to ask him about how operating Breese Stevens has been going.
Big Top signed a contract with the city of Madison in 2015 that lasts until 2022.
Stenman explains what that means: And now we hold the liquor license and the food license, and so we have to run all of that stuff. It wasn’t easy to figure out a scenario that would work for us to cover the investments we were making into the facility while not hurting the other users. We are proud that we found that space.
The agreement lays out a facility rental fee for Big Top which increases in future years. This year, for 2016, Big Top rents Breese Stevens for one dollar. By 2022, Big Top will pay just over forty thousand dollars to the city of Madison.
Stenman says that this has been a year to experiment and that it’s too soon to say if Big Top will make money on Breese Stevens this year.
Concerts were the big addition to Breese Stevens this year. Next year there will be 5 or 6 concerts. What else is on deck for 2017?
Vern Stenman: We’ve been pretty open about pursuing minor league soccer. People would come to the facility kind of like Mallards style, but soccer. We are looking at a couple different leagues to see what the best fit is. To bring a team like that would be a higher level of soccer than the city of Madison has had before. So we are really excited about that, and see possibilities there for 2017.
Soccer! Madison has lots of local soccer clubs, and some talented players. Soccer could bring all these different groups of people together in the multicultural paradise some people like to imagine—probably a far more diverse crowd than the live music the venue has booked so far, like Steve Miller and The Avett Brothers, and Cake. That’s not to idealize the sport of soccer, of course—it can also attract terrible racism and hooliganism.
My vision is for a women’s minor league soccer team that could dominate the state of Wisconsin and beyond. The heart-crushing loss the US Women’s Olympic team suffered in the semis was so exquisite, I want to be able to see this live and in person, along with all the joy victory brings.
For W-O-R-T News, this is Elizabeth DiNovella