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Slugging through the glass ceiling

Apr 2, 2012
by Brian Thompson, '95

Brown taking minor league baseball by storm as one of the only female GMs

Glass ceilings in the male-dominated world of baseball?

Stefanie Brown, a 2005 sport management graduate, hasn’t found any. Or maybe she just kept busting through them on her way to becoming one of the few female general managers in minor league baseball.

Brown was named general manager of the Quad Cities River Bandits — the Class A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals in Davenport, Iowa — in September of 2011. It was the same month the team swept the Midwest League Championship Series and the 2011 playoffs.

A month later she was named the Midwest League Female Executive of the Year — the third time in four years she has been recognized.

Brown is only the second female GM in the Midwest League, and at the age of 28, also is one of the youngest in the minor leagues.

“I appreciate where I am at the age I am because my career goal was to be a GM by the time I was 30,” she said. “So now I’m kind of like, ‘Huh … what now?’ ”

Team owner Dave Heller says he is proud of what Brown has accomplished.

“She has been an invaluable asset to this organization as one of the top executives in all of minor league baseball,” he said.

For Brown it’s been a relatively quick climb through the male-dominated industry, where it’s pretty common to find teams with no women on staff. Brown said the River Bandits, with their five female staffers, are much more rare.

But she sees it as a sign of a changing industry — one that is slowly, but surely, evolving as more women like her take on top management and leadership roles.

Getting there has been thanks to a lot of hard work, being in the right place at the right time, good connections and finding a supportive organization.

Because most of the team and personnel decisions are handled by the Cardinals, Brown mainly focuses on the management of the park and entertainment.

“In my old position I knew a lot, or so I thought,” she said about her new role. “I definitely have new challenges and I’m taking on things in a different capacity.”

She is in charge of the company’s financials — both “challenging and exciting at the same time” — as well as all advertising buying.

And then there is overseeing the rest of the day-to-day operations of a minor league team and ballpark. Picturesque Modern Woodmen Park is minor league baseball’s oldest stadium.

“Our mentality in minor league baseball is more concentrating on the entertainment you can control: the fireworks, the bobbleheads, the theme nights. You never know what kind of team you get. We were very fortunate last year. We ended up winning the Midwest League Championship.”

But a minor league GM can’t always count on that. Often the job is about making sure that there is enough going on at the park to bring fans out to the games, no matter what team is fielded.

“It’s definitely a lot of moving parts. A lot of people think we essentially do nothing in the off-season and then come baseball season everything is up and running. But we’re trying to think of how to get people to sign up for ticket plans, for sponsorships. Trying to get them to think baseball even though baseball just ended and it’s the farthest thing from their minds.”

Brown’s entire career has centered on minor league baseball. It began her junior year in college when she took a game-day internship with the Jacksonville Suns.

“After my summer with the Suns in 2004, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do,” she said.

Following stints with other teams, she was hired by the Suns in 2007 as director of community and client relations. That same year she moved on to the River Bandits, first as director of community and client relations, and then three seasons as assistant general manager responsible for overseeing the Modern Woodmen Park suite level, special events, promotions and merchandise.

“I love minor league baseball,” Brown said. “I love all the aspects of it. I definitely get asked often if I want to work in Major League Baseball. … (But) I love this atmosphere. I love the interactions you have with the fans. How well you get to know clients. Walking along the concourse you pretty much know everyone after a couple years.”

What hooked her?

“It’s always been the atmosphere that sucked me in. I have a passion for sports and baseball in general. But seeing how people react to the game, to the entertainment we put on. Then when you do kind of stop and look around, you realize, ‘OK, I’m at a ballpark. This is pretty great.’ ”

She said it’s a thrill brainstorming ideas and trying to come up with new ways to entertain the thousands of fans who show up at the ballpark for theme nights and special events.

“It’s embracing things that work, and definitely trying new things,” she said. “If they don’t work, don’t do it again and try something else new. There’s always going to be your staples … Then throwing in some ever-changing fun things to keep people talking and get them here. You don’t have to be as corporate. You can do can do kind of the wild and fun things.

What’s next if she already hit her career goal to be a GM by the time she was 30?

“I don’t have a ‘what’s next,’ ” she said with a laugh.

“So … to be continued.”

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