National Baseball Hall of Fame accelerates presidency transition

The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, has accelerated its planned presidency transition with Tim Mead, who is now slated to lead the institution beginning on June 24, not in late July as previously planned.

The new timetable, announced earlier today, will bring Mead in to succeed Jeff Idelson prior to the Hall’s July 21 ceremonies for its 2019 class of inductees, highlighted by the unanimously-selected Mariano Rivera, the former New York Yankees reliever.

“While we had no expectation that we would be fortunate enough to have him join the museum so quickly, this timeline is best for the institution,” said Idelson, who has been president since 2008 as part of an overall 25-year stint with the Hall.

Once Mead arrives, he plans to work on closing the gap between heavy fan interest in the Hall and the organisation’s actual business metrics. The annual selection of Hall of Fame inductees, done in two separate voting processes led by Baseball Writers Association of America and the Hall itself, represent one of the most hotly-debated and most-talked-about elements in all of American pro sports. Each year, thousands of news articles, TV segments, podcasts, and even entire books are devoted to the subject of who is elected to the Hall and who isn’t, with that debate now further muddied by baseball’s troubled history with performance-enhancing substances.

But as an actual business entity within the context of the US sports industry, the Hall is relatively small. The organisation’s total revenue of $24m (€21m) and net profit of $11.99m in 2017, the most recent figures available, both represented all-time highs for the Hall, driven in part by two large seven-figure charitable donations and continued growth for the July induction ceremonies. 

Overall attendance in recent years, however, has stayed fairly static at around 275,000 to 300,000 per year, as have gross receipts from admissions and merchandise at around $11 million annually. The museum’s somewhat remote location in upstate New York has historically made it difficult to drive visitation much higher, particularly outside of the peak summer tourist season.

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Mead said among his priorities in the new role will be to explore additional partnerships with other museums to showcase pieces of the Hall’s collection and mission outside of Cooperstown. Several prior efforts in this area, such as its Baseball As America exhibition that toured several leading US museums beginning in 2002, have been successful.

“Jeff has left me a tremendous footprint, and part my job is to help figure how to bring the best of Cooperstown and the best of what we do to as many people as possible,” Mead said.

Mead admitted he turned down an original overture from Idelson, a friend of more than 30 years, to succeed him leading the Hall, as he was not wanting to leave the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, his employer for nearly the past four decades. But a subsequent meeting in Florida with Jane Forbes Clark, the Hall’s chair and granddaughter of Hall founder Stephen Clark, soon changed his mind.

“She got into my soul a bit,” Mead said. “I love this game, and this is a unique opportunity to serve the game for the latter part of my career.”