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Edmonton Riverhawks look to hit a home run with fans this summer

By Admin User on March 22, 2022

Baseball was one of the hardest-hit sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With smaller clubs relying heavily on fan attendance and ticket sales, some leagues found difficulties operating last year. The Edmonton Riverhawks joined West Coast League (WCL) at the end of the 2020 season with hopes of beginning play in 2021. The Riverhawks are one of five Canadian teams in the WCL comprised mostly of American rosters from Oregon and Washington state. Travel restrictions made it difficult for inter-league play with the global pandemic so unfortunately, the summer collegiate league had to cancel the baseball season for its Canadian division last year.

I got the chance to speak with Riverhawks’ General Manager, Steve Hogle, about the team’s inaugural season. Hogle has spent nearly 30 years in the media involved with content creation and engaging audiences. He was a former producer with CTV and former Vice-President of Communications and Broadcasting with the Edmonton Oilers before becoming the President of the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League.

Edmonton has two baseball teams. We’ve got the Prospects and now the Riverhawks. Edmonton is primarily a hockey town, is it a baseball town underneath the surface? 

It’s amazing how many baseball stories I’ve heard in Edmonton. A lady whose dad was the first to pitch underneath the lights here, a buddy I play hockey with, his daughter is going down to an MLB camp. It’s not as big as hockey, but it’s baseball and there’s a diehard following here.

Your business career has mostly been involved with hockey. Why the switch to baseball? 

I played ball when I was young. I followed it more closely when I was younger. Still follow it, but not as closely. But it’s a real rare opportunity to help the city. And, you know, we’re all in it for the community to build something special down here.

What are some of the challenges you’ve had managing a new baseball team that hasn’t played a game yet? 

Well, I think the biggest thing is there’s a big education piece that has to happen. We need to establish our brand, grow our profile and sell tickets. We’re coming out of a pandemic and we haven’t had any activity at ReMax Field for way too long. People on the periphery are wondering, “Well, who’s down there? What’s going on?” So we certainly want to address that.

Baseball players and leagues are spread across North America. How do you convince players to come to play in Edmonton? 

This league is one of the top three in North America for college baseball. And to boot, we’ve got the best facility by a country mile in the league. We want to give the players an experience that is unparalleled. Edmonton in the summertime is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and we’re in the middle of the River Valley. I think once players come here, they’re going to be like “Edmonton, It’s unbelievable, the ball-park is crazy. It’s a fantastic community that is really friendly.”

Will any skills and lessons you’ve learned from years of hockey operations translate to baseball?

Absolutely. You know, you need to find things that will resonate with people beyond the sport. And that’s the challenge of any sport, any team and any league these days. It’s far more than a ticket transaction, the way it used to be back in the day. And there’s got to be a value at the end of it and not just the sports.

COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have eased up in Alberta but there is still public hesitancy by some. What do you expect to see for fan attendance this season?

I think that there really is a pent-up desire to get out, to socialize and make up for lost time. We’re going to be one of the first live events outside coming out of the pandemic. So we’re really excited to welcome people down here make them part of our community and just have a wonderful time with that. I think that there’s also going to be a desire to travel as well. So we’re going to see people travelling in the summer.

What impact would you like to see the Riverhawks have on the city of Edmonton in the next five years? 

Our goal is to develop great people. And if you develop great people, you get great players. We want to have a great program that will lend itself to the wonderful development of people and players. And if you go about things the right way, winning is a byproduct. So we expect success in the community and on the field.  We want to become a well-known destination, a well-known venue to go to for great events. And baseball games are so much fun! We would like to stretch our event season into the winter and look at putting a skating rink in here in the winter. Can we have a pond hockey championship? Could we look at a Christmas market? It’s an absolutely drop-dead gorgeous ballpark, how can we use it more collectively for everybody? 

The Edmonton Riverhawks begin their baseball journey on May 31. Their first home game at ReMax Field is June 6 against the Portland Pickles. Tickets and a full schedule of their 2022 season can be found on the team’s website.



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