By NICHOLAS MURRAY – firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, February 20, 2016
The Charleston Battery entered a new era last week when it was announced the club had been purchased by B Sports Entertainment, ending the tenure of Tony Bakker, the club’s founder and longtime owner.
For President Andrew Bell, the completion of the deal capped a remarkable 12 months for the club off the field, which also saw the sale of the naming rights to the club’s iconic stadium to MUSC Health, and a partnership with new MLS club Atlanta United FC.
For Bell, also a longtime part of the Battery and key figure in the USL, seeing the payoff for the groundwork he and his staff had put in was a gratifying moment.
“It’s been a very exciting and turbulent year with lots of challenges but equally lots of new and interesting developments,” Bell said this week. “We had been working on the naming rights deal for a couple of years so it was good to finalize the partnership with MUSC Health. They are a longstanding supporter of ours and a natural fit as our primary sponsor.”
The club’s new ownership group, led by local technology entrepreneur Eric Bowman, pictured right, was the final piece of the puzzle for the Battery. Bowman’s involvement with the club began at the simplest level possible, as a season-ticket holder, but since those days his company Sparc had become a major club sponsor.
When Bowman heard there might be an opportunity to buy the club, he was immediately interested.
“There is tremendous potential with the Charleston Battery but also with MUSC Health Stadium as a growing hub for community and other events,” Bowman said. “Tony Bakker has done a brilliant job of navigating the challenges that come with starting and growing a business in a space that historically has not been possible. Tony built Blackbaud when there was almost zero technology in Charleston and he succeeded again with professional soccer. I am hoping to build on that and add to the already considerable legacy.”
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Bell was also effusive in his praise for Bakker, alongside whom he helped build an iconic club over the past 17 years.
“On a personal level Tony has been a mentor to me since I first met him back in 1999 and it’s been an amazing period of my life working alongside him,” Bell said. “His commitment to the sport has had an amazing impact not just in Charleston but in the U.S. as a whole and I still think his legacy is not fully understood.”
It’s a legacy that Bowman is ready to build on, with renovations and new additions to MUSC Health Stadium at the top of the list. The highlight will be a new video board that spans almost 3,000 square feet, which will bring a new atmosphere to game-days at the historic venue.
“The new video board is going to be an amazing addition to our business and will really revolutionize the way we can present our game-day experience to the Charleston Battery fans,” Bell said. “It is really, really big!”
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That addition is just the start of what he has envisioned for the club, according to Bowman.
“We have some really cool stuff that will be rolling out this season, next season, and even planning for 2018,” Bowman said. “Change is iterative, but I’m excited about taking fan engagement to a whole new level.”
For Bell, who has seen much in his time with the Battery, the future of the club, and the league it is part of, has never seemed brighter.
“I am very proud of the way the league has evolved and also Charleston Battery’s role in that evolution,” Bell said. “We’ve supported USL through thick and thin over almost a quarter of a century and I think now we are finally seeing the positive results. The sport is in a much different place than it was when we started this in 1993 and it’s important to maintain that perspective.”